July 21, 2008
Going to restaurants and cafes here in Kyrgyzstan is always an adventure. You might end up with some kind of unidentifiable meat or you might be given some bizarre and foul dish as it was the only item from their extensive menu that the restaurant had available. Of course, those are the extremes. More commonly, you need to choose at least two items from the menu before you try to place your order, as a good 50% of the time they’ll be out of your first choice. When the waitress brings your food, be prepared for the wrong item to be brought, and for her to insist that it was indeed what you ordered. Sometimes it will merely be the dish ordered by one of your dinner companions, although occasionally it will be something totally off the wall which no one ordered. Sometimes extra dishes will appear on your table once everyone has already been served and the waitress will try to insist that someone at your table ordered it. ALWAYS check the bill. I don’t know if this is simply something local restaurants try to do with foreigners (assuming they’ll either be rich or stupid) or if they do this with everybody… but we find that a good 70% of the time we go to a restaurant (if not more) the bill is wrong. Sometimes it’s a simple mathematical error, which might very well have been made accidentally. (In most places, the waitresses add up the totals themselves, there’s no computer or cash-register to do it for them.) However, sometimes the errors are obviously *not* mistakes. Once, our bill was nearly double what it should have been… but the correct total had been written on the bottom of the check then folded over so that we wouldn’t see it, and the fake total had been circled. Another time, we were charged 20% for service and 40soms/person for live music. A quick check at the menu revealed that the service charge was 10% and the cost for music was 25soms/person! Usually, wait staff are very apologetic and willing to correct their “mistake” although occasionally you will have to argue with someone for a long time. I don’t know what non-Russian/Kyrgyz speakers do here. Going to restaurants in the US where what you order is available and where the service is reliable and honest is going to be thoroughly uninteresting after a year of this!