Once in a while I get a question from a reader asking, “How much should I tip while in Italy?”
The answer is not so straightforward, because we bring our own cultural norms with us when we travel, and that can be a hard thing to “undo” for a week or two while on vacation. But we can at least state some general guidelines.
In general, the tip (la mancia) is considered to be added already to the cost of most goods and services in Italy. For smaller transactions, the rule of thumb is, “leave the change.” In other words, less than one Euro. This goes for the coffee bar as well as the taxi driver.
As an American, I just can’t get used to it. I always feel like I am being cheap if I do not leave a proper tip. And when I do, I always get a funny look from my Italian friends, who wonder what was so amazing about my sandwich and beer that I felt obligated to leave two whole Euros?
Well, you do what you feel comfortable with in these cases, but just know that unless you are in a nice restaurant in the tourist areas, a generous tip is not expected. (Yes, thanks to American tourists, the waiters in these areas now expect a reasonable tip. At least from Americans.)
If you look at your bill carefully, you will sometimes see a “coperto,” a cover charge, or “servizio,” a service charge. Other times they call it “pane,” or bread, to make you feel like you’ve received a little something for the extra Euro or two on the bill.
In Rome’s Lazio region, this practice was officially banned in 2006, but it still appears in the tourist areas. In any case, this charge normally goes to the owner of the establishment and not to the waiter. If your waiter gave you good service, leave him a few extra euros and your conscience can rest easy.
Regarding coffee bars, if you sit at a table instead of standing at the bar, you will often be charged twice as much. This is a legitimate charge in Italy, and if it appears on your receipt then certainly no extra tip is required.
Be careful tipping in small family-run places. If the owner, waiter, cook, and hostess are obviously all related, then you are luck as you have stumbled into a genuine trattoria and likely to have a fantastic experience. These people take great pride in making you feel at home and in this case a tip may actually be somewhat insulting or at least awkward. Tread lightly.
You should also tip certain tourist related services, like a tour guide or concierge at your hotel if he/she did something really exceptional for you. Again, there is no perfect formula and ultimately it is up to you and your generosity. Anything from 2-5 Euros will suffice. But if you spent an entire day with a tour guide, I suggest a good rule of thumb here is 5-10% of the cost.
A taxi driver can (by law) add an extra charge for every bag he totes for you (this charge should be visible near the meter). Therefore, no tip is expected or needed. In fact, if you do give them a generous tip, the honest minority might think that you did not understand them and will try to give the extra money back to you.
Fair warning: taxi drivers in Rome, Naples, and other big cities in the South have a reputation of ripping off tourists. Agree to the price and do not let them overcharge you.
At your hotel, a Euro or two here or there to the porter, maid, and breakfast staff is a good practice. Don’t exaggerate; just let them know that you appreciated their service.
As a general rule, the Italians themselves don’t tip. However, in Italy, every rule has its exceptions. A small tip at the coffee bar might get you your coffee a little quicker. A euro to the bellman might get him to your room quicker next time. And in the end, it’s just a nice thing to do.
Thanks to Contributor, Rick Zullo
Rick Zullo is an award-winning travel writer living between Rome and South Florida. When he’s not wandering through Italy or writing for his blog, he spends his time studying the Italian language, trying to become fully fluent before his five year-old daughter beats him to it. Rick is also the author of the book, “Eat Like an Italian,” available on Amazon. Visit Rick’s blog at rickzullo.com.