/Roma Sparita, From Hit List to Shit List

Roma Sparita, From Hit List to Shit List


Photo by Michel Q

There was a time when I loved Roma Sparita, a trattoria on the quiet side of Trastevere. Now I’m not going to point a finger at my beloved Bourdain, but the place got shady after Tony stopped by for a bowl of cacio e pepe on No Reservations. The place never had outstanding food across the board. But the cacio e pepe was dreamy–it still is come to think of it–and eating outside in Piazza Santa Cecilia is a gift. But the restaurant’s treatment of tourists took a turn for the worse last year: cacio e pepe excluded, the food quality slid, and I have heard one too many horror stories of clients I sent there getting mistreated. I did my part (sorta), pulling the restaurant from guidebooks and my web based app (Grano style…Don’t mess with Parla’s people, son.) But I never did inform the restaurant that the jig was up. And apparently I neglected to strike Roma Sparita’s name from old posts. I dropped the ball.

But, alas, it is not too late to save potential diners from being taken advantage of at this den of thieves. I now present an email sent to me by Michel Q. Its contents are eerily similar to how two separate sets of clients were treated this spring:

In Rome, we tried many of your recommended places, including Pizzarium, Trattoria Monti, Palatium, L’Arcangelo on a Thursday (for the wonderful gnocchi and great secondi). The only place we were disappointed in was Roma Sparita. We had reservation for a Saturday evening and had great expectation about trying our first “cacio e pepe”, which we enjoyed immensely. We followed with secondo and dessert. When our bill was delivered by someone who looks like the owner (?), we were told that it did not include a service charge. That was a big surprise to us as we had just arrived from Puglia where we had never faced a service charge. Also, I did not recall seeing a mention of it on the menu. We discussed this with a couple of French people seated at a table next to us who had been confronted with the same request before. I decided to pay the bill (62.50 Euros) with two notes of 50 Euros. In return, I received a change of 27.50 Euros and no bill to substantiate the amount of 72.50 Euros. They had “taken” a service charge of 10 Euros, which amounted to 15%. I believe this to be plain thievery, especially in view of the following. The next day, a Sunday, we passed by the restaurant in the afternoon when it was closed to visit the Santa Cecilia church and went to look at the menu displayed to the left of the entry door. The menu clearly displayed at the bottom right “servizio incluso”, we actually took a picture of it.

I am sure that the Italians are not asked to pay a service charge. Had we known that the menu displayed at the entrance said “servizio incluso”, we would have refused to pay the service charge. This case is, in my view, even worse than the case of the Grano Restaurant discussed on your blog. Where I did make a serious mistake is in not asking for a bill with a line specifically indicating a 15% service charge. In all of our dining in Rome, only one other place added a service charge of 10%. It was at Ai Spaghettari (also in Trastevere), but there it was printed on the menu and listed on our bill which we still have. L’Arcangelo Armonia’s menu shows a 10% service charge but it was not added to our bill when we had lunch there.

The other thing I might add, it did look like foreigners were all seated together in the same section of the veranda, that is on the first row of tables as you enter. There were of course plenty of locals that busy night but there was no mixing of the two. Make it easier for them to announce that a service charge would be added.

Thanks so much, Michele for your detailed report. And your assumption is right. Roma Sparita never asks Italians or Italian speakers to pay a service charge. And the reason they did not bring a receipt is because they did not register the sale so as to evade paying taxes. I have duly struck Roma Sparita from the Easter dining and Sunday dining, as I had meant to do this spring. Apologies for my negligence and I’m glad you enjoyed the other recommendations!

2017-02-17T15:24:57+00:00 October 19th, 2011|Categories: Food & Wine, Restaurants, Restaurants in Rome, Rome & Lazio|Tags: |44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. Natalie October 19, 2011 at 10:57 am - Reply

    Boo! That’s awful.

    I’ve never been charged a service charge there, and never get anything except carciofi and cacio e pepe. BUT we have been very pointedly told by waiters that ‘service is not included’. Tip tip hooray.

  2. Pigneto Dweller October 19, 2011 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    As a Rome resident for the past nine years, whenever I go out to eat with visiting non-Italian friends and we go somewhere they read about in a guide book (usually in the center), we almost always get this line. After one particularly bad meal (with bad service) for which we left the exact amount, they had the nerve to remind us that “the service was not included” as we were making for the door. I responded in my American-accented Romanaccio “Nor was it included in the payment” (e non รจ stato nemmeno incluso nel pagamento). They didn’t pursue us.

  3. Francesca October 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    I must say that there are not that many good places in Rome – they are ok, some good, a fe which are very good, and only a couple that are excellent. And the problem is Trastevere. When the place is sure that tourists will drop there anyway, service stops to exist. A real shame.
    Some other places though, despite the Zero service I find Montecarlo still able to make one of the best pizzas in Rome. Do you know it?

  4. Conor - Hidden Palette October 19, 2011 at 7:49 pm - Reply

    I went there about a year ago and remember I didn’t pay any service charge, so this is obviously a new thing and rightly so we should make it our mission to dissuade any tourists or anyone for that matter from visiting it. There are plenty of other places in Rome that do equally good cacio e pepe and the rest of food wasn;t great so no one will be missing out!

  5. Alfredo deBonis October 19, 2011 at 10:18 pm - Reply

    Kathie, We have to start listing all these place in Rome & Italy that cheat Americans. I had a problem in Pienza with Trattoria Fiorella. I booked the place for my group with a quoted price of 35 euro but they charged me 40 euro per person. When I checked our agreement later I wrote them for a refund, which never came. Also had a problem at La Matriciana near Piazza del Risorgimento, they pulled the same trick of service not included.
    CAVEAT EMPTOR!

  6. […] parlafood.com Foto: Michel Q.] {lang: […]

  7. Amanda October 20, 2011 at 11:33 am - Reply

    Nooooo! After I helped “out” Roma Sparita a year and a half ago (several months before it was filmed in “No Reservations”), I actually wrote a blog post about it being such a local, authentic place. Which it was. And then I went back last fall, a few months after the show came out. It was still good, although no longer a locals-only place, obviously, and not quite as great as I remembered. I went back again this past June, and was not nearly as impressed with the once to-die-for cacio e pepe. In fact, I haven’t even been back since. But one thing I don’t remember is being charged service!

    Seriously, this is such a pet peeve. WHY does every Rome restaurant have to go this way?!? You know how I feel about this… http://www.revealedrome.com/2011/03/the-demise-of-a-once-good-restaurant-rome-tripadvisor.html

    Sigh. Thanks for posting, Katie. I’ll update my own post about the place.

  8. Steve O. October 20, 2011 at 11:38 am - Reply

    I had the exact same experience with Roma Sparita, and have also stopped recommending people to eat there. The last straw was when I went with some visiting friends, had to argue about the bill (being overcharged for antipasti, plus a 10-15% service), then got treated terribly when I requested a legitimate receipt. Unfortunately another one bites the dust.

  9. Erica October 20, 2011 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    This is definitely a bummer. Just had dinner there post- Parla/Hande fest and had a very nice meal, senza servizio. I think you need to make a Shit List sticker to put up.

  10. David October 21, 2011 at 1:37 am - Reply

    Both sorry and disappointed to read your review. I took my first trip to Rome last month and specifically went to Roma Sparita because of the reviews, yours included. By the way, love your posts. I went for lunch at around 1:00 on a Thursday and the restaurant was almost empty. There was no mention of a “service charge” on the bill. Maybe I did not notice anything wrong since I paid the pill in cash, leaving a 1.5 euro tip for good food and service. Since I paid the exact amount and left, may be they did not have the chance to add the service charge at the end. If they had, I would also had been very upset. So, now that Roma Sparita has been downgraded in my opinion, where does one get great cacio e pepe, within reasonable reach by public transportation? Thanks again for your posts, it made eating in Rome a pleasure for a first time tourist.

  11. Katie October 21, 2011 at 12:54 am - Reply

    I got an email from a certain Ugo Gambetti of Roma Sparita. He claims these are false accusations and states that his 8 english and 3 german menus state service and bread charges are included. This may very well be true. But who on earth has the menu at hand when the bill comes. and correct me if im wrong, but during time at a restaurant, you build a brief, but important report with the server, who you assume/hope would not betray you for a few euros. if roma sparita’s menus state “service is included” that is all well and good. but that doesn’t change the fact that on multiple occasions diners have been told that service was not included. this does not change the fact that the restaurant has a habit of not providing a fiscal receipt with cash purchases (not really out of the ordinary in rome, yet very much illegal). I wonder what Ugo has to say about that.

  12. Julius October 21, 2011 at 10:29 am - Reply

    Katie, Tragic story. In defense of Bourdain, he tries not to mention actual spots due to the fact that he admits, ” he ruins them for life” from the waves of tourists.
    We had a great version at Piperno just with the the “ghetto”. Their version of ” cacio e pepe” was wonderful ( the trick in the lardo!!! ) One can never have enough pork product! But we also had great lunch!!!
    Nice family and this restaurant makes the “Must returns” each time in Rome ( along with Rochioli, and Pizzaria BONCI !!! Che Buono!!!!!! )

  13. Sarah May October 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    I have never been a big fan of Roma Sparita because they have the WORST wine glasses ever, and their wine list is pretty crappy. But I love the location, and they have good grilled veggies. But I won’t send clients here anymore after reading this. If I am not with them i cannot guarantee this will not happen. Thanks for posting.

  14. just VASGO October 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    Katie, I’m very glad to hear about this before going to try it considering my local friend raved about their amatriciana as well their cacio e pepe. We were going to give it a shot in the near future. But not anymore! By the way, I love the group agreement in the comments to banish them until they get their acts together. I will make sure to NOT recommend them on my site.

  15. s October 21, 2011 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    this is so tragic! i have such wonderful memories of this place- i liked it not only for the cacio e pepe, but also for their desserts and the straccetto. i was there when the bells started ringing, declaring that the Pope had died…i was with my mum…i havent been back since…

    good for you for striking them off your lists- i hope that this Ugo and the rest of the staff there is now aware of everyone’s reactions- esp yours. they have to be told- so they can try to rectify it- even if they have lost customers..

    x shayma

  16. David October 21, 2011 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    I wanted to add something in defense of the wait staff. The waiter I had was really great. I had walked over to the restaurant from the Victor Emmanuelle area. I asked the waiter where to catch the bus back to Termini. He actually left the restaurant, asked some people in the area, and pointed me to the bus stop. Now that is customer service.

  17. Marianne October 23, 2011 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    Katie, thank you for your wonderful blog. It has always been immensely helpful (and entertaining!). I’m puzzled by the service charge controversy, such as occurred at Sparita. I suppose that we’ve been fortunate in our Italy travels to not have experienced this added service charge. But if the menu states that service is included, how can an establishment get away with tacking on a charge to the bill? We’ve always been advised to check the menu for such notices, and we do. If we were faced with a service charge on the bill after seeing “Servicio Incluso” on the menu, we’d [politely but firmly] refuse to pay the service charge. If they continue to insist, we would call the police. My husband speaks a little bit of Italian, but if you don’t, victims should just repeat “Polizia” until the management relents.

    I can’t remember any restaurant that we’ve been to in Italy not including service in the bill. We always assumed that if there is no notice that service is included, we could leave a tip of our own choosing, not theirs! Perhaps we’ve avoided this rip-off by patronizing restaurants away from the “tourist route,” where we see few, if any, tourists in the establishment. Or maybe it’s just very good luck! Keep up the great work.

  18. Frank October 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    So typical, so sadโ€ฆ

  19. Justine October 24, 2011 at 2:22 am - Reply

    Ugh nothing worse than leaving a restaurant with a bad taste in your mouth. How terrible! A good meal/reputation spoiled by a few euro.

  20. Alison October 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    I loved the cacio e pepe at Roma Sparita, but I’m sad to say that we were victim to the whole “service is not included” gimmick here as well. We weren’t charged extra for service, but our server made it a point to loudly inform us that it was not included as he set down the bill. We ignored him and left the usual 2-3 Euro tip. We also noticed that we were seated basically on top of all of the other English speaking patrons at the restaurant, while those on the “Italian” side of the patio were at tables which were comfortably spread out. Such a shame!

  21. Marija October 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    Came across your blog today as I’m going to Rome next month. It is my first time, so where should one have the cacio e pepe?
    Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Mike C October 25, 2011 at 11:25 am - Reply

    I dined at Trattoria Cadorna at Via Raffaele Cadorna and was also subjected to a 10% service charge. It was the first time during my stay in Rome that I saw a service charge on the bill. There was already a bread charge as well. This was quite defeatist as one of my attractions to the place was the relatively cheaper pricing but the 10% extra charge puts paid to that. Can anyone tell me if I was bilked because I was obviously a foreigner or if the charge applies to everyone.

  23. Steve O. October 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Mike C. – I think you’re ok, if I recall correctly Trattoria Cadorna actually states the service and bread on their menus (as ridiculous as that is). They DO have good bread though…

    One of the ways restaurants do this now is they’ll print the bread and/or service charges on the menu and put that on for tourists. Then when non-tourists come in, they’ll show the “real” price, cross it out, then put the “discounted” price. Locals are usually happy enough about this that they pay that price with cash and don’t bother or think about asking for a fiscal receipt. Next time you get your price knocked lower, see how they react if you try to put it on your credit card… ๐Ÿ˜‰ Remember: In Italia si paga sempre con contanti!!!

  24. Pigneto Dweller October 28, 2011 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    I haven’t been there in years, but I remember that Cacio e Pepe (Via Giuseppe Avezzana, 11, near piazza Mazzini) had excellent Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara. I send out of town friends to Montecarlo (near piazza Navona) often and I always get good feedback (on quality and price).

  25. The Pines Of Rome October 28, 2011 at 8:17 pm - Reply

    I imagine you already know this, and perhaps another commenter has mentioned it, but in Lazio, since 2006, service charges at restaurants, be they per person flat rate or a percentage, are illegal, regardless of whether they put it on the menu. In truth, I am always stunned when I see it on a menu, because as people in the restaurant business, they must know the law! I suppose it isn’t enforced. Even still, every time I am confronted with it, I just let them know I know they can’t do it, and they quickly make some excuse and remove it. They can legally only charge for the bread if you request it. Problem is, the tourists don’t know these things! PS I was at Roma Sparita a few months ago with six Italians and I found the service quite rude even so!

  26. Chewyj October 29, 2011 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    My husband and I went to Roma Sparita twice last month during our holiday in Italy. The first time the service was wonderful, we were seated at a comfortable table (a four top for the two of us), the cacio e pepe was fantastic, and there was no mention from our waiter that service was not included when the bill arrived. The second time we dined there, (having a serious craving again for the cacio e pepe), we were seated at a very uncomfortable two top next to the fireplace with my husband almost directly in the pathway between the kitchen and the dining room. Note the restaurant was basically empty at lunch at the time we arrived. A different waiter served us the second time and service was basically non-existent. When the bill arrived, we were told by the waiter that service was not included. My husband wanted to respond back, “it certainly wasn’t included.”

  27. Christine October 30, 2011 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    After the heartbreak of discovering that 2 of my 3 fave restos in San Lorenzo closed, and that Taverna Romana in Monti changed hands, and now this!

    Why do they have to be assholes like that, like in a way that requires more effort than just being respectful? I find it patently unjust that as Italian speakers we would get treated better than someone we’d send there. No cacio e pepe is worth that injustice. (Yeah, I said it.) THEY’RE DEAD TO ME.

  28. Cathy October 31, 2011 at 7:38 am - Reply

    It’s very sad that businesses behave like this (anywhere in the world – if you do not speak Chinese, you need to have your guard way up ordering at fish shops and bakeries in Oakland Chinatown!). And I really appreciate the efforts of Katie and other food bloggers to publicize and discourage this kind of thing. P.S. I believe that a servizio is legal as long as it is on the menu. The relevant section of the law is here (scroll down to article 16 and use Google translate): http://www.tuttocamere.it/files/regione/LAZIO_2006_21.pdf – it essentially says that all charges at a restaurant should be clearly presented to the customer before the customer orders.

  29. Michael in Seattle June 16, 2012 at 1:59 am - Reply

    I’m so glad you’ve left this on your website. I had added Roma Sparita to the list of restaurants to try on our next trip to Rome. Seeing this has made me change it to a “DO NOT GO” on my personal map. We had a similar thing happen at Pizzeria La Montecarlo in Rome last year. The waiter extorted a tip from us.

  30. ciaochowlinda June 24, 2012 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Katie – Maybe it’s time to give this restaurant another try. I just ate there a few weeks ago and there was no service charge added to the bill. The cacio e pepe was truly sublime.

  31. Isabelle in Montreal July 30, 2012 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    just like Michael in Seattle I had added Roma Sparita to try on our trip in September – now removed!!! Thanks

  32. Charlie Boy August 6, 2012 at 11:06 pm - Reply

    Just ate here a week and a half ago. No service charge, excellent, friendly service. The only other people in the restaurant were tourists and nobody appeared to be shackled to their chair or mistreated in any other way. The caccio e pepe was insanely good, as was the coda. The tripe was a little chewey but very tasty nonetheless. Better wines by the glass were limited. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

  33. Margaret Maher September 19, 2012 at 1:33 am - Reply

    We were at our favorite Italian restaurant last nite and the hostess ,who had just returned from a two year study program highly recommended Roma Sparita for the carciofo and cacio e pepe. After reading your reviews my question is where do we go to enjoy both of those dishes while in Rome?

    • Katie September 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm - Reply

      caciofi romaneschi are in season in the winter and spring. when is your trip? cacio e pepe is great at Da Danilo and Roscioli (a couple of my favorites). you can find more on my app rome for foodies here: http://www.romeforfoodies.com enjoy!

  34. Courtney October 14, 2012 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    I go to Rome a few times a year and the past 1.5 years, I have found that restaurants that never used to do so, are suddenly adding extra charges that are not allowed, i.e., coperto. I had lunch at a lovely place and had not had the bread. When presented with the bill, I saw they had added 3 euros for pane. I pointed it out to the server who informed me that it was actually coperto.

    I said, no, you cannot charge coperto. He told me with a straight face, that all restaurants in Rome charge it. I asked if it was “coperto” why was it on the bill as “pane” – to which he just shrugged. I told him I was not paying it, things got ugly. I paid the bill minus the charge and left but it was discombobulating to end up in such an argument over 3 euros. It is not the amount of money, it is the blatant act of taking advantage of visitors.

    What is the best response to this situation? Call the fiscal police – or threaten to? I have seen some articles over the years in which that was recommended. Sounds like a truly unpleasant end to a meal.

  35. Lars May 22, 2013 at 9:05 am - Reply

    Perhaps it’s time to give this place another try – was there last night and had the best bucatini all’amatriciana I’ve had in Rome. My girlfriend had the gnocchi e vongole, and it was sublime. Maybe they just had a good day, but we had great, friendly service, and nothing untoward was on the bill.

  36. Melissa February 24, 2014 at 12:08 am - Reply

    Hi! Just did a search for this place (yes I actually just now watched that episode haha). Has this restaurant gotten any better in the past 2-3 years? If not, can you recommend better places with Cacio e Pepe? Thanks!!

    • Katie February 27, 2014 at 6:33 pm - Reply

      check out da danilo and roscioli!

  37. Melissa February 27, 2014 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    Thanks!

    Any recommendations on vegetarian places too? I’ll bend my habits for the Italian cheeses, but don’t think I can for the meat ๐Ÿ˜‰

    If you have links to your site already, please post for me….I just came across your site (and app!) the other day and haven’t had a chance to fully read through yet.

  38. genevieve @ gratitude & greens June 10, 2014 at 11:15 pm - Reply

    I just saw this- I went to Roma Sparita almost two weeks ago and the food and service were both great! We didn’t experience any of the ‘service not included’ and icky service that you mentioned above. Unfortunately we didn’t have a reservation so we had to wait a while for a table (45 mins- we stayed put) and it was well worth it! The cacio e pepe was delicious, as were the zucchini flowers. It was so good that I’m looking forward to going back! Hopefully we won’t be asked for extra service charge- glad I saw this so I’ll be prepared in case it happens.

  39. Ted March 25, 2015 at 3:04 pm - Reply

    I went for lunch last week. The service was great. I had concerns based on a few things I read, however, the waiters could not have been nicer and the bill was totally straightforward. I always try to order in italian – I know about as much as you might glean from a phrase book lightly studied on a flight between movies. Even if I fail and have to switch over to english, I find the effort is always appreciated. The cacio e pepe is haunting – I can’t stop thinking about it. I went with my wife and ordered the artichoke and cacio e pepe. The waiter gave a polite chuckle, as I noticed that just about every table ordered the same thing. I guess we all read the internets. The edible bowl is a novelty. It is a nice touch, and very tasty, but the pasta itself is amazing. I am assuming it is freshly made. It possesses a texture that defies description: Just perfect. I would have gone for a thicker pasta with more bite, but the delicacy of the noodle is just perfect with the subtle tanginess of the pecorino. It is notable that even poor reviews acknowledge the perfection of this quintessential roman pasta dish. However, my experience could not have been better, and the wait staff were all very friendly and welcoming.

  40. Nancy English February 28, 2016 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    Ciao Katie e tutti,

    We think the cacio e pepe was excellent at Roma Sparita, where we washed up by chance after a rained out visit to the Porto Portese flea market. We had already enjoyed the dish at Rosciole, where the egg pasta was more al dente — or just thicker — and much saltier — or just more generously tossed with Pecorino.

    The Roma Sparita version was the best we had in Rome.

    In any event there was no coperto on the bill and service was perfect.

  41. AJ May 22, 2018 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    Went here tonight and had a fantastic experience. The service staff were extremely cordial and friendly. Our bill had no service charge but we were happy to leave a tip!

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