The chips are up: Bruges cafes charge tourists extra 10%

Tourists are paying higher price than locals for frieten in some of Belgian city’s cafes but authorities say practice is ‘perfectly legal’.

It’s known by some as the Venice of the north. And the city’s medieval splendour, enchanting canals and cobbled streets make it a firm favourite for tourists and film-makers alike. But visitors may wish to avoid one of the delights of the Flemish city of Bruges – its pricey chips, or frieten, as they say in this part of Belgium.

It has emerged that some of the city’s chip-sellers have been charging tourists an extra 10% on the price offered to locals, pushing up the usual price to more than €7 (£6.20) a serving.

Yet in response to a complaint from one tourist, the country’s authorities responsible for consumer protection have given the chip-sellers of Bruges the green light. “This is perfectly legal,” said a spokesman for Belgium’s consumer protection agency, the Federal Public Service Economy.

Gauthier Gevaert, the operator of the Brugsch Friesthuys chip shop, told the De Standaard daily newspaper that it was not so much as a tourist tax, as a discount to locals, ravenous for what are widely regarded as the world’s best chips. After all, Belgians consume on average 75kg (165lbs) of fried potatoes per person each year, a third more than even the french-fry-loving Americans.

“Ten percent discount in Bruges, yes, that is explicitly on the receipt,” he said. “Why do we do that? For the regulars. We do not only aim at the mass tourism, but also building a relationship with whoever comes here often.”

He added: “I’m not going to ask anyone for his passport. I can hear it if someone is from here: if you speak the dialect, it is good for me.”

Philippe Thijs, behind the till at the nearby Chez Vincent said: “It’s just another button on the cash register. You have the normal price, the price for townspeople and students [which is minus 10%].”

The practice emerged when a complaint was made to the authorities about the prices at Brugsch Friethuys “Someone who clearly was not from here, but who demanded his discount,” said Gevaert. “Look, I give discount to locals as customer loyalty. Think of it as a kind of loyalty. A day tourist from Antwerp or an American traveling through Europe who comes here once? The normal rate, sorry.”

The mayor of Bruges, Renaat Landuyt, has also weighed into the row, adding that it is a just nice touch for the locals to get their portions of Belgium’s famously triple-fried chips that bit cheaper than the newcomers. “There are 6 million tourists here a year,” he said. “That makes Bruges an expensive city. These small gestures are nice.”

Chantal Peacock of the Federal Public Service Economy said granting a discount to residents of a city was “perfectly legal on the basis of objective reasons. As long as the customer knows in advance what the rules are and as long as it is no discrimination based on race or religion for example.”

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