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Tips in Italy: what a science!

Tips on a table in an italian restaurant

There’s a kind of mystery for foreigners when coming to Italy: tipping. You might be used to find the tipping amount charged on your bill in your own country, with the service calculated on the bill’s total, or you might tip bar’s staff more often than we do here. You might even never tip (then, be aware, I’ve been told that staff can take revenge on you next time you visit- just sayin’).

In Italy, tipping is controversial, and it might be hard to decide when, how much and what to do. Service is not calculated on bills (if it is, and your bill reads “service”, check if the “service thing” was written on the menu or somewhere in the restaurant. If not, ask to take it off).


The “coperto” fee you find in many restaurants’ menu is a different thing (and us, italians eating out, we don’t like it) and it covers sitting, bread, tableware… it’s more or less the difference between eating in/taking out, but the amount you pay for coperto doesn’t go to the staff. The staff has a salary based on the shift they work. If they’re lucky enough they’re on books and have all the benefits of a permanent/fixed time job, but more often they get cash-in hand-off-the-books pay for their work, especially if it’s young people doing it to cover their expenses for studying or they do it part time. It happens quite frequently not to be put on the books by the same hip restaurant owners that proudly don’t sell Coke to boycott it for the unfair treatment the company reserves to the workers.


Ideally, in restaurants, you leave tip as a courtesy to the staff, if the service satisfies you, if you’ve eaten well, if you’ve been treated well and so on. In this case, you can consider a tip roughly close to the 5%-10% service fee you find in many restaurants abroad, but this is not strict. If you are leaving less than a euro tip in a restaurant, then, don’t. A couple of euro is ideal if you’re young and you went for a cheap, earthy 10-15 euros meal (in this case you may even leave one, just make sure you’re not leaving a bunch of cents).

For more expensive, classy restaurant you might leave 5, even 10 euros depending on the service and your bill. More is going to be considered a bit weird, but it is surely welcomed by the staff. Ideally, you pay for your bill and leave the tip on the table, it’s better not to leave it as a change at the till to make sure you’re addressing the tip to the waiters and the staff. You don’t want to tip the owner, do you?


In a bar, for a coffee (and please, don’t sit it, drink it at the bar as an Italian would do in order to avoid many charges, especially in very touristic spots of Venice, Rome, Florence and so on), you may leave 10 or 20 cents. At night, in a young club or bar, almost none leaves tips when drinking at the counter, and the same happens if you’ve been served at a table but you’re free to leave some change anyway on the bill’s plate. Again, don’t let it seem you’ve just broken your piggy bank.


At the end of the day, you’re not obliged to leave tips. Tips are left as a gentlemanly action, a courtesy and a sign of appreciation to the meal. You might even decide not to leave the tip if you’re not satisfied with the service and food, that it’s considered a sort of statement. Speak up with tips!



  1. Uff says:

    Useful tips! (heh)

    I was just discussing this with other Italians recently. We found that (at least in the North east, where I’m from) Italians, as a rule, don’t tip. And nobody expects it either. An Italian might tip if the service was incredible, or if the food was delicious beyond belief, or if it was delicious and unexpectedly cheap, or – of course – if they’re flirting with the staff.
    Tourists, on the other hand, tip as a habit and therefore the staff knows to expect it. So when a foreigner doesn’t tip, they’re rude.

  2. I’ve read that in the south staff gets tips more often than in the north, so you might be right regarding the north east, but I’m actually from Bologna and I live in Rome, in both cities I’ve noticed that tips in restaurants are very frequent also by locals. To be sincere, in Venice too, I’ve seen tipping going on quite frequently, also in bars, also by my local friends. I’m not sure if the staff expects it or not-but I’d feel bad not to tip if everything went ok with my meal 🙂

  3. Uff says:

    :-/ Maybe we’re just stingy bastards!

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