A recent post about the Roman restaurant Grano charging a 15% service charge to tourists sparked an interesting discussion and many questions about tipping practices in Italy. What follows are guidelines of how to tip in Italy and some anomalous scenarios that visitors may encounter (and which locals are rarely subjected to).
Servizio: More and more frequently, restaurants in Rome, Florence, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast (ie tourist destinations) add an unprecedented 10-15% service charge to bills. As far as I can tell, this charge is perfectly legal, though it must be written on the menu in order for it to appear on the bill (look for the small print!). Often locals and regulars are exempt from this charge. If you sit down at a cafe for lunch, coffee, or a snack, the price already includes a service charge, so no need to leave extra. NB: The service charge is not the same thing as a tip, as you don’t have much choice in the matter. The service charge is mandatory and unusual and the tip is completely voluntary (see below).
Four dirty words: Nothing makes my blood boil more than a server telling my table “service is not included”. This only happens when I dine with English speaking friends and clients and it is nothing more than a ploy to exploit tourists. Service is absolutely included. If you wish you can leave a little extra but this is not required unless you really liked the service.
Tipping: Most Italians I know do not tip. Not at restaurants, not at salons or barber shops, not in pubs or wine bars, and certainly not in taxis. In Rome, you may see people standing at the counter waiting to be served coffee will put a 10 cent coin down with their receipt to get the barista’s attention. This is a practice I have not seen elsewhere.
The small number of Italians I know who do tip leave a euro or two per peson, regardless of how much the bill is. Please do not tip as you would in the US or other service based places. Servers in Italy are paid a living wage and though they do expect tips from Americans, they shouldn’t! Leaving a big tip perpetuates the expectation and double-standard placed on tourists and sets a very bad precedence.
My friend Rossella has this to say about tipping:
As an Italian, I can say that the general rule is “no tip”. But we are also a country full of exception. For coffee, the tip helps you to have a quick and nicer service. In restaurants, the tip is up to you and based on your opinion of the received service. I usually leave 1-2 euros. No tip at all for a taxi driver apart special cases; I’m still waiting for this special case.
“Pane e coperto”: The “bread and cover charge” was officially banned by the regional government of Lazio in 2006, yet it continues to appear on many bills, both for visitors as well as locals. Traditionally, the charge was seen as a “tax” for taking up a spot in the restaurant and as a means to pay the servers. The charge ranges between €1-3 and I found it on around two-thirds of my recent restaurant bills.