/Tips for Tipping in Italy

Tips for Tipping in Italy

A recent post about the Roman restaurant Grano charging a 15% service charge to tourists sparked an interesting discussion and many questions about tipping 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 in Italy: 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 person, 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.

2017-02-17T15:27:12+00:00 June 11th, 2011|Categories: Culture, Food & Wine|46 Comments

46 Comments

  1. […] I get this one a lot. This post outlines how to tip in Rome and Italy in […]

  2. Elizabeth Minchilli June 12, 2011 at 10:17 am - Reply

    Great post, thanks for the round up. But the tipping in bars thing is a general southern thing. Happens in Rome and then in the south for sure, as you head down.

  3. Amanda June 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    Great post, Katie. The fact that Lazio banned “pane e coperto” is especially interesting — I can’t remember the last time I didn’t see that on a restaurant bill (except maybe my local places I frequent most often).

    A question about the statement that servers in Italy are paid a living wage, though. I hear this thrown around a lot as the reason why there isn’t a big culture of tipping in Italy, but almost always by expats. And something about it doesn’t seem to quite make sense to me. From what I understand, the average salary in Italy is 1200 euros, and that’s not exactly livable in Rome, at least (although I understand – at least I hope – that the average salary in Rome is higher). But has anyone actually looked into what servers are really paid in Rome?

    If anything, I’d guess it’s not that Italian servers are getting paid more of a living wage than servers in America — it’s that many are family members of the owner and so are being taken care of that way, or that with unemployment so high it’s good to just have a job, or that they’re getting paid in nero so they’re not paying taxes on it. But even so, I’m not sure any of those completely explain why there’s no tipping culture here. I don’t think most Italians don’t tip because they think their server doesn’t NEED the extra cash (I’m guessing most servers do); I think they don’t tip just because other Italians don’t tip.

    One more point: I worked (very briefly) as a server/bartender in the U.K. There isn’t much of a tipping culture there (waiters, okay maybe 5-10%, but bartenders, not at all)… and let me tell you, the lack of tipping was NOT because waiters were paid any kind of “living wage” (at least no more of one than the States). It just was what it was.

    Anyway, just something I’ve always been skeptical/wondered about.

    Thanks for the great post!

  4. Katie June 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    I know there is the caffè sospeso in naples but havent seen that or a .10 tip anywhere else. thanks!

  5. Conor - Hidden Palette June 12, 2011 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    Great post thanks for the advice, and I also was charged for pane in almost every single restaurant I ate at in Rome, I won’t be doing that again!

  6. Katie June 12, 2011 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    @amanda servers in america make $0.00 before tips. back when i was serving and bartending i would make $2.13 and hour, which was then deducted automatically to contribute to my taxes. I would get a check every other week for a big fat goose egg. in the states servers live off of their tips. in italy servers live off their salaries. to be sure, they are not huge salaries. a living wage is enough to get by and pay the bills. im not sure what servers generally make in rome, i would assume between €900 and €1100 a month. not enough to live in the center, but enough to get by in the periphery. when i moved to rome i lived on €400 a month. granted, my rent in Culonia was €225 and i ate rice and beans every day but it can be done! ci si arrangia:)

    the reason i (and others) throw around this idea of servers in italy earning a living wage is because most visitors dont know it and arent aware of the tipping/service customs. of course this is in no way relevant as to why italians do or dont tip, just an explanation of how it differs from US customs. Italians dont tip (much) because it is not the custom to do so.

    In London most restaurants now add a 12% service fee to your bill. i get the impression that this is a relatively new custom (last few years or so). i dont know about the rest of the UK

  7. Carolyn June 12, 2011 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    Katie: are you saying the “pane e coperto” is illegal to be charged in Rome? If charged, should we dispute it? We usually tell them we don’t want the bread when they try to serve it (more often than not it’s stale and hard), but still get charged for it. We’re headed back to Rome in September and I want to be armed with knowledge this time. Thanks!

  8. Nathalie ( @spacedlaw ) June 12, 2011 at 6:59 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the post. I tip when I am happy with the service and also sometimes out of habit (but by French standards: the tips are much lower than American ones).

  9. […] Tipping in Italy document.write(''); Great help from my friend Katie Parla who lives in Rome and writes and travels extensively. http://www.parlafood.com/tips-for-tipping-in-italy/ […]

  10. […] Tipping in Italy document.write(''); Slightly OT, but so many cruise itineraries include Italian ports! Great help from my friend Katie Parla who lives in Rome and writes and travels extensively. http://www.parlafood.com/tips-for-tipping-in-italy/ […]

  11. Katie June 12, 2011 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    youre welcome, Conor! i think the pane and coperto thing are just something we are going to have to live with. they are ubiquitous!

  12. Keane June 13, 2011 at 12:01 am - Reply

    Great post! This was really helpful. Thanks!

  13. jojo June 13, 2011 at 12:31 am - Reply

    I think it’s very mean to be mean-spirited.
    Tips are not a tax … they are an expression of one’s satisfaction.

    The 10 cents for a coffee or cappuccino at a bar … have ALWAYS been around, in Frascati, at the FAO bar, in the Marche, in Tuscany … and it has nothing to do with being served quickly … the opposite: i.e. NOT putting a tiny bit of money on the coffee or cappuccino order is seen as being niggardly.

    The point is: …. ????
    Tipping means: “I SEE you….”.

  14. Sam J June 13, 2011 at 1:00 am - Reply

    Great post, Katie! I always found it annoying that there’s a seperate fee for bread and “cover”. Even they charge you when you don’t even get bread. And what is cover? Knives and forks? A chair? Napkins? Can those things not just be “covered” in the price of the mea?. I think pane e coperto are so tacky. I’d rather not eat bread, stand, and eat with my hands. Just serve me good food and charge the price on the menu. But that’s me.

  15. Steve O. June 13, 2011 at 1:08 am - Reply

    Great post! I think we could use one more critical piece of information, maybe it would make a good follow up: Why shouldn’t I tip? So what if Italians don’t tip, we do, I can’t imagine that’s a problem, right?

    I think the “well don’t they get paid enough already?” question is pretty irrelevant. I worked for years at restaurants in the states myself as well, sometimes getting $15.00 an hour and big tips on top (location location location). The reality is that the entire restaurant/eating out experience from beginning to end is different between the US and Italy, from choosing where to eat in the first place to the final tipping and leaving. This creates a completely different set of expectations on behalf of both the clientele and the servers (you want your steak and your pasta to come at the same time, and then a cappuccino!?!?!?), and that cultural gap leaves so many places for confusion or annoyance or exploitation throughout the whole experience, for everyone.

    So when solving the tipping conundrum I think it’s best to simplify: when people ask me “How much should I tip at restaurants in Italy?” I reply with some form of “Italy does not have a tipping culture, and therefore it is not necessary to tip. But if you really want to, or had a great service experience, leave 1 – 2 euros on whatever size meal.” There’s really no need for further discussion, because that is the cultural norm. How much restaurant owners in that country pay the servers should be irrelevant, especially to tourists. The problem begins when people want to continue the dialog, when they insist on retaining their own cultural norms rather than trying to adjust to your new surroundings, and this can bring about (often unfortunate) change.

    The Grano example is a microcosm of Rome’s entire restaurant demise transformation, with waiters expecting tips from tourists, and restaurant managers adding service charges to tourist bills, and even restauranteurs re-structuring, franchising, or building entire restaurants that cater to tourist expectations rather than Italian ones (like what’s happened to Via di Tor Millina by Navona over the years). But then we’re talking about a bigger problem, tourism, especially large-scale, is inherently invasive and can leave an everlasting effect on a place.

    I guess my point is, while tipping is a seemingly small issue, it’s like littering — culture is infectious! So just don’t tip in Italian restaurants. If you’re not getting great service at a Roman restaurant, chances are you picked an authentic place. Cheers!

    Oh, and lol @ Culonia, Katie.

  16. Sarah Fraser June 13, 2011 at 11:42 am - Reply

    Katie – I love this post. Would you be interested in sharing it on The Tuscan Magazine blog? editor@thetuscanmagazine.com

  17. nyc/caribbean ragazza June 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    Great post. I usually leave a few euros like my Italian friends, but never 10 – 15% like we do in the States.

    I wonder what the tipping culture is in places like Bologna or Milan that don’t have a lot of American tourists?

    I was a waitress in college. We lived off tips and we didn’t have health insurance like the waiters in the EU. Also, waiting tables in most places in the States is a temporary gig. Here the majority of people do it for a living.

  18. Art June 13, 2011 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    Never understood why in the US they can’t pay people a normal wage no matter how low. I hate going there and pay every nob a dollar. Since the US is going bankrupt anyway I think tourists tipping in Italy will become a rare sight.

  19. saraF June 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    I went by Grano and checked their English menu- I think that service fee is gone now.

  20. Steve O, June 14, 2011 at 12:43 am - Reply

    Side note: Just heard a horror story from some clients that were recommended by friends to go to Taverna dei Fori Imperiali for lunch. They were three people, had antipasto per tre, 3 primi, 2 second, 2 cotorni, ONE bottle of wine (Lazio), water and 2 desserts. Bel abbondante, but they were charged 220 euros.

    I really think this place needs to be avoided, I’ve been hearing more and more terrible feedback about them lately. They were great until they opened the new location… chissà

  21. Christina Baglivi Tinglof June 14, 2011 at 3:43 am - Reply

    Great subject as I have struggle with this many times. As Americans, we so programmed to tipping. When in Italy, I’d always watch “the locals” and took my cues from them. I rarely saw anyone tip.

  22. Aimee June 14, 2011 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    @Amanda, I’ve lived in Rome for 10 years. They say the average salary in Italy is about €1200/mo but keep in mind that there is a big difference between salaries in the north, center and south. I believe €1200/mo in Rome is a very decent salary for educated and skilled workers (although a one bedroom apartment will cost you all you make!) Hoever, it’s certainly not the average income for waiters or bartenders who can earn as little as €5 per hr (€800-900 monthly) and usually “in nero”. A room in a shared apartment usually costs about €500 a month in neighborhoods surrounding Rome’s center and forget about moving outside of Rome since the cost of your commute will quickly add up in terms of expenses and time. I don’t think you are able to live a normal life waiting tables if you keep in mind the daily expenses for food, clothing and transportation. An Italian friend of mine works in a locale a night and she told me that she served a table of 10 people and their bill was well over €100. They left her with a 50 cent tip!!! If 10 people can’t put 50 cents each on the table, then better no tip in my opinion otherwise it seems an insult. I always tip a couple of euros if I’ve been happy with the service because I understand the situation, not because I’m American or Italian. I just feel it’s a hard job, little rewards and I think it’s a good gesture.

  23. Bill July 6, 2011 at 5:41 am - Reply

    Regarding “Servizio” charges in Rome.

    Our family just returned from two great weeks in and around Amalfi and Rome, with incredible dining and many memorable experiences based on your reviews and other boards.

    However, we had only one “incident” regarding a “Servizio” added onto our bill, and it was at an otherwise great evening at Rome’s Trattoria Monti.

    I was presented a bill totaling 160 Euro, which included on the bill a total of 8 Euro for “Pane” (which was on most Roman restaurant bills). The printed line on the bill “Servizio” was blank. I gave my credit card to the server.

    He returned with my card and the credit card receipt to be signed, however it was for 176 Euro. And, the original itemized dinner bill was now altered, with the line for “Servizio” now showing a written “10%” and “16 Euro”.

    Further, where the “Totale” of 160 Euro was originally written in, it was now written OVER with the new total of 176 Euro.

    I checked the menus, which did not indicate any service charges, called over the man I took to be in charge that evening, and asked why the bill was changed after I had presented by credit card and with no menu reference to “Servizio”.

    His response was surprising, as the overall service had been good throughout the dinner, as he issued a rather brusque “it’s the service”. I then noted that this was unusual, applying charges after the fact, and that “Servizio” had not been charged anywhere in Rome during our stay.

    He shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

    If I was similarly treated in the U.S., I would have refused to sign the credit card receipt. On reflection, I decided we didn’t need an uproar over this amount, marring an otherwise great day and evening.

    Having been versed in the travails of Roman “Servizio” by your comments and by other boards, I was overall pleasantly surprised to find only this one “Servizio” incident. In past years, frankly, I did not understand tipping policy very well, probably spending way too much being a naive American!

    Just thought this might add to your very useful postings!

    Thanks for a terrific blog!

  24. CrazyWaiter July 14, 2011 at 10:27 am - Reply

    I’m a waiter in France where’s there a tipping culture neither, but tipping is always appreciated by your waiter!

    Although we have a salary at minimum level, it makes doing nice things in life possible. Nice things to compensate the fact that being a waiter is physically and mentally demanding.

  25. aleesandro August 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    I’m italian, usually we don’t leave tips at restaurants, generally if the bill is €47, we pay €50. I don’t eat in restaurants with multilanguage menu, they are evidently tourist traps, poor food, % service. If in a restaurant ” free” from bread and cover charge, I leave a €2/3 more. No tips in hotel.
    No tips to the taxi drivers. A little tip to tourist’s guide.
    Anyway, if U appreciate the service, a little tip is appreciate…everywhere.

  26. […] Italians resent that tipping may become an expectation for all, not just Americans. Katie Parla at Parla Food weighs in on this topic by saying, “The small number of Italians I know who do tip leave a euro or two per person, […]

  27. Chris May 24, 2012 at 12:43 am - Reply

    I’m in Italy now and been here for 10 days meeting a family member for a vacation after a graduate school session before heading back to the states. Ia=am finding that the advice people I have gotten from “professionals” before I left the states, may, or, may not, apply. There is no consistency here in Italy, legally, or culturally. Many members of the class went to dinner at a restaurant and saw the service fee, disguised as a door charge, and decided there was no need to tip. The waiter got furious and made a big scene about it. They left and still didn’t tip. However, a few of them, my family member was planning to take me there for dinner since he liked the food. I guess that will not happen. Yesterday at another restaurant, the waiter told us when the bill came, “The tip is not included and must be in cash. The reason tips, and more-so payment of the bill, must be in cash is to limit income, in the form of taxes, to the failing Italian economy. Just tonight we had to pay the restaurant bill in cash for a restaurant in Florence. With the drunk Italian outside our hotel window shouting as I type this, leaves me to think that maybe things are changing rapidly here in Italy and the professionals can’t keep up with how the system is changing. (There are many other recommendations I read and have gotten from travel agents, who have been in Italy, that are worthless because of the inconsistency I have seen while here visiting Rome, Venice, Milan, and Florence. I won’t even mention Naples because I’ll never go there again.)

  28. Chris May 24, 2012 at 12:47 am - Reply

    The text does not appear exactly as I typed it so there must have been some communication issue resulting in bad grammar and incomplete phrases, etc. The changes needed are obvious and you may edit it as seen fit.

    Ciao!

  29. […] about that time. It’s been nearly a year since my last guide to tipping was published and what with the media frenzy surroudning the Zuckerbergs not tipping at Roman […]

  30. JB Leep May 21, 2013 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    I have now had about 50 meals out in the last 8 months in France and Italy, about a third of them in Italy, most in the country. I have never felt compelled to tip, and much less in expensive places. Sometimes I see “coperta” but most times not, and it does not seem to have any correlation to tipping. I do give taxi drivers a Euro or so tip, because it seems like a pretty tough way to earn a living. But then, I also do not begrude people who take care of toilettes, where I think 50 cents or a Euro is pretty small for me, and helps them make it. I have some comments here and there on my own Travel Blog. Thanks for the advice here.

  31. Brankica July 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    I absolutely loved this. I’ve been to Italy several times as a tourist from Serbia, then a guest for local people and then as a tourist with my American husband and I have noticed some of the stuff you write about. Of course, my husband would tip the American way, except for one time in Venice when they should be happy we paid the bill at all (talk about terrible service). But it is good to know things like this because even though I don’t mind tipping good service, I don’t like paying extra for lousy one either.

  32. Chrisma August 21, 2013 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    My husband and I have been living in Germany for the past couple of years, so we are used to how local people tip around europe.

    We are not against tipping, nor we are too generous about it. If we consume a cup of coffee for €1,80 it is common to leave €0,20 for tip, just for the sake of rounding it up. Or around 5-10% in fancy restaurant, depending on the bill and the service.

    But Italy has always been special case. First time I’ve ever been to Italy, ate in a restaurant in Rome, they charged me €2 for reserving the table, €1 for every cutlery and €0.50 for every paper napkin I used. I thought it was because it’s kind of fancy tourist restaurant.

    We spent the past few days in Lake Como, everywhere we eat, they always charge coperto, some of them nice enough to mention it on the menu, some of them not. It varies from €2 to €5. I can understand why fancy restaurant with straight lake view in Bellagio charge €5 for coperto, they’re not exactly ‘normal’ restaurants, but some ‘normal’ restaurants actually do so too. They could charge family dinner of 4 easily €20 just for sitting there, without even mentioning it on the menu, and the waiter suddenly speaks no english when you confront them about the ridiculous fact.

  33. Michelle February 23, 2014 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    I feel so silly for after reading this article. My husband and I went to Italy two years ago and we weren’t exactly sure of the tipping rules outside the restaurant so a lot of times we tipped our taxi drivers 10-15% just in case. Won’t be making the same mistake when we go to Italy this year!

  34. Nina April 4, 2014 at 1:33 am - Reply

    Thank you for the interesting information. It explains something. I have been in Italy for a couple of days now, and as an older woman traveling alone, was expecting to be relegated to a dark corner by the swinging kitchen door despite the availability of other tables, as I am throughout North America. (There is a self-fulfilling prophesy that lone women diners don’t tip well. They are badly treated, and therefore don’t. In North America I tip well on the rare occasion that I am served well when alone. I am consistently served well when with others. ). Here in Italy, I am delighted that I have been treated as well as any other diner, and given the best table available at the time without having to request a change. I have had fabulous service in both Bologna and Monterosso. What a pleasant surprise! Perhaps the lack of a tipping culture is great equalizer.

  35. AJ April 22, 2014 at 7:13 am - Reply

    All I can think to say in response to this is that you have obviously never been a waiter. You say you should not tip as a tourist because it sets a bad precedence, but waiters in any country are not dogs that need to be trained.

    • Katie May 1, 2014 at 11:38 am - Reply

      Congratulations for not reading my bio nor being willing to understand Italian cultural norms, AJ!

  36. Adam June 5, 2014 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed reading this article because, like the Italians, I don’t tip.

  37. Lucia August 10, 2014 at 7:49 pm - Reply

    Hello,
    I am an italian (tour guide) in Rome.
    I normally tip at restaurants, bars and taxis if I like the service and if I think the price is fair.
    It is true that people are paid a living wage € 1000,00 (roughly) per month but it is also true that taxes in Italy are the highest in Europe, come to visit and tell me if it is easy to survive on 1000 euros a month!
    Tips can help buyng groceries and for daily expences. It is true that tip is not mandatory, and that 20% is A LOT, I normally tip between 5-10% it makes them happy and it does not hurt my wallet. To me tip is important: I pay 56 % taxes (if not more) on my earnings, I am only a seasonal worker and tips are an untaxed help which I would like to receive if I do my best for someone. This is my personal and partial opinion (but at least it comes from the other side, so you have a comparison!)
    ps my friends tip, and if they don’t want to I make them leave something!

  38. […] tip. See this article for further guidance, what I would call a mandatory read. Essentially, waiters are paid a […]

  39. […] Tips for Tipping in Italy – Parla Food […]

  40. Antonia Windsor April 20, 2015 at 12:04 am - Reply

    Great post. I’ve been travelling around Italy with my family the past few months blogging at mumandamap.com and had several bad experiences with taxi drivers not giving me change and then refusing to understand when I comment and just driving off – so when I have given €20 for a €15 ride, I have lost out on €5. This happened once in Milan and once in Florence. I also was charged an €8 cover charge in Venice for my two babies (one each), even though we didn’t order any food for them – Luckily I was with a fluent Italian speaker and we reclaimed this cost.

  41. […] Tips for Tipping […]

  42. Dana Jones July 20, 2015 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    What is the norm for a private tour guide?

    • Katie July 20, 2015 at 7:11 pm - Reply

      As a private guide I definitely don’t expect a tip and don’t believe it’s necessary–private guides are fairly expensive as it is. Sometimes my clients just round up to the nearest €10 increment, others tip €50/100 for half/full day tours, which is totally appreciated but not expected

  43. David Hawkins February 16, 2016 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    I’ve personally never been outside the country, but my military father said that tipping in Europe is generally frown upon. He says that it can even be taken as an insult depending on the situation. I know that when I go to my favorite Italian restaurant here in America, I make sure and tip the waiter appropriately to their service. Thanks for posting these cool insights into restaurants around the world!

  44. Jimmy August 8, 2016 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    In Venice I experienced similar to your four dirty words: “Service is included, but you may tip if you like”.
    By the way; the food was both expensive and probably semi-finished industrial food.

    As someone mentioned above, if the menu is multi language (and I might add; if it has pictures of the food in the menu), you are most likely at the wrong place.

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