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Row over restaurant ‘wealth screening’ boils over in French resort of St-Tropez

Mayor threatens sanctions over reported practices of large minimum spends and selecting diners by size of previous bills

The mayor of St-Tropez has threatened “racketeering” restaurateurs in the Med’s most famous – and overpriced – former fishing village with sanctions after reports that some are selecting diners by the size of previous bills and are setting minimum spends.

“These accusations are extremely shocking to me because they are unfortunately true,” Sylvie Siri told local media, adding that she “and the entire council are totally opposed to such despicable practices”, which were “ruining the town’s image”.

The Nice Matin newspaper quoted unnamed insiders as saying that some restaurants in St-Tropez, a favoured summer haunt of celebrities and the international jet set for more than half a century, had taken to checking customers’ names against their database and refusing reservations if a previous visit was not felt to have resulted in a big enough bill – or tip.

One hospitality worker told the paper: “It’s basically: are you likely to splash the cash, or are you small fry.” Confirming the practice, a local customer said: “If it’s the latter, you simply get told there are no tables free until early September.”

Other staff and diners told the paper an increasingly common technique was to say there was availability, but at a price. “They’ll say: ‘Sure, we have a table at €5,000. Is that OK?’” a customer said. Another cited a minimum spend of €1,500 a head.

Restaurants are also demanding huge tips, the paper said, reporting that a wealthy Italian had recently been pursued into the car park by a waiter angry that he had left a €500 tip, about 10% of the bill, rather than the “customary” 20%.

Tips are discretionary in France as a service charge is included as standard in all restaurant bills.

The delights of St-Tropez, which was described by the author Guy de Maupassant as “a charming, simple daughter of the sea”, were first discovered in the late 19th century by painters and writers drawn by its simplicity and the peninsula’s spectacular light.

As early as 1937, however, the writer Colette was complaining about the number of American cars by the port, and its starring role alongside the then unknown Brigitte Bardot in the 1956 film And God Created Woman cemented its celebrity status.

By 1989, Bardot herself had declared she could no longer live there and was “leaving it to the invaders”, and surveys have repeatedly shown that many of St-Tropez’s residents are fed up with its astronomical prices, inadequate services and indifferent staff.

Responding to the reports, Siri told the paper she would be meeting restaurant owners at the end of the season to “remind them of their responsibilities”, but said malpractice had become so widespread that she had already taken steps.skip past newsletter promotion

Restaurants guilty of what amounted to “extortion and organised racketeering”, some potentially “illegally compiling databases, without consent, in complete disregard of data privacy laws”, could have valuable late-night licences withdrawn, she said.

In conjunction with the St-Tropez shopkeepers’ association Esprit Village, 1,000 stickers have been distributed reminding visitors and locals alike they should contact the town hall and the government’s consumer fraud service if they felt ripped off.

The mayor said: “These practices are odious for the resort, and therefore for our clientele, but also for local people.

“We have already been chased out of our flats, and pretty soon we’ll be chased out of our restaurants too – unable to eat out.”

Source: The Guardian