To tip or not to tip in Italy?

In one of my online expat forums a few good questions about tipping in Italy were posted: Do we tip in Italy? What is the coperto? Why did the restaurant automatically add 15%?

A tip (also called a gratuity) is a sum of money tendered to certain service sector workers for a service performed or anticipated. Such payments and their size are a matter of social custom. Tipping varies among cultures and by service industry.¹

This is a rare sight in Italy but I found it at one restaurant just yesterday.

Many travelers who are from countries where tipping is customary; and are visiting non-tipping countries are often left wondering – to tip or not to tip? I’ve seen graphs from five years ago, stating that it’s customary to tip 10% (in addition to a service charge) in Italian restaurants. I disagree with this, five years ago and today. We have never left a 10% tip in any restaurant in Italy and I know other Italians who never tip the 10% which is stated in these charts.

To tip or not to tip? That is the question on everyone’s mind.

Do we tip in Italy?

There is really no straight forward answer to this. If it’s in your means to tip, then tip; but make sure that the hotel or restaurant has not already included an automatic service charge to your bill. Read all fine print.

I worked in a fancy hotel/restaurant this past summer and on occasion the customer did slip a few €10’s into my pocket. The tips came from the Brits and Italians – two countries not accustomed to tipping but they tipped anyway. I’ve also worked in a little coffee-house, not one tip, ever.

What is a coperto?

The coperto perfectly translated means cover charge. Most restaurants add an automatic, per person coperto. The €1-3 coperto is charged for taking up space in the restaurant; it goes towards the cleaning of the linens, glassware and sometimes it’s divided among the staff.

In Sardinia the average coperto is €2.50. From up-scale, posh restaurants to Mom and Pop diners with paper place-mats and plastic cutlery will charge the coperto. Be sure to check the small print on your menu. Some regions in Italy have tried to ban the coperto but to no avail. It still exists and people are still paying it.

Why did the restaurant add and automatic 15% to my bill at a restaurant in Venice, Florence or Rome?

The truth – you’re a tourist and they know it. Most locals are not given the automatic 10-15% when they dine in these tourist spots. However it’s illegal … unless it is written in the menu.

What is the difference between a service charge and the coperto?

A service charge is based on the customers discretion of service rendered. The service charge is divided among the wait staff, bartenders, kitchen staff and sometimes even the management. Generally the service charge is an extra 10-15% of your total bill.

A coperto is an automatic charge that goes towards the cleaning and repairing of linens, glassware and taking up space in a restaurant. Between €1-3.

What if the restaurant added a 15% service charge and the coperto?

Be sure to read all the fine print on the menu before handing the menu back to the staff. Then be ready to fight it, if you have it in you. It’s illegal and they are taking advantage of the unknowing tourist.

What to look for on the menu or bill:

Aggiungere – To add

10-15% automaticamente aggiunto per servizio. 
10-15% automatically added for service.

Coperto – cover charge

I have never tipped extra in the 5 years I have lived in Sardinia. We didn’t tip extra when we went to Rome or Padova. Why? Because of the coperto. If we are dining with 10 friends at a fabulous restaurant by the sea the total coperto charge will come to €25. That’s a lot of extra money for cleaning linens or replacing broken glassware. Generally in a posh place the wage it somewhat higher than say a beach bar. Some servers in these posh establishments will take offence at your extra tip.

However – if you find yourself at a wonderful wooden beach bar which is packed with tourists, generally there is no coperto. The staff in these type of establishments make poor, poor wages.

How do I know this?

I was offered to work in such a beach bar this year and was offered the following:

€1000 a month; 7 days a week; 8-10 hours a day for 5 months (May-September is high season in Italy.) Pretty crappy, eh? So, tip that bartender or waitress who has run around making fancy cocktails and bringing you the local beer. They will be grateful.

To tip or not to tip in Italy? That’s up to you – the traveler, businessperson, backpacker or tourist. Just remember to read all the fine print otherwise you may find that you’ve been double charged a service fee.

What is the custom of tipping in your country?

Source: Wikipedia¹
Related articles from around the globe:
How to order like a local at restaurants in Portugal 
How much to tip the waitress in Hawaii