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Oct 27, 2011 05:38 PM

any pointers on sevice charges and tipping in italy?

My husband and I are on our first ever trip overseas to italy for out 20th anniversary vey soon.
I have browsed this italian board for the past 2 weeks and thank you all so much as i can feel out the food scene and even plan a couple of dinners and lunches. I really enjoyed the info just posted on rome food tours! I am not sure how to navigate the service charges and when to tip and the cover charge for bread or something mentioned . I have tried to learn some italian but it is beyond me to a great degree. Any pointers as to the menus in italian as to tipping above the charged amount. I am in the restaurant industry and do not want to overlook the matter. thank you all.

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  1. Here is a recent thread on this subject:

    If you use the search box at the top of this page and enter "tipping" you will find more, and they may be more confusing than helpful.

    My partner and I have generally followed the advice of Maureen Fant posted several years ago, which is to leave 5 euros at a simple trattoria, 10 at a more serious restaurant, and 20 at a very high end place, all assuming you were happy with the meal and service, and not based on a percentage of the bill. On our recent trip we noticed that Italians did not seem to leave anything. As far as the advice some give about rounding up, well, that works if you are paying cash, but like most everyone these days we use credit cards, so if we don't happen to have some small bills or change, we just don't leave anything. The bottom line is that service is always included, there may or may not be a cover charge, and no one will be insulted if you do not leave something. So just relax and if you are feeling generous, leave 5 or 10.

    1. It's a bit more complicated than that. There have been (unverified) reports in Italian newspapers that one in three Italians tips, more people in central and southern Italy than in northern Italy, more older than younger people. In larger (and highly touristed) places like Venice, Florence and Rome, tipping is more widespread than in smaller provincial towns. The things to bear in mind, though, are that servers in Italy are paid a living wage and do not rely on tips to make ends meet and that a menu will either state "servizio incluso" or "servizio +xx%". The added service charge is found more often in Venice and in touristy restaurants. The service charge goes to the owner and not the server, so it is not, properly speaking, a tip. Some servers, if dealing with tourists, will point out when presenting the bill that "A tip is not included"; this is technically correct, but it is also a blatant attempt to profit from North American tipping habits and something they would never try with locals. Then there's the selective added service charge, applied to tourists but not to locals. It comes in various forms: legal if printed on the menu (but illegal if added only for tourists or if added and then removed for locals), illegal if not printed on the menu or only printed on the English-language menu. There's also the "pane e coperto" charge, for bread and table accoutrements. It's legal and unavoidable throughout Italy, except in the region of Lazio (Rome), where a pane charge is legal and a coperto charge is illegal. In Lazio, it is possible to wave away the bread when it is brought to the table and to avoid the bread charge; most Romans want the bread and pay the charge.

      What is the poor baffled tourist to do? Personally, I tip for good service but never more than 10% (I don't go to very high-end restaurants). An argument can be made that a server who has to explain a menu to an English-speaking tourist has to work harder and deserves a tip. I do *not* tip if handed the "tip is not included" line. I try to avoid restaurants that apply selective added service charges. This may not always be possible: there have been reports recently of restaurants in Rome whose menus say "servizio incluso" and that nevertheless add service charges for tourists.

      11 Replies
      1. re: zerlina

        Ah, big cities with their games they play on tourists. We've never ever seen this in the countryside restaurants and trattorias.

        The other game that Venetian restaurant owners have played as long as we've been going there is the two price menu. At many many places there is the stated price on the menu. That price applies to those not from Venice. Another price with a big sconto applies to Venetians. We've rarely seen this in Florence... but in Venice, absolutely.

        1. re: allende

          This article by Katie Parla is very accurate and informative......Hope it helps amid all the confusion with some places, (restaurants), and visitors.

          1. re: ospreycove

            Katie Parla's article is not very accurate. She fails to realize that the "coperto" charge has been illegal in Lazio since December 2006. Since Lazio is only one of 20 regions in Italy, most preprinted bill forms say "pane e coperto" and some bill computers are programmed to say "coperto", but the charge in Lazio is for the bread. In my experience, although I most often do take the bread and pay the charge, if I have waved the bread away when it was brought to the table, I have not been charged.

            1. re: zerlina

              As I have seen most restaurateurs in Lazio have "chosen" to ignore the '06 law. If you look like a tourist in the more heavily frequented tourist areas you are fair game.

              1. re: zerlina

                it says that very thing in the article. did read the whole thing?

                1. re: katieparla

                  Yes, I did read the article to the end. It says: "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."

                  My point is that the "coperto" charge has been abolished; the "pane" charge has *not* been abolished and is perfectly legitimate. For the reasons I mentioned, bills may still say "pane e coperto" or even "coperto", but the charge is *only* for the bread. Most locals want bread and do not object to paying for it. Visitors who object to paying for bread can wave it away when it is brought to the table and avoid paying the charge. I have never been charged for bread that I waved away, but I also try not to frequent touristy restaurants. Some restaurants that have been lauded to the skies here have reportedly become restaurants that try tricks on visitors (which is not the only but certainly a major part of how I personally define a touristy restaurant), adding service charges when the menu says "servizio incluso"; for all I know, they also charge visitors for bread that has been waved away.

                  1. re: zerlina

                    In my experience, the pane e coperto charge is unitary, and not broken down as to what is being charged for bread and what is being charged for the cover. Were Liguria to go the same way as Lazio, it would ban the pane e coperto -- and if restaurants then wanted to offer patrons the option of paying for a basket of bread, they would state the price and charge it.

                    I think stating that Katie Parla's blog post is "not very accurate" because it supposedly "fails to realize that the "coperto" charge has been illegal in Lazio since December 2006" is -- well, not very accurate.

                    It's good to have these elaborations, but I do think the characterization of Katie Parla as failing to realize that the coperto charge was made illegal by the regional government of Lazio in 2006 is incorrect.

                      1. re: ospreycove

                        not abosolutely accurate would perhaps have been a better way of putting it.

                        we never have had a problem with paying the pane e coperto - its de minimis and for us bread is always desired as part of the italian meal - but finding that very good restaurants in Rome play games with the service charge is discouraging - in Venice maybe, but Rome??? We have never run across this personally in Rome but so far Grano, Cadorna and in Katies blog Monti are noted as engaging in this practice at least sometimes. The assumption that the guest/patron is welcome is a fragile one, we like to at least assume that we are welcomed and these sorts of practices directly fly in the face of that.

                        As far as tipping goes weve always followed local practice. I understand people's sense of personal connection to servers (Ive been one too) but tipping outside the local norm is no more appropriate than tipping the gas station attendant, the store clerk or any other relatively low paid worker, in an economy where restaurant work has salary and benefits attached.

                        We also usually pay cash, mainly because it is easier to handle/better accepted locally, but I note that it also avoids the possibility of filling in a service charge on the card receipt..

                        Piazza Rondanini, 53, Rome, Lazio 00186, IT

                    1. re: zerlina

                      You have misunderstood my post. it states "pane e coperto" (that is, the unified bread & cover charge) was banned in 2006. that is an accurate statement. your point (that the "coperto" charge has been abolished; the "pane" charge has *not* been abolished and is perfectly legitimate) is not contradicted by my post. i agree with barberinibee that elaborations are a good thing. and so is critical reading.

                      1. re: katieparla

                        Yes, Katie, you are correct. In Lazio and other regions you CANNOT write on the menu "pane e coperto". You can only mention "pane" but, if you write "pane e coperto" you will get fined by vigili or other authorities. It is in reality a very small fine (my restaurant owner friend got fined about 200 euros) so, I guess, a lot of restaurants either because they're lazy (!) or decide to risk the fine, they leave "pane e coperto". As far as tipping is concerned, I agree with Maureen and the amount indicated is somehow appropriate even though in high end restaurants tipping is encouraged proportionally to your bill (even though will never reach the american standards). In fact, as it was mentioned above, the waiter takes very good care of the client trying to attend to every need and tipping is a good way to recognize their great work. I generally leave no less than 5 (in trattorias) and about 50 in very high end restaurants. The front of the house jobs in Italy do not get the recognition that they deserve and tipping (therefore making it palatable to whoever decides to become a professional waiter) is a way to state that their job is as important as being a cook or a chef.

          2. Eat like a local (late supper, sometimes a major lunch) and tipping should be minimal.

            1 Reply
            1. re: steve h.

              Yes.Don't. In close to 1000 restaurant meals, 99% outside of the tourist city centers, I can't remember ever seeing an Italian, or many European tourists, leave a tip. Since Italians for the most part, and many Europeans, don't use credit cards, it fairly easy to see if a diner is leaving a tip.You will see a small tip at a bar, but the reason for this usually has nothing to do with service, but rather the desire to get rid of very small change.

            2. thank you all for the input,we had a marvelous trip and some great food. in the high end places i felt tipping as if in canada was worth the special attention to food from both the waier as well as the kitchen. Would anyone know for certain what in italy is the wages of front of house staff as i was only told repeatedly that there is no minimum wage, mostly contract work and that they got a living wage ( which was to say one could earn enough to support well).

              4 Replies
              1. re: seabiscuit8

                @Steve & Piero I really have no experience of your Italian lifestyle...Italians do not eat big lunches anymore. Sometimes, they barely have lunch with a panino somewhere. Long time ago they used to go home for lunch and then even take a nap, but nowadays they live far away from their workplace and they have a one hour, maybe one and half hour lunch break. Also, it is not true that Italians don't tip. They tip less than many others, but they do and sometimes they can be quite generous. If you go to high end restaurants, it is routine to leave a generous tip. In trattorias, they're more simbolic, for instance a 5 or 10 euros tip.@Seabuiscuit8 As far as the minimum wage is concerned, anybody who works in Italy is under a national contract which guarantees a minimum income. The basic contract is probably around 900 euros per month, 14 times a year plus vacation and holidays. Not really a lot to live on, so tips help quite a bit. It is also true, though, that in theory their work shift is only 7 hours (6.40 to be precise plus dinner or lunch break)

                1. re: cristinab

                  @cristinab I wouldn't be so sure about the contract! I'm Italian and I think that the situation is not easy to explain! I mean...there are many types of contract and I don't think that 900 euros is the minimum wage!!! Many people work 8 hours a day for 500 euros/month and have no holidays (and I'm talking about high qualified jobs!).
                  @seabiscuit8 As for the tip, in Italy we usually don't tip! Wealthy people often do, common people do not! Probably in high end restaurants not leaving a tip is considered rude but it's always up to you whether to do it or not. If you feel generous, you can leave the change or a few euros! The service and the bread is often charged under the menu voice "coperto" and it should be max 5 euros/pers, sometimes the charge for the service and the bread are considered separately. Every restaurant should have the menu on display on the outside, it's important to read the menu and ask if something is not clear, then, before paying, check the bill!

                  1. re: manamana

                    @manamana Be sure, be sure. We are not talking about outlaws! If you are working somewhere, your contract falls under a nationwide "contratto collettivo". In particular, it is the "contratto collettivo nazionale per pubblici esercizi", that is for everyone who works for a bar, restaurant, hotel, etc. There are different categories, that is "livelli". They all start from around 900 euros a month (for dishwashers I think it 780 or so, for cooks about 850 all the way up to about 1,400) and you get paid 14 times a year plus holidays and vacation which is 26 days a year. Also, if you work more than your shift (which is as I mentioned in my previous post of 6 hours and 40 minutes a day plus your lunch or dinner break), you should get paid proportionally. If you work at night, holidays, etc, you should get paid double (or more, I do not know exactly) your daily pay. No way that the government would allow 8 hour shift for 500 euros a month! That would mean 2 euros and 40 cents an hour! If you are referring to all of those who, breaking the law, pay this little, "in nero, without notifying the "labor office", well, there are many and they should be all sued and have their restaurant or bar closed down if it is demonstrated that they routinely exploit labor. As far as tipping is concerned, it is difficult to have a sure answer. All my friends, all the people I know tip. I am sure, as you say, there are many many others who don't.

                    1. re: cristinab

                      I'm not in the field but I have friends who are, thank you for your reply, I didn't know about the national contract but I'm happy to know about it! Unfortunately the problem is widespread anyway and it is even more serious for other professional categories. I know many engineers, master graduated, working 8 hours a day for 500 euros/month (it's legal!) and young professionists working without a contract because they have no better alternatives. It's such a shame!!!