I'm in the stunning city of Seville updating my Frommer’s Day by Day guide to the city. As you know, this is the first time I’ve updated a guidebook, so there’s a bit of a learning curve. But something happened yesterday I hadn’t expected.

On one of my Seville walking tours I've included a traditional coffee shop called La Campana. All my walking tours need to include at least one spot to take the weight off your feet and have a drink and a bite. This place is Seville’s oldest coffee and cake shop, full of ornate chiller cabinets filled with beautifully arranged rows of colourful cakes and sugary sweets. It trades on its reputation a bit and is pricey compared to several other places, but the location is picture perfect – on a bustling street corner in the shade. You can sit at your table on the pavement and watch the world go by as waistcoated waiters pour you a coffee or a fresh juice and bring you your yummy cake.

And it’s exactly halfway round my walking tour too. So... a bit touristy, but actually pretty perfect for what I need.

Except, I and my wife (who has been here with me for a couple of days) bought some cakes there yesterday. We brought them back to my apartment. And Karen found a COCKROACH! in her cake. (‘Look on the bright side’ I told her – ‘at least it wasn’t half a cockroach!’)

Picture 015 But joking aside it presents me with serious issues. What should I do?

1) Drop the place completely?
As a rule with a guidebook where space is at an absolute premium, you don’t give a place a bad review. If it’s not good, you just don’t include it – there’s simply not room to write about the bad places.

2) Mention it, but give it a bad review
Despite this, it is Seville’s most famous coffee shop – it will be in every other guidebook to the city. Leaving it out could look like a glaring omission. I absolutely can’t keep it in my walking tour as a recommended refreshment stop if I am not 100% sure it’s good. These stops are supposed to be places I have carefully selected as special. An added problem is that, due to the way the format of the guidebook works, the only place I can easily include a coffee shop in the book is as a walking tour refreshment stop. There are listings chapters for Bars, Restaurants, Shops and Hotels, but this place doesn’t really fit into any of these sections very easily. (Perhaps I could put it in 'Shops'? That might work.)

3) Mention it without discussing the cockroach
Maybe this was just a one-off? After all, they have been making and serving cakes here for literally centuries. Plenty of other satisfied customers - many of them regular locals. Perhaps I should give them the benefit of the doubt? Keep it in the walking tour.

4) Mention it but say something opaque
So, they were having an off day maybe – perhaps I mention La Campana but make it clear I’m not mad keen on the place. Say something about ‘lovely location, but the cakes are a bit sweet and overpriced in my opinion’ or similar. But can I keep it in the walking tour if I do this? I’m not at all sure.

5) Give them a chance to resolve the problem
You might well be saying I should tell the manager of the place about the problem and give him an opportunity to resolve it. I probably would do in the UK – but my Spanish is awful and (more important) there is no proof the cockroach came from their cake. I could just be saying this to make life difficult for them. (It’s a big shame we didn’t eat the cake at the shop!) I have plenty of friends here who are Spanish, so I could get them to help me explain the problem. And I might.

So – what would you do? How do you strike a balance between a one-off unfortunate experience and needing a certain type of place to fit a particular kind of guidebook format?

Scroll down to comment #21 to see my update on what happened when I went to confront the manager - cockroach in hand (well in a bag actually)

28 thoughts on “The cake and the cockroach

  1. Tricky one, but think I'd play safe and suggest somewhere else. There are plenty of places around there, after all - quite a few newish, so good for the guide - and people can hardly fail to find La Campana for themselves anyway. And think yourself lucky - when I was leaving my friend's place in a village near Toledo on Monday, he said that he'd found a cobra in the corridor a few days previously, and hadn't liked to mention it...

  2. As the Jeremy’s wife, and the person who very nearly ate the cockroach I have quite strong feelings about this and really don’t want him to include it! We’ve had cakes there a few times and I personally feel they have only ever been average. However, I have agree with Jeremy that it is not just the cake but the whole ‘package’ you visit cafés for… the coffee is good here and tables outside really are great for watching the world go by. But for me now, just being a pleasant place to stop, is not good enough. I couldn’t recommend it to a friend of mine anymore. I’d tell them to take a look at the building (it’s rather pretty) but would suggest they explore elsewhere for their cake. Finding things in your food is never good and cockroaches really are at the worst end of my possible finds!
    I know the effort and care Jeremy has taken with this book (I have traipsed around after him often enough). He takes pride making sure his facts are relevant and correct and he works hard to write with the voice of experience. Because of this, I feel he owes to the people who will rely on his judgement to think carefully as to whether he should really include it… would you take our friends there next time we visit the city Jeremy?
    Luckily I didn’t eat the cockroach and I’m sure it will not damage my future cake eating experiences… it’s just a shame I had to come back home to England yesterday, otherwise I’d have been testing the cakes in every café nearby to find him a better one!

  3. Drop it. I hate guidebooks that "guide" people to the most obvious, best-known establishments in the city - what, honestly, is the point of guiding people to Maxim's in Paris, or The Ivy in London? Better to mention this place in the walking tour, but then use the listings recommendation to point out somewhere more interesting and less well-known...

    As for the insect life - go and tell the management, and the tourist board, and the local newspaper. You might end up with free cakes for life!

  4. I'd say one of the major problems with travel guide books (and articles) is that places are recommended based on what the competition is recommending.

    If, in your experience, the place isn't very good (and I think cockroachy cakes comes under this category), then you sure as hell shouldn't be recommending it as a place to stop.

    If every other guidebook recommends it, then that's their lookout - but you shouldn't include because they do.

    Perhaps something along the following lines:

    "La Campana is the one that other books recommend. It's nice to look at but has distinctly dubious hygeine standards - try Coffee Shop X instead."

  5. Seems pretty simple to me:

    Drop it from the guidebook, tell the management.

    Anyway, you've mentioned the saga here now anyway, so if this thread takes off and goes viral there's probably more *damage* to the reputation of the establishment than if you'd just quietly left it out of the book.

  6. I agree with Kevin. Don't include them and do tell them about it (even if in English or bad Spanish) - whether they act or not is their choice, but if noone complains, they'll just think cockroach is acceptable alternative to "cherry on the cake". And don't worry about others wondering why it is not included in your guide, as it is in all others: we all know why now! ;)

  7. totally depends on how much you're being paid. i have to decide whether to revise my devon book - for no money but continued royalties - or let them hire someone to do it nd have the cost deducted from any future royalties. it's such a cheapskate deal that i may do it but do it on the cockroach-acceptance level of accuracy. if they paid me a nice four figure sum to revise the book then i'd be down there looking for cockroaches and rejecting even the most famous places if necessary. i'm doing a job and i have to tailor my efforts to what i'm paid. i have been paid, rarely, thousands just for one feature and i made sure it was totally accurately brilliantly marvellous but i don;t think writers like us can afford the time to lavish that level of care on every piece of work regardless of the pay.
    i guess the money for guidebook renewal is pretty lousy. so keep it in and next time don;t blog the bug.

  8. I agree with Annie--drop it! By the sounds of things they don't need the business anyway and Seville is full of gorgeous cafes.
    I always thought these places would make a good blog; those historic, emblematic, gushed-about 'must gos' that generally prove to dissapoint on quality, have grumpy service or are waaay overpriced. Cafe Zurich in Barcelona springs vividly to mind...

  9. My advice:
    - Tell the manager
    - Omit from your book

    However, for your knowledge, and should you choose to include the restaurant in the book, realize this: write a fantastic review about some other place. As an avid user of those books, I can tell you the following. As much as you don't have space to include every restaurant, we don't have time to try every restaurant. If you mention five others that are far more spectacular, I'll be going to those anyway.

    Problem solved? Good luck with the rest of your book. And please tell me, how did you get your job!

  10. Did you read the menu properly?

    Cockroaches are sometimes part of the ingredients. In Madrid I had a "Nut, Cockroach and Prune" muffin.

  11. Poor Karen, I do sympathise!
    She and the ever-wise Matthew Teller are spot on.
    Use this as an opportunity to make your book better, fresher, more distinctive.
    If you leave the place in as a recommendation, rather than a passing reference, it will gnaw away at your conscience.
    No buts - no bugs!
    Good luck with your search for the perfect pest-free cake, Jeremy, and all the best.

  12. Depending on the exact guide series you're working on, it can sometimes be tricky leaving a place out altogether, if there's an expectation that all the well-known names will be mentioned.

    My own method if I have doubts about a famous place is to damn it with faint praise.

    But for Frommer's Day by Day, surely you could just not include La Campana... the proprietors will understand why when they see this blog (as they surely will).

  13. Did I read this incorrectly:

    "i have been paid, rarely, thousands just for one feature and i made sure it was totally accurately brilliantly marvellous"

    So you are only totally accurate if you're paid enough for it?

  14. What a gross experience! The hazards of guidebook writing I never knew. :)

    Lots of great comments, I'd stick with your wife and nix the roach cafe. And not just for that reason:

    "Drop it. I hate guidebooks that "guide" people to the most obvious, best-known establishments in the city "

    True, true. Guide us somewhere new, please.

  15. UPDATE - The cockroach saga - the final chapter...
    Well, as suggested by many of the people above, I went to confront the manager taking someone with me who speaks far better Spanish than I do, clutching a plastic bag with packaging, half a cake and (of course) cockroach... (NB We decided NOT to say I was writing a guidebook as we felt this would mean they might deal with me differently from a normal customer. My friend just said that I was a journalist.)
    The duty manager reacted as if I'd given her something really rather nasty when I handed over the bag. She didn't open it, but took it back out of sight. She then came back and had a long chat with my friend explaining that:
    1)They have a weekly visit from pest control company that checks everything and puts down cockroach drops in key places (This is common practice for all establishments where food is served - but weekly is most definitely impressively frequent. This either suggests they are fastidious or that they have an on-going roach problem. I have no idea which. Anyone know?)
    2)They have never had anyone (to her knowledge) find a cockroach in a cake before
    3)It has been unseasonably warm which means that cockroaches are probably proliferating more than usual. Presumably they adopt different pest control measures depending on the time of year and the warmer weather maybe caught them out?
    4) When management introduced new chiller cabinets, they didn't make them fully closeable - the older ones had a screen that completely sealed the back of them... she personally felt the new ones weren't as good as a result
    She also gave me a box of handmade chocolates by way of apology.
    I don't think there is much else she could have done. She owned the problem, did her best to explain, tried to make amends and was not afraid to venture personal opinion either. Full marks - in a place too where customer service quite often isn't taken over seriously in my opinion.
    DECISION: I'm going to drop it from the tour though. Despite all this I simply can't take the risk. Unfortunate. I may still include it in the listings if I opt for adding a category for ice-cream/cake/pastry shops, but will - as discussed above - suggest that although other guidebooks might rate it for its reputation I personally think it's a bit pricey and the cakes aren't the best. (Ironically of course the chocolates I was given are truly excellent!)

  16. I do hope you've saved a chocolate for me... after all I was the one to nearly eat the cockroach!

  17. Ola. Was rather hoping for some Fawlty
    Towers/Monty Python type denial. Its
    not a bug, its a raisin.

    Well RIP Senor Cockroach - off to the
    big cake in the sky.
    Muerte por la tarde! Adios!

  18. brilliant thread that would have made a nice little radio prog. but can you estimate J for the benefit of those who aren't miserably paid writers what you are being paid for that one tiny snippet of info in the guide-book revision? presumably it's one of hundreds of entries that all have to be checked so divide your fee by the number of places and tell us how much you have been paid pro rate to check this place out.

    i bet that's the real tragedy of this thread.

    and that might go some way to answer the disingenuous kevin may who expects us all to have the same level of fact checking regardless of pay. of course that's totally unrealistic. there's a vast difference between cutting and pasting from the net and personally visiting every place mentioned. in this instant you;ve gone way beyond the normal call of duty.

    for some of my internet work i get pence, for some of my print work i get thousands of pounds. is that the editors' whimsy or are they expecting different standards?

  19. Jeremy, this thread rather puts paid to your complaints about travel journalism being so badly paid. If things were as bad as you say then you would have been delighted to find such a rich source of protein in your otherwise carb loaded cake.

  20. I write a major guide book, and I recently had an editor who independently searched back in the health department records to find violations for one particular place I had written about. It was a local landmark that merited mention, but he didn't want it in the book, so he took it upon himself to find a reason why. It didn't matter to him that the place had passed four subsequent health inspections over the past two years and was squeaky-clean now -- he wanted me to mention the past violations. It was totally unfair to all the other places that didn't get such a treatment, it gave the false (and possibly libelous) impression that the place was currently an unsafe place to eat, and it was unfair to the establishment, since those issues were long behind it. I bring this up because it's proof that 1) the standard can be so haphazardly applied when deciding what to include in a book and 2) infractions can haunt a place forever. Also, it proves my editor is a conniving dick, but that's more for me to worry about.

  21. Hi Simon,

    Apologies if you think I'm being disingenuous. Perhaps we're getting our disciplines mixed up...

    In my world of journalism (stretching from notoriously underpaid local newspapers and an in-house police service rag to marginally more lucrative trade magazine, moderating and broadcast), fact-checking takes place as standard.

    But given the time and resource pressures you face, I can see (reluctantly) why you might consider not doing so.

  22. @ Simon @ Kevin
    I'm sat between you on this. I see Kevin's point - but I think Simon is being very open about the inevitable choices you have to make as a freelance and I appreciate that a great deal. It's something editors should wake up to. We all have to earn a living... It's not about not fact checking. There is no suggestion here of that. It's about going the extra mile. For example.. you could check a place's phone number is correct and that it's still open by:
    1) Visiting it personally
    2) Calling the phone number and seeing if they answer
    3) Checking their website to see if the phone number on it is the same... and just dropping it if you can't find a website
    4) Checking some other kind of on-line directory to see if you can find them listed there
    Clearly there's a very different level of confidence about these different approaches.
    To be fair I am being paid quite a decent amount by Frommer's - and I am very happy to go on record saying that. And, yes, it has an impact on my readiness to go that extra mile.

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