Restaurateurs are being warned to be on the lookout for misleading invitations to join "free" restaurant guides for fear of signing up to hidden costs.
Restaurateur Alex Bensley, managing director of Mexxa Mexxa restaurants in Kent, received a letter inviting him to "update" his data on NovaChannel AG's Restaurant Guide, even though he had no former knowledge of being included in the directory.
Closer inspection of the small print revealed that a signature on the form amounted to a legally binding order for an advert costing just over €1,000 (£665) a year for two years. "I know other people who've been conned by these things," said Bensley. "You feel like you've got a pukka thing until you read the small print."
NovaChannel's guide is a CD-Rom costing €98 (£65), and is not available from bookshop Waterstone's or at www.amazon.co.uk.
NovaChannel AG said the CD was available in "bookshops worldwide" and that the first edition was published last October. A spokeswoman who would not give her name said NovaChannel AG "did not rip people off", but would not comment further.
Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said: "We advise our members not to sign these things. It's a common problem."
Marion Ward, trading standards advice and education manager at Ashford, Kent, said: "I would walk away from anything like this - be careful of anything based in Switzerland because it's outside the EU. These schemes rely on people's naivety. Very few people read the small print."
The Department of Trade & Industry wouldn't comment on the company, but recommended anyone suspicious of similar offers to contact www.dti.gov.uk/ccp/scams.