Cuban Restaurant Scams

Be aware of potential tourist scams at some restaurants in Cuba.
Be aware of potential tourist scams at some restaurants in Cuba. Photo © Kurt Bauschardt, licensed Creative Commons Attribution & ShareAlike.

As infamous as they are, the various small-scale scams used in Cuba work because they’re simple and because vacationers are relaxed, looking for a good time, not a conflict. Being aware is the best way to avoid becoming a target. In restaurants especially the creativity that Cubans apply to wheedle dollars from foreigners has been turned into an art form. Here are a few tricks to keep an eye out for:

  • Added Items: Bread and butter is often served without asking, but you are charged extra. Mineral water and other items often appear on your bill, even though you didn’t ask for them, or they never arrived.
  • Á la Carte Be Damned: The restaurant has a fixed price for a set menu but your bill charges separately for itemized dishes, which add up to considerably more. Beware menus that don’t list prices.
  • Bait and Switch: You ask for a cola and are brought an imported Coca-Cola (CUC2) instead of Tropicola (CUC0.50), a perfectly adequate Cuban equivalent.
  • Commissions: The jinetero who leads you to a recommended paladar gets his commission added to your bill, even if he’s merely picked you up outside the paladar you’ve already chosen.
  • Dollars or Pesos? The dollar sign ($) is used for both dollars and pesos. In a peso restaurant you may be told that the $ prices are in dollars. Sometimes this is true. Even so, change may be given in pesos.
  • ¡No Hay! You’re dying for a Hatuey beer but are told ¡no hay! (there is none). The waiter brings you a Heineken. Then you notice that Cubans are drinking Hatuey. You’re then told that the Hatueys aren’t cold, or that Heineken (which is more expensive) is better.
  • Overpricing: Compare the prices on your bill against those on the menu. One or two items on your bill may be inflated.
  • Variable Pricing: Always ask for a printed menu with prices. Some places charge according to how much they think you are worth. If you’re dressed in Gucci, expect to pay accordingly.

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