/Grano and the Selective Service Charge

Grano and the Selective Service Charge

Grano’s English menu. Photo by Gina Tringali

I know there’s a lot of crazy distracting English going on in the shot of Grano’s menu, but focus on the line below “It’s available our wine list”. Focus good and hard on “Service 15%”. This is the first time I am seeing that line on Grano’s menu. Because I get the Italian menu, where the phrase is absent. In fact, for Italian speakers, the whole service charge seems to disappear. Curious.

It seems that at Grano, a restaurant located in Piazza Rondanini in Rome’s historical center, service is only applied to English speaking patrons (ie, tourists). I first heard about this practice back in January when some clients of mine went there for dinner. After spending days with them and answering their questions about tipping and service charges in Italy, they were quite stunned to see the 15% service charge added to their bill. During our time together I told them, “Expect a service charge at lots of places in Capri and Venice, but in Rome only tourist traps use it.” Imagine my surprise when I inspected their bill and there in black and white, a line read, “Servizio 15%”. I was stunned.

My bill from lunch at Grano earlier this month makes no mention of service.

After all, I have eaten at Grano half a dozen times since it opened and I did not recall ever seeing such a charge on my bill or mention of it on my menu. I went back to check and, low and behold, the Italian menu and bill were void of the service charge. On my way out, I asked the English speaking patrons seated near me (a well known Canadian travel writer and her husband at that) if a service charge had been added to their bill. It had. They chalked it up to eating in a touristy area and didn’t seem particularly annoyed by it.

I, on the other hand, am not so forgiving. The moment I had a hunch that Grano was selectively applying service to tourists I yanked their entry from the forthcoming Fodor’s Guide to Rome. I also surveyed other clients I had sent there to find if they had been charged service. The answers were always yes. In an email exchange, Sarah L wrote, “A service charge was added to the bill. We asked the owner if this was for the tip, and the owner uncomfortably said yes, and quickly processed the card for the bill. I don’t recall if there was a note about a service charge in the menu but the owner was adamant that it’s mentioned in there.”

The charge is easy to miss. It is cleverly tucked away on the desert page. Bravi.

UPDATE: I found a receipt that American clients gave me in the spring. They suspected they had been overcharged. That would be an understatement. Grano applied both a bread AND a 15% service charge to the bill.

2017-02-17T15:27:38+00:00 May 25th, 2011|Categories: Restaurants, Restaurants in Rome, Rome & Lazio|Tags: |33 Comments


  1. Lou Sernoff May 25, 2011 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    When you raised this issue in response to my posting on Chowhound, that was it for us. My wife and I wouldn’t have patronized Grano at gunpoint. We had a lovely lunch instead at nearby La Campana. Afterward, we happened to walk by Grano and I inspected the menu posted outside, which didn’t seem to offer the variety presented at Campana. With your current clarification, I regard our delectable order of vignarola at Campagna as “on the house”. In a very satisfactory week of dining in Rome, a few weeks ago, we were never presented with any service charge except the usual few Euros for bread and water. By this accounting, we had dishes “on the house” at every Roman restaurant we patronized. Ain’t we clever; we pay attention to Katie Parla.

  2. shayma May 25, 2011 at 11:00 pm - Reply

    unbelievable. these things are important to know. Katie, did you know that my favourite place for lunch in Rome- the place i used to go every Saturday, without fail, does smthg similar? it’s Bar Frattina on the via Frattina. they have different prices for tourists and their usual patrons, like yours truly. i dont know how they do it, but basically i went there once with a French colleague (new face for them) and the usual server who is my friend, was not there. the bill came and i had a heartattack. i went in and then they all said, “sorry, sorry, it’s G’s friend, it’s G’s friend,” meaning, change the bill, we know her. it was settled (reduced)- but, isnt that awful? x shayma

  3. Jeffrey May 25, 2011 at 11:21 pm - Reply

    My family had something like that happen in Costa Rica last summer. Everybody at the table got menus in English, except one of us. We were comparing the menus to see if there were any local dishes that were not on the English menu, and noticed that the prices were significantly higher on the tourist menu (even accounting for an unfavorable exchange rate). When we asked our waitress, you could see the panic in her eyes as she quickly yanked away the local menu and brought another in English…

  4. Rebecca Winke May 25, 2011 at 11:25 pm - Reply

    This sort of caddish behaviour seems so anachronistic in this age of instant and exhaustive information. But still the norm is Assisi, as well. Which is why travellers are eating in Spello and Bevagna.

  5. John May 25, 2011 at 11:30 pm - Reply

    I love posts like this! Katie Parla of the FBI – Food and Beverage Investigations!

  6. […] Katie Parla ha scoperto la teoria, anzi, la pratica del doppio legame di Gregory Bateson. Lui parlava dei messaggi conflittuali al ristorante americano tra il cartello in mano alla cameriera che recita “siete benvenuti” e la faccia stanca della stessa cameriera sfatta dopo 10 ore di lavoro. Una fregatura sull’asse penso una cosa e ne dico un’altra, schizofrenica. A Grano in piazza Rondanini il cameriere, non sappiamo se sfatto o no, è attrezzato con il doppio listino. In inglese sotto l’invitante scritta It’s available ourrrrr wine list potete mettere a fuoco l’avvertenza: Service 15%. […]

  7. Eleonora May 26, 2011 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Uno scandalo!
    It’s for things like this that some travelers come away from Italy with preconceptions firmly planted and a negative stamp on their Italian eating experience.

    As a schizophrenic bi-lingual (mixing Italian and English in a single sentence), I often pass as a tourist in my hometown, Rome. I am therefore sometimes prey of this alas common “clever” subterfuge at restaurants… It’s terrible.

    Thank you for the heads-up!

  8. jojo May 26, 2011 at 10:36 am - Reply

    Did you tell the owners of Grano? You should … nothing like a bit of bad publicity to get the word out to the rest ’em! Over twenty years ago, an Italian friend was charged a ridiculous amount in a bar in Venice (let’s just say drinks for two) … and he refused to pay. He told them to fetch the police, he wasn’t going to pay! The owners or whoever was running the place, didn’t want a scandal and let them off ….

  9. Kat May 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    I’ve had a similar experience here in Rome not in restaurants, but more casual things like getting coffee, etc. For example sitting next to two other American girls charged 3 euros each for their cappuccinos (at an outside table), while when I went to pay for mine and spoke in italian, it was 1 euro. Or maybe it was because I was wearing a skirt. You never can tell here

  10. Conor - Hidden Palette May 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    This is unbelievable, I have recently been in Italy and found that at cover charge was added to most bills for pane (bread) even if we didn’t eat it, and then there is even service on top of this in some places. Could you please clear up what is the general consensus in Italy when it comes to tipping?

  11. Tom May 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    I wonder what would happen if an American were to dine at Grano and ask for the Italian menu? My partner and I always ask for the Italian menu when dining out in Italy because we want to know the “real” dishes the restaurant serves, not the poorly translated ones and missing ones on the English menu. So, if I were to dine at Grano and asked as I always do for the Italian menu (which I assume would not have the mention of the service charge) would I get a bill that included the 15%? And if I did and pointed out that there was no mention of it on the menu, what would they do? Hmmmm.

    I really hope this practice does not become a trend in Rome and other parts of Italy. It would be a shame.

  12. Sazerac May 26, 2011 at 3:40 pm - Reply

    Right on, right on! Thank you Katie for this expose!

    Ya know.. if they had cleverly reworded the “Servizio” to “Coperto”, I probably would not have even bat a single lash 🙁 It would have been an exorbitant coperto, but we probably would not have seen anything wrong with coperto vs servizio :/

    Thanks again for this write up!

  13. janie May 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the heads up. It’s really unfair and I’m glad you’ve made us aware. I’ve often wondered about this. On my recent trip we were asked if we wanted English menus and I also asked for an Italian menu because I’m trying to use the language-now I will make sure I check both for the prices!

  14. Sienna May 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    Considering that Americans tip better than anyone, they are probably many times getting double tipped, or shooting themselves in the foot because an American would probably normally tip 20% since they do not know that the Roman custom is to leave some change amounting to approximately one Euro per person. None of our Roman friends leave more than that no matter where we are dining. Restaurants can get away with the table setting charge for “pane” whether you ate it or not, for bottled water which ruins the environment and is ridiculous to use considering the high quality of water in Rome, and servizio charge for larger groups where they often make it mandatory. This discrimination is pathetic and should be brought to the attention of the comune. Tourists already pay exorbitant prices for so many things and are continually being robbed by taxi drivers and other service providers, yet without them Rome would be a cow town with a bunch of weeds in the ruins. Unforgivable.

  15. Jennifer May 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm - Reply

    This is nothing laugh about, the same happened to my wife and I in Germany.

  16. […] letterale perchè si aggiunge una specifica: il costo del servizio. Sono le 5 parole che fanno arrabbiare Katie Parla quando un suo connazionale si accinge a pagare il conto: il servizio NON è compreso. Un vizietto […]

  17. Mary May 31, 2011 at 7:09 am - Reply

    Last time my husband and I were in Naples we dined, as we had every September for the last few years , at Ciro a Mergellina an excellent and well-known restaurant. Even though we asked for the menu in Italian after being offered the English version, ordered in Italian and had a bit of conversation (in Italian) with the waiter, he pegged us as unsuspecting tourists and stood at the table after we had signed the bill…..obviously waiting for a tip. My husband buckled under the pressure and gave him a ten euro bill, but then and there we decided not to go back to Ciro a Mergellina…a place we’ve frequented for the last five years. Too bad. (This didn’t happen the next day at Sunday lunch at Zi’Teresa.)

  18. Pigneto Dweller May 31, 2011 at 8:55 am - Reply

    With all that money they make ripping off tourists, you think they could splurge and spend the 50 EUR to get their menu translated by a professional. Even with all the ubiquitous badly translated English in Italy, these ones are particularly awful. Drinkable treated and sparkling water? Sounds like it comes from a sewage treatment plant.

  19. […] 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). […]

  20. Katie June 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    @Lou Im glad you made it to La Campana instead!! Mmmm…vignarola…one of those seasonal delights we will have to wait 10 months for…

    @Shayma Im not surprised. Ciardi on Via Cavour has this horrid practice, too. i went there and ordered a cappuccino from the new guy and he gave me a HUGE cup of cappuccino and charged me an outrageous price for it. when i said “macche’ sta roba?” he was all apologies and said sorry i thought you were foreign! apparently foreigners like buckets of expensive cappuccino? mah!

    @Jeffrey that is horrible!!!

    @Rebecca most roman restauranteurs dont know the internet exists. they certainly dont have reasonable web sites or google alerts on their names. if so grano would have picked up on my suspicions from chowhound in january. its sad that people have to be driven out of assisi. tourism is a wonderful and destructive force in italy.

    @John I see a tshirt in the making!

    @Eleonora dining should be fun and carefree! situations like this keep me on the defensive!

    @jojo i sent the owner of grano an email to the address on the website but received no reply.

    @Kat furbi indeed…skirt dont hurt

    @conor you got it! http://www.parlafood.com/tips-for-tipping-in-italy/

    @Tom ive often wondered the same thing. is it possible that no one ever noticed it before? doesnt seem possible

    @Janie it always seems bizarre to me when a place has 2 menus. isnt it cheaper to have just 1 with translations. in guess in this case the 2 menus paid for themselves. ha!

    @ Sazerac youre welcome!

    @Sienna i totally agree this is unforgivable. and you are so right about the bottled water! and everything else;) i would encourage anyone who has been charged a service fee at Grano to report the occurrence to the police station in Piazza del Collegio Romano n.3. they handle these types of infractions.

    @jennifer it is definitely not a laughing matter

    @Mary I am so sorry that happened to you at Ciro! it must feel even worse to be treated that way at a place where you were return guests!

    @pigneto dweller it so does. gross. with all the native tongue english speakers in rome SOMEONE needs to put together a business that translates menus reasonably!!!

  21. Katie W. August 6, 2011 at 10:14 pm - Reply


    I wish I had seen this earlier this week.

    I’m a server in America, so I know how it is to wait on people. (I am accordingly always polite, friendly, and understanding when servers are busy with demanding customers.)

    All week, I have been saying hello in italian, ordering in italian, asking for the check in italian, etc. – but I am obviously a tourist (I carry my guidebook around with me because I have no sense of direction)

    Several times now I have been hit with this “service charge” and thought nothing of it. I still leave 1-2 euros on the table when I leave, mostly because it feels wrong to me to leave nothing as a server myself.

    That being said, as a non-problem-causing, solo tourist I am FURIOUS that this double standard has been applied to me. I became suspicious today when I overheard another table discussing their bill (locals) whose 2 course meal totaled about the same as my one course with wine. At the same restaurant, I heard an American couple ask if the service charge was a tip, to which their waiter VERY gruffly replied “TIP IS EXTRA.”

    Is there a good way to handle it for those of us who aren’t fluent? For instance, if I ask the server about it myself are they likely to budge? Do they know we’re all going to figure this out soon?

    Help. I’ve got another week in Rome and I don’t want to be mad at every meal.


  22. […] mistreated. I did my part (sorta), pulling the restaurant from guidebooks and my web based app (Grano style…Don’t mess with Parla’s people, son.) But I never did inform the restaurant that […]

  23. cathi October 24, 2011 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    We were in Rome in August and before we left on our trip, I had read about all the extra charges on the food bill for tourists. I keep a keen eye on it and thankfully we were not charged. I checked out the menu really well and if nothing was said on it, I made sure to ask. Thanks for being on top of this situation!

  24. Barb Hawley November 9, 2011 at 3:33 am - Reply

    Just want to chime in about ripoffs in Rome–the taxi to and from the airport to Rome is 40 euro–it’s posted at every taxi stand. Yet one charged me 60 euro last week (before I knew about the official rate). Then, yesterday when I left Rome, I gave the driver 41 euro. He tried to charge me 49 because that was on the meter. I pointed to the post with the sign and said “right there it says 40 euro.” He was very agitated and tried to argue but got in his taxi. Also during the week, a taxi driver shortchanged me by 2 euro (approx. $3) and I didn’t realize it until he drove off. He did this even after I tipped him 1 euro!
    My daughter is living in Rome and told me that everyone does this, and it’s been part of the culture for so long they don’t feel guilty at all. We have to be the ones who are aware, and when we call them on it, they fix the situation (albeit sometimes with argument). It’s irritating but that’s the way it is.

  25. […] If an item has been added, probably 10 but up to 20 percent, called “servizio,”that’s “service.” You see this often in Venice, the Cinque Terre, and Amalfi coast, and at more-touristy establishments in Florence and Rome. Something to know about servizio: Although it seems to be legal, it should be written on the menu, as should pane e coperto. (It’s often, of course, in small print and/or on a back page). Few Italians actually have to pay this servizio, and sometimes, it’s only written on the English version of the menu. […]

  26. […] If an item has been added, probably 10 but up to 20 percent, called “servizio,” that’s “service.” You see this often in Venice, the Cinque Terre, and Amalfi coast, and at more-touristy establishments in Florence and Rome. Something to know about servizio: Although it seems to be legal, it should be written on the menu, as should pane e coperto. (It’s often, of course, in small print and/or on a back page). Few Italians actually have to pay this servizio, and sometimes, it’s only written on the English version of the menu. […]

  27. […] business. Some restaurants may appear friendly but try to take advantage of the traveler by putting an additional service charge on the English version of their menu. And some don’t try to hide it at all, and are just plain rude (if you’ve eaten in […]

  28. Don September 25, 2012 at 6:38 pm - Reply


    My wife and I are going to Italy for our Honeymoon the first two weeks of Oct. 2012. Is this servizio thing still going on? Also……is paying for bread and water normal?


    • Katie September 26, 2012 at 9:51 am - Reply

      I hear Grano stopped breaking the law and they no longer impose this service charge on tourists. It is very normal to be charged for water and bread. If you don’t want bread you can send it away and some places will charge you anyway. It’s only a couple of euros pp and is essentially a service charge

  29. […] English speakers). Sorry about my earlier post. Here's where I had read about it, from ParlaFood: Grano and the Selective Service Charge __________________ To those planning their trips to Rome and to those currently visiting Rome […]

  30. Viaggiatore January 11, 2013 at 9:29 am - Reply

    As a Roman working in a multinational company, I always warn my colleagues about these frequent tourist scams. There is a regional law in Lazio (Rome’s region) which forbids cover charges (easily replaced by “bread”) and imposes menus to be exposed outside the restaurants: never enter one which does not show the menu outside! Not only, but that is the legal binding menu. A service charge in itself is not illegal, but it must be exposed on the menu outside. If it is not there, you can refuse to pay for it and for the police to be called if they insist.

    • Katie January 11, 2013 at 9:34 am - Reply

      thanks for weighing in! i have noticed since the crisis has intensified that these scams targeted at tourists are more and more common. what a short sighted business model!

  31. […] If an item has been added, probably 10 but up to 20 percent, called “servizio,” that’s “service.” You see this often in Venice, the Cinque Terre, and Amalfi coast, and at more-touristy establishments in Florence and Rome. Something to know about servizio: Although it seems to be legal, it should be written on the menu, as should pane e coperto. (It’s often, of course, in small print and/or on a back page). Few Italians actually have to pay this servizio, and sometimes, it’s only written on the English version of the menu. […]

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