You pay extra to eat precious seasonal delicacies or coveted regional brand foodstuff at hotels and restaurants — perhaps because you see extra value in the special dishes. But what if the "special" menus you open in front of you do not represent the food actually served?

The impressive list of major hotels and established department stores that followed Hankyu Hanshin Hotels in quick succession in admitting that they misrepresented food items on their restaurant menus makes it look as if it is a common practice in the nation's food-service industry. The operators of such establishments have denied trying to defraud customers for profit and blamed the problem on mistakes, miscommunication or lack of knowledge on the part of restaurant staff. But this explanation sounds hollow given that the replacement of expensive ingredients with cheaper items has been going on sometimes for years.

The president of Hankyu Hanshin Hotels, in announcing his resignation to take the blame for the fiasco, admitted that restaurant staff were aware that they were using ingredients different from the ones presented in the menus. Reported cases include Vannamei shrimp passed off as more expensive Shiba shrimp, "shark fin" soup using fins made of artificial ingredients, tiger shrimp served in dishes purported to include prawns and frozen fish used in a dish of "fresh" seafood.