Posted on by Peter Rettig

False (language) friends in Switzerland and a substantial bill...

mapDuring our recent visit to Switzerland, we had lunch at a restaurant in Saanenmöser, a town located above Gstaad in the Berner Oberland. My sister, who had eaten in the restaurant frequently before, had often enjoyed the filet de boeuf, and she and I ordered it.

My wife, who prefers veal, ordered the côtelette de veau. My sister had alerted us that the waiter would cut the meat to size in front of us, and we did not pay much attention to the quoted price per gram on the menu.

My sister and I selected a small piece each of the "filet de boeuf". My wife was a little puzzled, however, as the "côtelette de veau", which she had translated as a "veal cutlet", turned out to have a bone, therefore was actually a veal chop, and she selected the smallest piece.

A Delicious and Expensive "Veal Cutlet"

veal chop We enjoyed our meal (the picture on the left is not my wife's côtelette), but we were certainly surprised when we saw the check: The côtelette de veau, being 240g, including bone and fat, came in at sfr 50.40.

Compared to our two delicious, lean filets de boeuf of 120g and 140g, priced at sfr 33.60 and 39.20 respectively (and, while also expensive, we could accept their pricing), a sfr 50.40 côtelette de veau seemed out of proportion. (I should add that these prices did not include any sides, which had to be ordered separately.)

Swiss Pricing and Guest Choices

We paid our check, but after complaining by e-mail, I received the following explanation from the restaurant owner:

"Thank you very much for your mail concerning the veal cutlet for sfrs 50.40.Swiss veal  Meat from veal is not a cheap meat. We pay a price of sfrs. 59.50 for one Kilogram of prime quality with fat and bone. For the cooking, salaries, service, special refrigerator and so on, we have a calculation of 3.5 multiplicator. For this reason the price for 100 gram is sfrs. 21.00. A veal cutlet has from nature (size of the bone) at least 220 grams. It is not possible to cut it thinner.

The range for a veal cutlet in Switzerland is between sfrs. 65.00 and sfrs 75.00. The quality of this “Swiss prime meat Grand Cru” warranted the documentary evidence of origin, is selected by the meat man in the slaughterhouse, and stays in minimum for 6 weeks adolescence. We know the name of the farmer who bred the animal. Lean filet de boeuf costs in this prime quality sfrs. 80.00 for one Kilogram. 100 gram costs with the same calculation sfrs 28.00. Fillet of beef can be cut even in less than 100 gram. The guest makes his choice like for the veal cutlet."

Beware of "False Friends" and Innovative Pricing Strategies

I could not argue with the owner's pricing explanation above. Although, for an American, the relative pricing between a côtelette de veau (with bone) and a lean filet de boeuf just does not seem right.

But did you notice that the restaurant owner also used the term "veal cutlet"? "Cutlet" and "côtelette" are indeed "false friends". You can find the definition for "cutlet" in various on-line dictionaries, but it is invariably defined as a small piece of meat.

The moral of the story: Pay attention to the prices per weight on the menu, especially in high-priced countries like Switzerland, and don't get fooled by "false friends" like "côtelette" and "cutlet".

With high meat prices, (especially premium veal) having the guest make the weight/size choice, may be the only way for certain restaurants to sell their dishes.
But travelers better beware. These pricing strategies can quickly add up and surprise you unless you carry a pocket scale.