Ah, tipping. Gratuity. A bit of thanks. A little extra for you.
Jimmy does not understand the American style tipping at all. It is a concept that he cannot subscribe to, even when I tell him to just pretend that whatever price he sees is really 25% more than advertised to account for tax and tip.
In Italy, tax is built into the relevant prices that you see advertised. If something costs 25 euro, then you will pay exactly 25 euro for it. The 22% VAT is already hidden inside.
For the most part, prices are straightforward.
However, eating out in Italy comes with its own hidden fees as well as the great question: how much should I tip? Here are 7 pointers on tipping etiquette in Italy, and a demystifying explanation of what you are seeing on your bill when you eat out.
Tips for Tipping and Eating Out in Italy:
- Coperto: There is sometimes a charge called a coperto. This coperto should be clearly stated somewhere on the menu, and may range from 1-3 euro per person. A coperto is not a tip, it is a cover charge to offset the price of bread, oil, salt, and anything else you might be using. In Lazio (where Rome is located), there should not be a coperto charge.
- Pane: HOWEVER, if there is not a coperto, then expect to pay 1 to 1.50 per person for bread. (You may see this written on the bill as pane in Italian). You can try to send the bread back if you really don’t want to pay this, but the bread is good and really it is not so much to charge, is it?
- Servizio: Another sneaky charge that might pop up is the servizio. The fact that a servizio will be added should be clearly stated on the menu, and it should be used only in the case of groups of 8 or more. The servizio is a tip, so there is no need to leave anything more if you have been charged this fee.
- Tip as much (but not too much) or as little as you like: Ok, so what about when there is no coperto and no servizio? Well, then, it is simply up to you – but the tip is not anywhere near the 20% that has become standard in the US. A good rule of thumb in a typical restaurant is about 1 euro per person. Alternatively, you can round up the bill, let’s say from 75 to 80 euro. This article (also in Italian) goes into a bit more of a debate – concluding that you should tip when you feel like it. Was the service fantastic? The waiter anticipated your every desire? Tip! But if the service was terrible? Forget it.
- Do you have to tip for coffee? I always take my coffee at the bar, rather than sit down at a table. This is partly because I prefer the custom of standing, but also because coffee prices vary if you sit down. (My friends once paid €8 for a cappuccino by the Pantheon!). However, for prompt service (and because I feel like it), I usually put a small coin on top of my receipt when I bring it to the barista. If your coffee was €0.90, you can leave the 10 cent coin behind if you like.
- What about tipping everyone else? Your tour guide or your porter who carried your bag up 4 flights of stairs when the elevator stopped working? By all means, tip a few euro for great service – regardless if food was involved. There is a rumour that tipping in Italy is insulting. It’s not. Italians are used to the American custom and appreciate it so feel free to tip your tour guide if you feel so inclined, but 20% would still be much much more than customary. To make this a bit more confusing – it is not customary to tip the owner of a business. Employees, fine. However, the owner is autonomous and does not need tipping charity. They have a business to run, and it is doing just fine, thank you.
- And tipping taxis? Nope. It’s not done. No. Get your change, or round up 10 – 50 cents if it makes the change easier.
Want more tips about how to act like a local during your time in Italy? Check out this fantastic round up of even more etiquette pointers that I worked on in collaboration with Tuscany Now & More.