Helpline Question of the Month:
How much should I tip at a restaurant in Italy?
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The expectations surrounding tipping are not the same in Europe, which can make a traveler feel anxious. No one wants to be seen as a cheapskate — or an overly-generous sap. So, Rick from Bellevue, WA hoped to get by with a little help from his friends (including Fred).
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"Can someone give me advice on how to tip? What is 'COPERTO'? If they charge a coperto, do I need to tip?"
If the service was great give a 10% tip — there is a good chance they padded your bill, so don't feel bad about the crappy tip.
Coperto is more of an overhead fee that goes to management, not the server. Ten percent is high to me. A whole euro plus the small coins is about as far as I go.
—they try to bring you things you do not ask for — example sparkling water — just look at your bill to make sure they are not screwing you — the waiters can be dishonest — if they do a good job give them 10% they know in America we tip for everything!
Montreal, Quebec Canada
Fred, if the waiter brings me sparkling water which I did not request, he then takes it right back to where it came from! The padding of your bill can only only happen if you are not paying attention or are too shy to complain. I do object, though, to the idea that "bill padding" is rampant. I have not found this to be so.
I don't think I've ever seen a padded bill in a heck of a lot of travel time. The bottled water, as well as the bread/crackers/olives business, gets sent back if you don't want it. If you consume it you pay for it.
The coperto is a charge that you incur when you sit down at a table to order ... a "cover charge". It is charged per person and usually appears as a separate line item on the bill (coperto or coperto e pane). The charge for coperto should be listed on the menu. If you just want a coffee, keep in mind it will be cheaper to drink it standing at the bar as you will not incur the coperto. Servizio is the service charge. Look at the posted menu and if you see "servizio incluso", this means that service is included in the prices posted. In this case, I typically round up a bit depending on the charge, but this is not obligatory. By the way, I don't think I have ever received a padded bill on my travels in Europe ...and I do look at the bill.
I agree with Norma and Ed. Never felt ripped off, never pressured to order something I didn't want, never charged more than menu price. Yes there was "coperto" for bread and the privilege of sitting there. Still we tipped one to two euros for lunch, 3 or 4 euros for a dinner, more if we stayed at the table a long time. We always had good service. But we also try to be nice customers, use a little Italian, be grateful. If it says "servizio incluso" it means that a service charge was levied for the waitstaff. Will they get it? Maybe. Not your problem. Still, leave a small tip if you are grateful, if you've connected with your server.
Really nice article here: http://current.newsweek.com/budgettravel/2010/10/italy_a_guide_to_tipping_etiqu.html for more guidance. I gave a taxi driver in Rome a euro tip for a 13 euro ride. He was thrilled. They don't get a lot of tips.
All I'm saying is that the waiters in Italy will try to screw you over — Ed, how can you only tip one euro?? Maybe your bad tipping leads them to screwing Americans — the waiters will constantly try to screw you — just pay attention to the bill — and if the service was good give them 10%
point pleasant beach, nj usa
Maybe it's your attitude Fred that gets you screwed over by wait staff in Italy. Have never had my bill padded. As Laurel states, pay attention to your bill and do not accept anything that is brought to your table that you did not order. Look at your bill carefully: servisio incluso means a tip is included and yes leaving a few euro is appreciated.
It has nothing to do with my attitude. It's simple, Camille: waiters will try to bring out things you do not order!!! By doing that they are trying to screw you! Maybe they are pissed people like you and Ed only tip one euro!
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA USA
Go to "Graffiti Wall" elsewhere on this web site. Go to "Money/Communications". Click on "Tipping Tips" Your research will be helped.
Seattle, WA USA
Laurel, that Newsweek article was perfect. Very helpful. It should be required reading for everyone traveling to Italy.
Bellevue, WA USA
Yes, I agree. Thanks.
There really is no right answer to this question. In general, tipping is more common in the big cities where there are a lot of tourists and they're used to it. In small towns it's not expected and I've actually had waiters/waitresses refuse my tip attempt. Others seem embarrassed by it. Most of the Italians I know here either tip very little or not at all. The only time I would tip 10% is if it were a very nice restaurant and a special occasion. In these cases, assuming the service was really good, I will usually give the waiter 5 or 10 euros (depending on the bill) but the important thing is to personally hand it to them with a heartfelt 'grazie'. Leaving money on the table is considered a bit rude here by many servers so it'a always best to either hand it to them after the meal or tell them what to take as they're doing the bill. For example, if the bill is 32.50, I might tell them to just take 35 (admittedly this is easier if you can speak Italian). If I feel in the slightest way that I'm not getting good value, a good meal or that the server is a tad rude, I don't tip at all as I figure I'm already paying a coperto. Coperto might not seem like much but there's a 2 euro coperto and there's 4 of us, suddenly I just paid an 8 euro cover charge for a basket of bread that I usually don't even touch and anything over 5 euros is, in most cases, a way-too-generous tip.
Most Italians don't tip or expect tips if working in a restaurant. 99% of the time I don't tip. I tipped one waiter in CT, just a couple euro, and as Rik said, the guy seemed embarrassed by it.
Seattle, WA USA
We did what seemed appropriate to us at the time. That meant no tipping at places with average to bad service, and 2-5 euro at places we really enjoyed. We always tipped in cash, even if paying by credit card and typically left the coin(s) on the table, although I did directly hand a tip to a very nice waiter in Paris who thanked me. We also generally tipped 1-2 euro (there were two of us) when drinking coffee at a bar. I find in Europe, tipping is more as it should be - a way to reward/thank good service, rather than automatic and expected. I've never had anyone refuse a tip, request/expect a tip, or pad the bill (and I do read them).
Seattle, WA USA
And FYI, if you use a credit card, there's no option to add a tip onto the bill. You have to use cash for the tip.
Per The Budget Travel Tipping Guide To Ten Countries: For Italy, "Usually included, but add 5 -10% on top of that" is very questionable.
Boulder, CO USA
I agree with Ed. I often add a euro to my bill and throw in whatever small coins that I have to round it up. I'm not sure why Fred is so angry, but tipping is far less expected in Europe than here. Never noticed a padded bill, either. Way back when, on my first trip to Italy, I ordered two "mineral waters" to a very confused waitress. She brought me two liters of mineral water, but wouldn't open the second one until she was sure that I wanted it. Thankfully, she understood what I really wanted, and she took the second liter back. Never had a dishonest server, either.
Can I just say maybe Fred isn't angry or bitter, he's just had a different experience than some of you?? If I felt screwed after my upcoming UK trip, I might want to warn people too and the last thing I'd expect is to be treated that way for it. Went from lurker to poster just to say that :O) — and no, I'm not angry! ;O)
Santa Clara, CA
Fred hasn't read any of Rick's guides or he would have known that tipping isn't expected in Italy and most of Europe. I usually just leave the coins I receive as change, other times I don't leave anything
Crema, CR Italy
Ciao, I live here, and in general, Italians don't tip. My husband, family and friends would never even consider it — this includes Taxis. Waiters earn real salaries and don't expect them. I've tried to explain this concept to my American friends who visit, but it is very hard for them to accept. If you really feel that you must tip, then go with what you feel comfortable with, whether it's a Euro or 20%!
Cedar, IA USA
I will definitely agree with the ex-pats that have posted here. Leaving the loose coins from the check is plenty, if you feel that a tip well above that is deserved (Italians would be shocked at 10%, let alone the "suggested" 25% here in the states) then take the time and courtesy to approach the waiter and personally offer it...don't just leave it on the table, might as well snub them. Of course, in the main Piazzas of Rome...they will be less insulted, maybe even expect it from Americans, but the same guidelines apply.
In my experience, waiters did not expect tips and when I gave some before I really realized that you do not often tip in Italy I was also given weird looks. When I ordered an espresso at the bar in a cafe in Venice (customary to do before using the WC) and my bill was .80 euro, I gave the man a 1 euro coin and left quickly to use the toilet. He made a weird face and was unsure what to do with the change I had refused.
Ansbach, Bayern Germany
I got a feeling those that are comfortable with European tipping standards are the stingiest tippers in the US, and those that overtip in Europe are the most generous US tippers. Bottom line: do what you think is right. For every 5 euro tip a waiter gets there's probably a dozen folks who thought it hip to leave the dude 20 euro cents.
Seattle, WA USA
I asked my Roman friend and here's a translation of what he said: "In Italy, the tip is given only when it is earned. It is not obligatory. This goes for restaurants, taxis, bars, everywhere. If you receive good service and you eat well, you leave a tip. It's never calculated as a percentage. For example if you leave a tip of 5 euros, that's already an excellent tip, even if the total check comes to 200 euros, therefore much lower than the 15-20%. Otherwise you pay the check and that's it! I know how it works in America but the waiters (there) have a much lower salary because they receive a lot of tips. In Italy, on the other hand, a good waiter already makes a good salary and the tip is one that must be earned."
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