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ITALY EXPLAINED

What are the rules on tipping in Italy?

Ten percent? Twenty? Nothing at all? Here's our guide to paying your bill at restaurants and bars in Italy without getting carbonara on your face.

What are the rules on tipping in Italy?
Should you tip at the end of your meal in Italy? Here's what you need to know. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

In Italy for a holiday and not sure about the etiquette of tipping?

Here’s the insider knowledge you need to know about what – if anything – you should add on to your bill to avoid embarrassment.

Restaurants

Let’s start with the fundamentals: even if you don’t stay in fancy hotels or travel by taxi in Italy, you are probably going to eat at a restaurant at some point, and don’t want to be worrying about how much extra to set aside for the bill.

Here, you can relax: tipping big isn’t required or expected in Italy. 

That’s partly because Italian waitstaff aren’t reliant on tips to get by like they are in many parts of the US, for example; and partly because in some restaurants, it’s already included in the bill.

If you see servizio listed as one of the items on your conto (bill), service has been covered. It will usually be no more than a couple of euros per diner.

READ ALSO: How to spot the Italian restaurants to avoid

At most sit-down establishments, you can expect to see a coperto (‘cover’) charge of anywhere between €1 to €2.50 per person to cover basics like bread and olive oil brought at the start of the meal. You might also see this cost identified as pane.

This second type of charge goes to the restaurant rather than the server, so it doesn’t constitute a tip.

If you don’t see servizio listed on the bill – or even if you do – you might want to leave a small tip in the form of one or two extra euros per person, and if there’s a group of you paying the bill together, you’d want to round up to at least the nearest five.

READ ALSO: Restaurant near Vicenza welcomes dogs, if they pay a cover charge

But there’s no need to pay 20 or even 10 percent extra.

If you’re paying by card, bear in mind that very few places will be able to add a tip to the card payment – so you might want to carry some change or small notes so you are able to leave something behind.

It's normal in Italy to tip one or two euros extra per diner.

It’s normal in Italy to tip one or two euros extra per diner. Photo by Egor Gordeev on Unsplash.

Bars

You generally wouldn’t be expected to leave any tip when visiting a bar in the evening in Italy.

That’s perhaps partly because the majority of Italian bars double up as cafes or coffee bars, so you can go there for your cappuccino in the morning, an espresso and amaro after lunch, and a spritz in the evening. 

The more relaxed quality to these types of bars, and their dual identity as cafes, means there’s not the same bar tipping culture that you’d find in some other countries.

However if you’re at an upscale wine bar and get snacks or sharing plates, then you might consider leaving a little something extra, as you would at a restaurant.

READ ALSO: Where, when and how to drink coffee like an Italian

As for tipping for your coffee; there’s no obligation at all, but it’s common to round up by a few centesimi if it makes sense. For example, if you’re paying 90 cents for an espresso, it’s normal to just leave a euro coin on the counter and walk away.

Many cafes these days also have tip jars on the bar where you can deposit your loose change.

Bear in mind that most cafes will charge you more to drink your coffee sitting at a table than standing up at a bar.

The price lists up by the counter usually refer to the cost of a standing drink, and only some of them also include the sit-down price, so if you’re in a touristy area, it’s worth checking the cost of table service before sitting yourself down.

Taxis

No tipping is required or expected. Your driver will give you exact change and expect you to keep it – though if you hand them a note that’s a little higher than the amount on the meter and tell them to keep the change, they probably won’t say no.

Though people generally pay by cash, most Italian taxis should also have card machines you can use if you prefer.

Hotels 

For smaller places like B&Bs and guesthouses, there are no expectations of any tip.

For more upscale hotels, you can use the same rule of thumb as applies to restaurants: one or two euros a day as a sign of appreciation to a housekeeper or dedicated waiter who’s taken care of you over the course of your stay.

For porters who carry your bags for you, one euro per bag is the norm.

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ITALY EXPLAINED

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Italy?

Finding legal counsel in Italy is often tricky, especially for foreign residents. Here’s some advice on how to track down the right professional.

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Italy?

Question: ‘I need to find a real estate lawyer in my Italian region. Where should I look for recommendations?’

Finding good legal representation in Italy is no walk in the park. Ask any Italian about their past experiences with lawyers and they’ll likely give you enough material to write a book of anecdotes. And looking for a good lawyer in the country as a foreign national can be an ordeal worthy of the best Dario Argento film.

The dearth of information available in English and the poor command of Shakespeare’s language even on the part of many professionals (Italy is the second-worst European country for English proficiency) are just two of the obstacles that can hamper foreign nationals’ hunt for legal counsel.

But if you’re currently searching for a lawyer in Italy, don’t despair (yet). The following resources and advice should aid your lawyer-finding efforts and make your research a more bearable experience overall.

Where to look

Before we get started, it’s essential that you know exactly which type of legal practitioner you need. As with all legal systems in the world, Italian law is divided into different practice areas (immigration law, employment law, real estate, etc.) and it is up to you to identify what legal realm your case falls in. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start looking for the right professional.

There are many avenues one can go down when seeking legal counsel. The most immediate course of action is to consult friends, relatives or business associates. While this option might hold little promise for those of you who have only recently moved to Italy, those who have been living in the country for a while might have a list of trusted contacts they can turn to for help. However, please be aware that each legal case is different and that a lawyer who is right for someone else may not be suited to your needs.

READ ALSO: 13 essential articles you’ll need when moving to Italy

The next best course of action is browsing the web. While a Google search along the lines of ‘best (whatever practice area) lawyer in (whatever Italian region)” might leave you with more questions than answers, turning to online repositories and search engines might help you greatly. 

If you have a basic knowledge of Italian, the best starting point is the Albo Nazionale Avvocati (National Lawyers Register), which holds the names, credentials and contact info of all accredited Italian practitioners and sorts them by region, comune (municipality) and practice area. Unfortunately, the website isn’t yet available in English. 

Woman typing on keyboard

Online databases and search engines are a good starting point for anyone looking for a lawyer. Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP

If your Italian is still così così, there are some English-language search engines that might give your research a good boost. Who’s Who Legal is one of the most reputable legal publications in the world and their search tool is one of the best ones out there. Alternatively, you can also check out Best Lawyers’ search engine. Best Lawyers is the oldest peer-reviewed publication in the legal field and their databases include some of the most distinguished practitioners in the world.

You can also consult the British government’s ‘Find a professional service abroad’ tool. However, please note that the lists of practitioners provided by the website are in no way an endorsement by the British government and that the admission criteria for lawyers to be included in the database are not very stringent.

If the above databases do not provide the answers you’re seeking, as a last course of action, you might also ask your home country’s Italian embassy to supply you with a list of English-speaking lawyers working in your area. However, yet again, these lists are not intended as recommendations and the admission criteria are generally rather lax. 

A list of English-speaking practitioners provided by the Italian US Embassy is available here.

How to sift through your options

How do I know they’re the right one? That’s the age-old dilemma that haunts lovers and lawyer-seeking folk alike. With the assistance of Marco Mazzeschi, the founder of Italy’s leading immigration law firm, Mazzeschi Srl, we’ve compiled a list of items that you might want to pay heed to when it comes to picking the best lawyer out of a bunch.

Experience

According to Mazzeschi, experience is one of the most important selection criteria. “In our field, experience matters and, in most cases, it matters a lot,” he says. “Hiring a professional with 30 or more years of experience and hiring one who’s only been working for five years or so are two very, very different things.”

So, the best piece of advice here is to find a seasoned practitioner, ideally with a good deal of experience dealing with foreign clients. The level of experience of a lawyer can usually be found on their professional website or LinkedIn page.

Online publications 

According to Mazzeschi, another key quality marker is the amount of publications one has published or has been cited in. He says: “This is something that clients rarely do but should be done in pretty much any field, not just in the legal world. People should verify whether a specific lawyer has been cited in any legal publication or if they have published anything relevant. If so, it’s also important to see what type of publications they’ve been involved with.”

By running some simple Google searches, clients can ascertain the prestige of the publications one has been featured in. Are they peer-reviewed publications? Are they the top journals/magazines in the legal world? These are the types of questions clients should be looking to find the answer to.

Qualifications, awards and certificates

Qualifications are important but they are not everything. “Qualifications, certificates and membership of specific lawyer associations matter but only to a certain extent,” says Mazzeschi. “They can be a nice add-on but they really shouldn’t be taken as a guarantee that a lawyer is particularly competent or experienced in his area of practice.”

Once again, the best piece of advice here is to go online and verify the reputability of the organisations that awarded the qualifications and certificates in question. Ask yourselves questions like “Are these organisations distinguished in the legal field?” or “What is their national or international relevance?”.

A lawyer’s qualifications and other credentials are usually listed in the ‘About me’ section of their website and/or their LinkedIn page.

Website 

In plenty of occupational fields, a professional website is the most effective tool for practitioners to showcase their competence and experience in their own line of work. Italian lawyers are no exception.

When scoping out lawyers’ personal websites, pay attention to the overall layout and design of the sites and test their navigability. Approximative websites with hard-to-find information are not a very good marker.

According to Mazzeschi, “It’s very important that a lawyer’s website looks up to date and there’s a dedicated section including recent news stories or updates”. “A regularly updated website is a very relevant quality marker,” he adds.

Reaction times 

In closing, reactivity is paramount in the legal world. Practitioners are expected to reply to emails and any other type of message in relatively short times. So, pay attention to the reaction times of any lawyer you might be communicating with.

“Being prompt in responding to clients and seeing to their requests is a must for any lawyer,” says Mazzeschi. “For instance, if you, as a client, send in a request for information and the professional in question takes a couple of days to get back to you, that’s really not a good sign.”

READ ALSO: The five most essential pieces of paperwork you’ll need when moving to Italy

Lawyer speaking on phone

Quick reaction times when communicating with clients is an important quality marker in the legal world. Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

I think I’ve found the right profile. What next?

Once you’ve identified the right person for the job, contact them as soon as possible to arrange an initial consultation. Note that, while some practitioners offer free consultation appointments, others may charge a fee which is usually between 100 and 300 euros.

Regardless of whether they are free or paid-for, consultations are an essential part of the selection process as they’re a golden opportunity for clients to gauge the legal expertise and professionality of their prospective lawyer as well as their command of English. 

According to Mazzeschi, it is essential that clients do some prep work ahead of any consultation and put together a list of questions that they will ask the relevant practitioner during the appointment. Such questions should revolve around the lawyer’s success rate (i.e. their track record in cases akin to yours), their availability (how soon can they start the job?) and their estimated delivery time, that is how long they expect it will take to complete the task at hand. At least one of your questions should also cover pricing. 

There are three different ways in which Italian lawyers can charge their clients: a flat (or fixed) fee, an hourly fee or a contingency fee, i.e. a percentage of the financial compensation resulting from a court arbitration or settlement.

The fee structure depends on the lawyer’s practice area and the tasks they’re entrusted with by their clients. At any rate, you should ensure that your professional of choice is very clear about pricing and billing starting from the first consultation appointment. 

Once you’ve had your consultation, if you’re satisfied with what you’ve seen and the answers you’ve been given, you can proceed to the signing of a contract (mandato). 

Please be aware that, in Italian law (article 1703 of the Civil Code), the contractual agreement between a client and their legal counsel can be made orally unless the given assignments require the signing of a written document (for instance, for the sale or purchase of real estate and court proceedings).

According to Mazzeschi though, while oral contracts are allowed in Italy under the ‘principio di libertà della forma’ (right to freedom of form of contract), clients are advised to ask for a written agreement.

That’s because “a written contract clears any potential doubt about the nature of the agreement between the parties and prevents any future misunderstanding between client and provider”.

Man signing a contract

Once you’ve found the right lawyer, ask to sign a written contract. This will save you from potential misunderstandings further down the stretch. Photo by Joe RAEDLE / AFP

Useful vocabulary

By hiring an Italian lawyer and immersing yourself in the country’s legal system, you’re bound to come across a number of technical terms that, depending on your Italian proficiency level, might give you more or less of a headache. 

To help you out, here’s a fairly in-depth glossary of Italian legal terms together with their English translation. The list of Italian terms is not in alphabetical order but a simple on-page search (command + F on Mac) will take you to the word you’re looking for. 

Please note The Local cannot advise on specific cases.

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