A curious story of “wealth screening” by restaurants in the town of Saint-Tropez has caught global attention. Here’s everything you need to know about the scandal.
As Saint Tropez’s popularity amongst the jet set and A List rose spectacularly from the 1960s onwards, high-end hotels and haute cuisine restaurants sprung up one after the other, turning what was once a small fishing village into one of the most famous luxury destinations in the world.
But along with affluence and a booming local economy, it seems clear now that greed has been growing too.
In early August, the regional French newspaper Nice Matin broke a story that some restaurants in Saint Tropez, as well as others in the wider Gulfe de Saint Tropez area, were screening potential diners ahead of visits according to their previous payments.
Minimum spending required
Essentially, the rumour is that many operate a “little black book” or database system that includes detailed accounts of how much a patron spent during past meals out and how much they tipped service staff. Others are accused of placing “minimum spend” values on a table, with the Nice Matin reporting that prospective customers have called to make a reservation just to be told that the only tables available come with a minimum spend of €5,000 per group, or €1,000 per head.
Sources cited by the newspaper say that restaurants are also categorising customers according to their perceived wealth. For example, a guest that didn’t “spend enough” during an earlier visit might be told that no tables are available until after the summer rush, even if that isn’t the case.
Another scenario reported by the Nice Matin tells of a client pursued into the restaurant’s car park by a staff member who pressed the diner to leave a 20% tip instead of the 10% on the table, which already amounted to €500.
“Shocking but unfortunately true”
“These accusations are extremely shocking to me because they are unfortunately true,” Mayor of Saint Tropez Sylvie Siri reportedly told the local media. Siri went on to add that she “and the entire council are totally opposed to such despicable practices” that are “ruining the town’s image”.
Siri also accused the offending restaurants, which remain unnamed, of breaking the law by compiling such detailed information files on clients without their knowledge or consent.
In comments made to the Var Matin, the mayor went as far as to compare the practice to extortion, racketeering and the “fingerprinting” of personal data.
A reunion of Saint Tropez restaurants and restaurateurs is believed to be scheduled for mid-September, giving town officials an opportunity to address these worrying reports and rumours directly with those implicated.
Make sure you’re never left out of the conversation.
Photo source: Bapt Miller, Unsplash