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Why Italians don't tip (but Brits are worse)

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Are the Italians stingy tippers? Photo of a bill: Shutterstock
15:54 CEST+02:00
Tipping etiquette is full of pitfalls for tourists - and can sometimes be hard for locals to master too. But what is really expected in Italy? We asked Italian waiters to give us the lowdown.

To tip or not to tip? It’s the awkward question that arises at the end of a meal out.

But for Americans, the answer is clear-cut: they give, and they give generously, especially when abroad.

We’re not talking about Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook who did not spare even a cent after a meal in Rome during his honeymoon, but the sixty-percent who told a recent survey by TripAdvisor that they always tip while on holiday.

Among the eight nations polled, the Germans were the next most generous (49 percent), followed by the Brazilians (33 percent), the Spanish (30 percent), the Russians (28 percent), the British (26 percent) and the French (15 percent).

The Italians, however, were the least partial towards giving tips, with just 11 percent saying they always tip when abroad.

But at home, their fellow countrymen sprung to their defence, telling The Local that even though no custom really exists in Italy to tip, most Italians do spare some change: but usually only out of convenience, or if the service is good.

“If a coffee costs 80 or 90 cents, then a customer will usually give a euro and let us keep the change,” said Maurizio, a barista at Café Eleven in Rome.

“Or if a bill comes to say €9.10, then it’s easier for them to leave us the rest than wait around for the change.

“When I eat out, if I spend €20 or so on a meal then I’ll leave €2 or €3, but it all depends on the quality of the food and service.”

In his 19 years as a barista, Maurizio has noted that Italians are a lot less generous than they once were, owing to the financial crisis, while some foreigners are even more generous.

“Foreigners definitely give more than Italians. The Americans and Germans can be very generous, but the English give little.”

Gianni Viola, a manager at Gruppo Sebeto, the company behind the Ham Holy Burger restaurant chain, agrees that Americans are the most giving.

“They usually leave at least ten percent of the bill,” he said.

That said, he sang a different tune to the TripAdvisor survey about the Russians, Spanish and British, “who leave nothing.”

“Italians usually leave a few euros, maybe two or three,” he added.

But not Marco Errico, a regular at the Fritone, who told The Local that as a loyal customer for over 15 years, he can get away without paying a tip.

“I have breakfast and lunch here all the time,” he said.

“Giving tips isn’t really the custom in Italy, unless we go somewhere for a special occasion. For us, it’s more important to be loyal customers. The crisis has also changed things, Italians are less likely to eat out these days, and if they do tip, it’s only a few euros.”

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Another regular, Luca, said he spares a few euros when he can, but only because he likes the staff and the food is good.

Rachel McNally, an American web designer, told The Local she gave 20 percent of the bill, and sometimes even more, during a recent visit to Italy.

“A big reason for that is because I don’t want to appear cheap,” she said.

“Plus it’s easier to calculate 20 percent than 15 percent, which is what Americans say is standard. Also, I always give more if there was anything made complimentary by the server or the establishment.”

She added that she felt compelled to be even more generous in Italy because she was made to feel welcome.

“In Italy, you feel welcomed to stay and enjoy yourselves, whereas in other places you feel as if you’re being hurried out of the door just so they can make more money.”

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