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Tipping in Italy – Basically, Don’t Bother

Of all the Italy travel tips you are likely to hear, this one on tipping in Italy may well save you money and could even prevent you from offending the locals.

First off, you should know that Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg did not leave a tip after having a meal in a Rome restaurant, and neither should you. Here’s why.

The case of Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg not leaving a tip twice after having meals in Rome restaurants while on his honeymoon sparked more than a few comments on the subject of tipping in Italy.  To tip or not to tip, that is the question. But, it seems Mr Zuckerberg studied Italy travel tips carefully before eating out in Italy. Well, that’s what this long time Italy resident suspects.

Here’s my take on the tipping in Italy issue. First of all let me tell you that I’ve lived in Italy for well over 15 years and my partner is Italian too.

Basically, Italians rarely, if ever, tip in restaurants.  Although if you read on, you will discover that sometimes, sort of tips are left.  Yes, it’s confusing.  First off, forget the rules in your country of origin!

That Offensive Tip

In some cases in Italy you may even offend someone by leaving a tip after eating.  Why?  Simply because the person serving you may well be the owner of the restaurant or his or her son or daughter.  If this is the case, by leaving a tip you create the impression they are poor and that you think that they could do with the extra few Euros.  This may well dent the pride of the restaurateur in question.  I have been told by my Italian other half not to leave a tip in certain restaurants for just this reason.

Some Italy travel tips may recommend leaving tips - I don't
Some Italy travel tips may recommend leaving tips – I don’t

For foreigners in Italy who cannot benefit from my ‘inside’ knowledge, the issue of leaving tips is far from clear.  How the heck can someone who is not Italian know that the person serving them is or is not the owner of the restaurant?  In short, they cannot.  If, however, the foreign diners do leave a tip, the restaurant owner probably will not be offended because he or she understands that foreigners do not know how things in Italy work.  Even so, secretly, the restaurateurs may feel offended by those pompous rich tourists taking pity on poor Italians.

It’s Complicated, Folks!

Basically, by not leaving a tip, you won’t cause problems, except you might.  This is where things become a little complicated!  Foreign diners in Italy are often expected to leave tips – especially after eating in one of the tourist Meccas such as Rome, Florence or Venice.  Why?  Because the poor serving staff are probably not very well paid and regular tips may well boost their paltry wages.

In these places, assuming you can actually recognize them, by not leaving a tip, you may well offend someone.  Facebook czar Zuckerberg managed to offend, albeit in inadvertently, by not leaving tips after having meals in Rome.  But he could well have offended someone by leaving tips!  Whether Zuckerberg knew this, I know not.  Maybe he should have popped a question on Facebook.  Maybe he did, and that is why he did not leave tips.

The restaurateur in Rome appeared to be somewhat taken aback by the absence of a tip from Zuckerberg, but the owner would not have batted an eyelid if an Italian had not left a tip.  Maybe  super rich VIP Italians do leave tips?  Though somehow, I doubt it, and A-List Italians will probably feel that their patronage of the restaurant is all the benefit the restaurant needs, which is probably true.

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One is fairly certain that tourists will now flock to the restaurants Zuckerberg frequented in Rome, so his patronage, tip or not, will have done no harm at all.  Perhaps the owner of the eatery should have offered the Facebook maestro a free meal in return for the free publicity his presence would inevitably generate?  Now, there’s a thought.

The Cover Charge

Italian restaurants almost invariably add a ‘cover charge’ to bills.  This charge, which is often from my experience applied per head, does not I believe, end up in the pockets of waiters and waitresses, although it may indirectly help keep the wages of serving staff half-decent.

Personally, I have virtually stopped leaving tips anywhere I have food in Italy – this means restaurants, pizza joints, cafes and anywhere else which serves food.  I will admit to feeling a little guilty about not tipping, but am feeling less so after seeing that Italians simply do not bother.  I have encountered a few odd looks from Italians when I have suggested leaving tips.  The looks imply: “Why does leaving a tip even cross your tiny mind?”.

By the way, Sicilians don’t tip according to Sicily resident Carol King who tweeted:

  • @newsfromitaly I never tip, nor does anyone else, only tourists

Keep the Change

Having said this, what Italians sometimes do; when they pay in cash, which is more often than not; is to allow the restaurant to keep the change.

Say, for example, the bill is €95 and it is settled with a €100 note or two €50 notes – Italians may say “keep the change” – “tenga il resto”.  Sometimes, if keeping the change is not mentioned, you may not receive any change, because it is assumed the change can be kept.  If, or when, this happens, don’t leave a tip!

If a small sum in change is returned, it may be left as a tip by Italian diners – but not always.

Forget That Tip!

So, when eating in Italy, forget the tip.  Just don’t worry about it – Italians don’t, so why should you?  Do as the Romans do.

If, of course if you do decide to leave a tip, fine, and because you are not Italian, it will be expected of you.  As to the amount – you decide.  10% of the bill, less the cover charge, maybe, is more than enough.  Often three or four Euro coins is fine too, depending on the total price you paid.  Alternatively, just let the restaurant keep the change, which is possibly what Mr Zuckerberg should have done.

Should you sit down in one of those elegant outdoor cafes in St Marks Square in Venice and pay some ridiculous amount for an espresso or some water, I very much doubt you’ll even feel like leaving a tip anyway.  The vastly inflated prices mean profit levels are generous to say the least!

End of tips on tipping in Italy.  Disagreement, or agreement welcome!

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