Lazy service sets the standard

Have you ever visited a Prague restaurant and faced a particularly grumpy waiter? Or still worse, found yourself being overcharged? In the last six months the Czech Trade Inspection has checked over 3500 restaurants around the country and in more than 40 percent found that the Law on Consumer Protection has been violated.

Even though the quality of Czech restaurants has improved a lot over the past 15 years, customers still often find themselves being cheated. Miloslava Fleglova from the Czech Trade Inspection tells me what kind of offences are the most common.

"The most common offences that the Czech Trade Inspection found during its checks were giving people short measures on drinks or food, not stating the price of the service provided, incorrect charging and using inaccurate scales. The law is often violated due to negligence or ignorance but sometimes these offences are committed on purpose."

It is not only an offence to serve a beer not filled right up to the top, but you also have the right to complain about a soft drink which is served directly with ice cubes. The cubes actually substitute some of the drink you are paying for.

Evan Rail is a journalist at the Prague Post. As a writer on food and drink he often visits Prague restaurants. He says that he is not often cheated but that doesn't mean that he's completely happy.

"Cheated is rather harsh word. I think what I get are situations which are disappointing in the sense of: sometimes something is not listed as a price on a menu and I am charged for it or I am charged for what is called couvert but it's not actually something worth of 20, 30 or 50 Crowns. Sometimes it's just a price that they just add on and you don't see it on the menu, so you are disappointed and surprised in a negative way when you get the bill."

But what is the standard of Czech restaurants? Are they comparable to services in other countries, for example in the United States where Evan Rail comes from?

"Of course in a country like the United States, which is my home, there is such a great difference between large cities and small towns and different regions. So it's hard to speak in general about the United States. But let's say for example that we could compare Prague to a city like New York - that's very difficult. The level of service and cuisine in New York is generally very high."

"Yes, there are cheap restaurants. Yes, there are equivalents of 'hospoda' or some Czech pub in New York, but the highest level of cuisine is so good. And that's one thing that's kind of difficult to compare. The best restaurants in Prague do compare to the best restaurants of any city in Europe for sure. But the moderate restaurants and the cheap restaurants have trouble catching up, I think."

So what should you do if you are not happy with the service? Of course it is always good to check if you are paying for what you really have consumed. You might then find yourself facing an unpleasant confrontation with an angry waiter who doesn't speak English. Much safer bet is to choose a good restaurant that is recommended by a guide book or friends.