By Nigel Packer
Sussex country house hotel Gravetye Manor is reprinting all menus, wine lists and room tariff displays after discovering that it has been unwittingly breaching trading standards regulations for almost 20 years.
Proprietor Peter Herbert has just learned that the hotel's VAT-exclusive price lists are prohibited under trading standards laws introduced as long ago as 1979.
"It does seem incredible that no one has ever pointed this out to us before," he said.
"Occasionally a customer has queried why VAT is not included on menus, but once we have explained, people are always reasonable about it."
Herbert says the restaurant began excluding VAT from literature when VAT was first changed in the mid-1970s. At the time the hotel had to reprint all its literature, including a wine list with 600 items, at a cost of £3,000.
"We contacted Customs and Excise and were advised that we could print menus and wine lists excluding VAT, provided it was made clear at the bottom of menus that VAT of whatever percentage was not included. We were also told to display at least one VAT-inclusive list on the way in to the restaurant, and this we have done ever since."
The breach of regulations was brought to Herbert's attention by trading standards officers after they were alerted by consumer magazine, Which?.
"There was no subterfuge involved, we were innocently acting outside trading standards law," he said.
"Being a responsible operation we will reprint all relevant literature and update our computers as soon as possible."