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Reader question: How do I know if I should tip at Italian restaurants?

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Reader question: How do I know if I should tip at Italian restaurants?
Visitors to Italy are often unsure whether, or how much, to tip - and some unscrupulous restaurants may take advantage. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

If a waiter tells you service isn't included, does this mean you should tip? What about the 'servizio' charge? And how much is expected? We look at a common source of confusion at Italian restaurants.

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Question: “We’ve been to a few restaurants in Italy where the waiters say to us “service is not included”. We always feel uncomfortable, like the waiter is running a side scam. If ‘servizio’ is not listed on the bill, are they telling the truth? If so, what percentage should we tip?”

This is a common scenario reported by visitors to Italy. And, as you might suspect, this is not a statement that many Italians eating at restaurants in Italy are likely to hear.

Whether or not this qualifies as a scam, it is at least an attempt to extract more money out of foreign customers assumed to be from a country with a tipping culture (and, more than likely, assumed not to know much about Italy.)

In discussions on Tripadvisor forums, users were scathing of the practice, with one traveller from the UK saying: "A waiter that tells you by the way, service is not included, is definitely trying it on. He would not have got a single cent out of me after that trick."

READ ALSO: What to do if you’re overcharged at a restaurant in Italy

As regular visitors know, tipping is not required or expected in Italy. Still, restaurant staff in popular destinations will be aware of the generous amounts left as standard by some overseas visitors - and might try to encourage this.

Italian restaurant bills often already include small service charges, normally of a couple of euros per head, which will be listed as servizio on the bill.

(You might also see a 'coperto' or cover charge, which is not specifically a service charge, and goes to the restaurant rather than the server.)

If there is no ‘servizio’ charge on the bill, then it’s technically true that service is not included. But still, you’re under no obligation to tip.

READ ALSO: How to spot the Italian restaurants to avoid

Italian wait staff aren't reliant on tips to get by like they are in many parts of the US. As is the case elsewhere in Europe, they are paid a standard wage and tips are viewed as an added, and optional, extra.

So, while tipping is always appreciated, it’s entirely at the customer’s discretion (beyond ‘servizio’ charges on the bill).

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Tipping is, after all, not standard practice among Italians, who may tell you they rarely leave a tip, or only do so if service was exceptional.

READ ALSO: Are English speakers more likely to be targeted by scams in Italy?

If you prefer to tip anyway, remember there's no need to pay 10 or even 20 percent extra.

Italian-style tipping involves rounding up to the nearest five or ten euros if the service was good - a couple of euros is fine.

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Either way, it’s worth noting that any restaurant where staff request tips from foreign customers is likely to be somewhat unscrupulous in other ways, too - and is probably best avoided in future.

Unfortunately, scams are regularly reported at restaurants in Italy's tourism hotspots, just as in many other countries, and overcharging has also become more common. Read more about what to do if you're overcharged here.

Do you have a question about Italy that you'd like to see answered on The Local? Get in touch by email here.

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Comments (4)

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Ritchie DAKIN 2024/06/12 20:19
I am constantly getting into arguments in facebook groups over Americans insistence on giving huge tips, because in America the waiting staff are paid a pittance, and they insist it is the same here and constantly paying huge tips !!
Chris 2024/02/21 12:19
We have had numerous excellent meals in Italy with excellent service where the restaurateur has rounded the bill down. So, no, we do not tip in Italy.
Elaine Calder 2024/01/20 16:44
If you use a credit card there's no opportunity to leave a tip. If you want to round up, this means making sure you have a coin purse full of small change with you when you go out to eat.
carmelina 2024/01/19 16:45
I don’t bother to tip if there is a service charge. I don’t agree with the service charge at all. We do tip if there is no service charge and don’t bother with the change if it’s less than 5 euros

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