Nov 07 2013

Hidden charges at Saigon restaurants

Published by at 8:58 am under Food,Uncategorized


Food in Saigon is usually a bargain; even most of the city’s “expensive” restaurants are cheap when compared to similar quality in the West. But a strange thing happens to many who visit this fair city: they can develop a sense of cheap food entitlement and start to argue over small surcharges on the bill. Having recently witnessed another tourist meltdown over the equivalent of less than a dollar, let me prepare you for a few of the hidden charges you may encounter in a Saigon restaurant.

Informative but not free.

Informative — but not free.

Something you may notice upon sitting down at a restaurant in HCMC is the lack of napkins on the table. It’s not unusual to find none or to find that the table just has a roll of toilet paper. Instead, when you sit at the table, your server will bring you a wet-wipe wrapped in plastic, likely branded with the restaurant’s name. These wet-wipes are almost never free; their cost will be added to your bill. While they aren’t expensive — I’ve never been charged more than 5,000 VND for one — they can start to add up if you are a big group or you use lots during a messy meal. If you really don’t want to be charged extra for a wet-wipe, simply don’t open it. Leave it on the table and show your server that you didn’t use it when you ask for your bill so you don’t get charged.

Refreshing but not free.

Refreshing — but not free.

In the West it is quite commonplace to get free iced water when you visit a restaurant. In Saigon, since tap water isn’t the safest thing in the country, this is usually replaced with a glass of tra da, or iced tea. Alas, tra da may not be free and you may see a small charge per glass added to your bill — it’s usually only around 4,000 VND a glass, but I’ve seen people lose their mind over this. Be warned that some restaurants, usually higher-end establishments, will charge as much as a soft drink for their tra da. If you’re not sure, ask your server.

On the plus side, you couldn't park much closer.

On the plus side, you couldn’t park much closer.

Another charge that can sneak up on Saigon restaurant goers is parking. If you drive yourself to a restaurant in Saigon by motorbike, they will usually have a place for you to park. This could be in a row in front of the building or a lot on the side. You go in, have your meal and come back to your bike, only to find the parking attendant asking for around 5,000 VND to give your bike back. For some reason this used to grind my gears, and I know people who refuse to go to certain restaurants on principle because they are charged to park. If you’re parking in a separate lot, you’re definitely paying. If you’re parking in front or under the restaurant’s awnings, you may be able to argue your way out of it if you think it’s worth your time. I’d say your best practice here is to assume you always have to pay to park your bike; then when you don’t get charged, you’ll be extra happy.

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Hidden charges at Saigon restaurants”

  1. TCon 07 Nov 2013 at 10:41 am

    Price isn’t the issue. The post title says it all, “hidden”. Taking advantage of western cultural norms to impose a hidden charge is the problem. It’s the inherent SE Asia, “milk the westerner” mentality. It’s dishonest, regardless of culture.
    You’re part of the problem with the ever present western guilt argument that its us “entitled westerners”, arguing and melting down, over pocket change. It’s BS.
    They know people have complained in the past, but the practice is continued because “most” westerners will allow it to happen because it’s cheap and not worth arguing over, or they read that it’s “less than a dollar”, so dishonesty prevails because it’s profitable.
    Raise their food prices to cover the costs, lose the charges, problem solved. Inform the western guest that a wet nap costs money to use, problem solved.
    The idea that “the guest” should have to figure out what’s included is ridiculous. What’s next chair, plate, utensil rental?

  2. Simon Cummingson 11 Nov 2013 at 9:05 am

    TC- I’d stay in your country if I were you.

  3. Olleon 15 Nov 2013 at 6:46 am

    I would be surprised to see them charge for the ice tea, having lived for a long time in Phnom Penh, where the ice tea is always for free.

  4. Michaelon 17 Nov 2013 at 1:10 am

    TC, that’s not accurate, everyone pays the “hidden” fees. They’re standard and people know about the fees.

  5. Hankon 19 Nov 2013 at 4:50 am

    @TC – As Michael said, the fees apply to everyone and not just to Westerners. Locals pay for napkins and tea just as you do.

    Your mentality that “everyone is out to get me just because I’m a Westerner” is incredibly flawed and I could easily argue that travellers to the US or Canada have a much worse experience. Having to pay a 15% tip on every meal is far more exorbitant than 4000VND for a tea and 5000VND for a napkin. Furthermore, this service charge is just as “hidden” because nowhere on the menu does it say that you are expected to tip 15%.

    Bottom line: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you don’t like it, or expect the world to cater to what you’re used to, then don’t go – it’s that simple.

  6. Troy Nguyenon 31 Jan 2014 at 10:07 pm

    TC are you trolling?
    So guarded about your 10cents (2000vnd) for a wet towel which even Vietnamese pay without fretting.
    In the west you actually DO pay for the towels and the tea etc. It’s just not itemised on the paper bill but is added into the overall costs of the meal. “INVISBLE” so to speak which is even more hidden than in Vietnam (which is not hidden at all ..it’s just foreign idiots like you OBVIOUSLY ARE TOO STUPID TO LEARN THE LANGUAGE) haha idiot pays ten cents for a paper towel and worries about it yet pays $15 for the same $2 meal and feels happy.
    What a f#ckwit you are mate. I seriously hope for your sake you are trolling..

  7. Mat Maton 09 Mar 2014 at 3:41 am

    I agree with TC! I also side with the tourism industry and Vietnam!

    Some “hidden charges” are in fact how restaurants do business. They’re only “hidden” because I haven’t “discovered” it yet.

    This has happened to me in many countries when I’ve first visited. No body told me, I just assumed it would be like back home!

    When I relax and learn that MOST “local” people I come in contact with – when I am a tourist – are in the tourist BUSINESS. And BUSINESS is what you will experience being a TOURIST. (This site is powered by tourism industry money for example). And doing business is the supreme cultural practice!

    No tourist is expected to learn the language of a country they visit. That’s just absurd and not how ANY tourism industry works.

    But if you want to do business and not be just another tourist idiot abroad you’d better learn how to do business in the culture you visit. It might help a little!

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