Where’s the beef? Bulgaria sizzles over expensive steak lunch

Bulgarian restaurant associations, the Consumer Protection Commission and the Tourism Minister are among those caught up in a row after a man was charged 490 leva (about 250 euro) for three steaks at a restaurant in the seaside city of Varna.

Plamen Hristov’s lunch earlier this week has become a cause célèbre in Bulgaria, a country where the statutory minimum monthly salary is 780 leva, and his very public complaints about the bill have led two major restaurant associations to say that they will take court action against him for damaging the Bulgarian restaurant industry’s name.

One principle that may apply in the story is caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – and another may be that arithmetic counts.

Hristov told local media: “On the menu, I saw that it says 100 grams (of steak) for 35 leva. I shouted ‘give me three steaks’. When the bill came, I saw 14 times 35 leva is 490 leva.

“With the other things we ordered, it came to 649 leva. I left 10 leva to make the waitress happy.”

The restaurant’s manager, Iksan Fahri, told local media that Hristov had been warned about the price.

“At the outset, it was explained that we have different types of steaks. He ordered from the most expensive and the biggest steak. The waiter told him how much the final price would be,” Fahri said.

The question of whether Hristov and his party at the table enjoyed the steaks has not entered the matter, but the Consumer Protection Commission has, which amid media fascination with the story of the “golden steaks” (in fact, not golden, but American Ribeye), announcing that it was investigating the restaurant.

“It is not permissible to announce the price per 100 grams, except in exotic cases such as live fish or the like, which are a matter of an individual offer to the consumer. The price should be announced for the preciset weight,” according to Ignat Arsenov, director general at the Commission for Consumer Protection.

Arsenov said that the law requires that the price to be paid and the weight of the portion should be specified accurately.

“It turns out there’s a problem there. The price was said to be for 100 grams, that is, the consumer does not have any information how it will be calculated, exactly how much the weight will be,” Arsenov said.

“The waiter may have explained it to him, but the consumer must have the prior information. Next, the weight of the goods is measured in raw form, which is again unacceptable, because the consumer will not eat it raw, he takes a finished product, this is not a supermarket,” he said.

Gabriela Rumenova, a consumer activist with an online platform, told local media this week: “Restaurants are obliged to announce on their menus the price and the corresponding weight against the type of item. We need to know how much the portion will cost us and how much it will weigh. There are specifics, as in the case of the steaks in a restaurant in Varna that became famous in recent days.

“When we order in a restaurant, they must also bring an intermediate bill when each order is served. So that before consuming, we can see how much we have been charged and for what quantity,” Rumenova said.

As the Bulgarian media relished the steak story as an alternative to tedious politics and other sensationalist scandals, the Association of Restaurants in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Association of Restaurants said that they would take Hristov to court.

The two associations said in a media statement that Hristov had tried to “harm the particular restaurant in order to get his minute of fame”.

They said that they would also take court action in all such cases in future.

“First of all, we emphasise that such expensive and extremely high-quality steaks can be consumed only in about 10 establishments in Varna. This is also one of the things that distinguish elite restaurants,” the associations said.

“And if we want to promote the development of cuisine and the offer of so-called gourmet tourism, both domestic and international, then in no way should we deliberately attack, even more so by government institutions, restaurants that strive to offer high quality food. Of course, at the appropriate price,” they said.

“The Consumer Protection Commission cannot be a repressive body and make individual decisions based on unprofessional opinion on specific topics, such as the technology related to the offering of high-quality food in restaurants,” the statement said.

The associations demanded that the investigation into the restaurant be called off and said that the practice of selling expensive food is “completely standard and fair”.

They also demanded an apology from Arsenov, saying that his statements to the media “damaged the prestige of the entire industry”.

Next to weigh in, so to speak, on the steaks was Tourism Minister Zaritsa Dinkova, who in a media statement on July 23 said that she was “very worried” by the signals that the two restaurant associations were sending to Bulgarian consumers.

Commenting on the associations’ statement that they would sue Hristov, Dinkova said: “I remind you that the society against which this association openly stands was, to this day, tolerant of the restaurant sector, which was losing money and customers in the first months of the pandemic. In order to support them, the state – respectively, all of us – lost multi-million revenue that remained with the owners of establishments”.

“I am convinced that business should work calmly and without an unnecessary administrative burden, but I do not accept that this should be at the expense of the rest of society,” Dinkova said.

“I am sure that in this case most members of the association do not share the position of their management. The inept management of this and other similar crises causes irreparable damage to the image of the entire Bulgarian tourism,” she said.

Dinkova called on the restaurant association “to reconsider its overall behaviour in relation to its customers, as well as to a more responsible attitude towards the image of the Bulgarian tourist product.

“Otherwise, it will be very difficult for me to defend the tax benefits in the next year’s Budget, as I will not be able to find arguments and support for this in the Bulgarian society,” she said.

(Photo: Apart from media coverage, the steak saga became fodder for online memes, such as this one, satirising the episode along with the recently-erected gigantic flagpole in Rozhen, posted on the page of the Facebook group Kleta Majka Balgariq)

Please support The Sofia Globe’s independent journalism by becoming a subscriber to our page on Patreon:

Become a Patron!

The Sofia Globe staff

The Sofia Globe - the Sofia-based fully independent English-language news and features website, covering Bulgaria, the Balkans and the EU. Sign up to subscribe to sofiaglobe.com's daily bulletin through the form on our homepage. https://www.patreon.com/user?u=32709292