(With mostly pictures of yummy food in Japan- see specific section below for pictures of the scam).
Signs that you are falling for a Tokyo restaurant scam (aka what happened to me when I got swept into a basement restaurant in Skinjuku).
(1) A man with a menu catches you on the street; when you express interest in the menu, he ushers you very quickly into the restaurant.
(2) Your waiter asks you if you speak Japanese first thing, testing you. In every other restaurant, people just spoke Japanese to us and gave us an English menu when they had it.
(3) When you ask for water, you are informed that there is only sparkling water, in other words, only water you have to pay for. Every other place that we went served us free water or tea right when we got there.
(4) The “Kobe” beef on the menu is only priced at 1600 yen. But everything else looks insanely expensive.
(5) NONE of the pictures on the menu match what you get (e.g. sashimi picture has 5-6 pieces, but the waitress informs you that there are only four when you go to order; picture of gyoza has 12 pieces but they only serve six; your soup looked like it had meat, but it comes out meatless). This is very odd for Japan, as most places have pictures that reflect what they will serve.
(6) Every thing that you order is tasteless and seems to have come from the frozen aisle at a second-rate grocery store.
(7) When you get your tab, you are slammed with the most expensive meal of your trip (by far). If you are lucky enough to get a hold of a menu to calculate how much you spent, and try to contest the cost, the waiter will tell you something about added taxes. In EVERY other restaurant that we visited, the price on the menu is what you paid.
(8) You will notice the staff treating Japanese customers and foreigners differently. They will give their Japanese customers wet clothes, but you, a foreigner, will literally get a toilet paper roll to use as napkins.
Want to know where we got scammed? Here is the address, name and pictures. I would love if you avoided this thieves’ den.
Doracon Asian Dining (Link is to Tripadvisor, where you can see other people’s experience with this place.) 3-21-2 Shinjuku | B1F Nanae Bldg., Shinjuku 160-0022, Tokyo Prefecture (Formerly Panda Kitchen)
How to avoid getting ripped off:
(1) Avoid any place that fits this description.
(2) Don’t be afraid to just get up and leave if you are brought into a restaurant, and you end up not feeling right about the menu or wait staff.
(3) If you start to feel worried, you can ask about taxes and extra fees as this was the preferred method of this scam house to triple or quadruple the cost of what you are eating (and which is already overpriced). Take note of all prices.
(4) Don’t be afraid to contest the receipt. Japanese law states that menu prices should include taxes, and furthermore, there are laws against misrepresentation and false pricing. That being said, I have heard that the Japanese police will not really help you out if you bring up a problem like this to them. Best thing is to avoid or leave the scam restaurant before you order anything.