Q: I had a glass of 7 Up at a restaurant / bar on the Ramblas and was charged €7.49 for it. I felt cheated. The restaurant seemed to have 2 separate menus: one when I ordered and a second menu when I complained. Is this the usual practice in this area? How can I raise an official complaint about this?
A: First of all I'm very sorry to hear about this experience. Most restaurants in Barcelona play by the rules however there are some that are taking advantage of tourists. Unfortunately, we have received several complaints of establishments where the owners have overcharged tourists who do not speak the local language and do not know how to defend themselves. However this is the exception rather than the rule.
I will share with you one experience that happened to me recently that is similar to yours. I have lived in Barcelona for a long time and I am fluent in both Spanish and Catalan. The problem is that I do not look Spanish or Catalan. Recently I went out for dinner with clients (my clients had made the reservation at one of the "not reliable" places, but I couldn't tell them) and although I was there, they also tried to overcharge us for the meal.
The question is: is it possible to avoid these cases? I do not think we can completely prevent these cases. But, we all can all try to improve the situation by making an official complaint. The more we complain and raise awareness of the establishments that are not playing fair the less it will occur.
What is the correct procedure to make an official complaint? There is one means to make an official complaint that is very effective. The local government (Generalitat) has a complaint sheet ("hoja de reclamacion" in Spanish and "full de reclamacio" in Catalan). This is an official legal paper and has the official seal of the Generalitat on it (up in the left hand corner). The document consists of a main sheet with two carbon copies behind it (One for you, one for the consumer's office authority and one for the establishment.)
All establishments that provide consumer services to the public MUST by law have these complaint sheets at the disposal of the customer should the consumer request them. The establishment is also requested to have a notice in a prominent position indicating these "Hoja de Reclamacion) are available on request. These notices are often near the cash tills. The typical establishments that require to have availability of these documents are shops, restaurants, bars, museums, hotels or the airport. The notice is written in Spanish, Catalan and English, so you won't have difficulties to understand what it says.
There are only a few sectors which do not need to have these complaint sheets because they form part of a board or college or are public services.
Steps to follow and how to fill out a complaint sheet
- Keep the sales receipt or ask for one, if they didn't give you any.
- Ask for a Hoja de reclamacion / full de reclamacio (complaint sheet). It is composed of three copies of the same sheet.
- It is a legal requirement that the establishment give you a Hoja de Reclamacion if you ask for it.
- Don't accept if they say they don't have any left because they are required to have these complaint sheets.
- Don't accept money back because that won't change the situation in general. (It can be quite satisfying to see how nervous they suddenly get when you insist on getting the complaint sheet.)
- If they refuse to give you a complaint sheet, you are allowed to call the police to inform them that they are not issuing a complaint sheet.
- The best thing is to fill it out immediately at the place, but you can also do it later at the consumer's office. You need to fill in your personal data and those of the establishment. Then you have 20 days to hand in one of the three copies of the original out to the responsible administration service, together with all that you think could be of help as evidence of the incident that you wish to report. The second copy is for you and the third one will be kept by the establishment.
You can also complete the complaint sheet online at the website of the Catalan Consumer Protection Office, the Agencia Catalana del Consum (link given below). The only problem is the website and the forms are only in Spanish or Catalan, as well as the information on the website. They have a special section for European consumer's complaints. If you want to go to the office: it is near the Metro: Maria Cristina (Green Line, L3). You need to call them before going to make an appointment, they speak English. They were not able to inform me about how to proceed in case you are visiting from abroad. Therefore, I would recommend you talk to the European unit to try to get some help there. Please find the contact details below:
Secció de Consum Europeu
Agència Catalana del Consum
Please find the direct link to the European part of the official website of the Agencia Catalana del Consum below:
By following the link below, you can download a complaint form to fill in at the Agencia Catalana del Consum: