Restaurants charging unordered “couverts” face €180,000 in fines

It’s a habit at many Portuguese restaurants, but one that is “illegal” and can be punished with fines of up to €180,000 as well as jail time.

Portugal’s Consumers Rights Association (APDC) warns that restaurants are breaking the law when they charge customers for ‘couverts’ brought to their table without being ordered.

“It’s shameful what goes on in our country,” APDC president Mário Frota told Lusa news agency, explaining that “restaurant owners, waiters and even clients are unaware of the law”.

“No dish, drink or food product, including couverts” can be charged if not ordered by the client and not consumed,” he added, citing article 135 of Portugal’s legal framework for the commerce, services and restaurant sectors.

“The habits of the restaurant sector have to change. Waiters always have to ask their clients if they want couverts and inform them of the prices beforehand,” he said.

Restaurants risk fines from €300 all the way to €180,000 if they are caught charging unordered couverts. And if they insist that the client pay against his or her will, they can even face jail from six months to as much as three years.

For restaurant-goers, there are two ways to deal with this situation, says Frota.

“One is to subtract the price of the couvert and pay only what you have consumed. The other is to ask for the complaints book and state the exact value of what was overcharged, and photograph the menu if necessary for proof.”

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