29 Aug Tipping in Italy
Just like home or “When in Rome”?
The ritual of tipping (or not tipping) in Italy stems from a long history of proud waiters who were paid a “living wage” and didn’t necessarily depend on tips to round out their salary. They were devoted to their trade and spent a lifetime acquiring food and wine knowledge. They weren’t doing this over summer vacation or part time. This was their profession. Would you tip a chef a couple bucks after a delicious meal? Of course not. That’s like slipping your doctor a five after a good physical exam. The same applied to Italian waiters of the past.
For some reason in the US, we’ve decided that gastronomically green 21-year old college students should now have the job and that gratuity standards be set between 15-20%. Waaa? Italians have heard about this phenomenon and thanks to tourism, more generous tipping is now expected, or at least hoped for, when serving American/Canadian tourists.
But you’re a poor college student, struggling with an unfavorable exchange rate, and most Italian waiters don’t expect much from you. In order to ensure a minimal service fee, they will include things on the bill such as “Coperto”, or “Servizio Incluso” which are explained in the post “Demystifying the Italian Service Charge”. Even if these charges are on the bill, leaving a couple extra Euro coins will help you express gratitude for great service, but for mediocre service, nothing additional need be left.
If you don’t see anything on the bill that infers service charge, then it’s up to you to determine the tip. As an American who has worked as a waiter myself, I find it hard to walk away from the table without leaving at least 10%, especially in cities like Rome and Florence, where they know, that I know, what’s going on with the whole tipping situation. But you can always fall back on the “do as the locals do” principle, and leave the “symbolic amount” of couple euro coins as food blogger Katie Parla mentions on her site Parla Food.
If you pay with plastic, make sure you have cash for the tip because the Italian credit card processing system doesn’t allow you to add gratuities when you sign. You can ask the waiter to tack on the tip amount when you give him your card to swipe, but he may tell you the restaurant can’t do that. Whether or not that’s a ploy to get you to dig into your gelato coin collection depends on the restaurant, but if you really are cash or coinless, it’s better to ask than leave nothing.
Tipping can open the doors to great service in places you know you’ll return to, but a huge tip one time is not going to make a restaurant remember you two months down the line. Go in frequently, learn the names of the waiters, the host, ask to meet the chef, set yourself apart from the waves of students and tourists that come in day after day. Come in with friends, with your parents when they visit, make eye contact with the staff as though you’ve known them for years and once you establish this pattern, you’ll get treated like the Godfather.