The issue of tipping in Italy has become quite a challenging one in recent years. Years ago I was screamed and cursed at by a cigarette smoking, cell phone-toting gladiator who stood in front of the Colosseum so that tourists could take pictures with an “authentic” Roman warrior. At the time, there wasn’t a set fee, but some offering (what I would call a tip) was expected. As we passed, my clients asked what sort of tip they should pay if they availed themselves of the gladiator’s services. I said 10,000 lire would be fine (about $5 at the time) and the gladiator seriously went all Russell Crowe on me, calling me unmentionable names and willing me to rot in hell. Apparently, his expectation was not in keeping with mine. The confusion comes from a clash of cultures. A country that does not traditionally have a tipping culture is visited by thousands of visitors coming from the US, a country whose service industry depends almost exclusively on gratuities. For years Americans have come to Italy not knowing the common practices in the country and tip as they would in the States. This raised the expectation for the service providers, some of whom would even get a little testy if the American standard was not presented. It became a crazy game of expectation and changing the rules depending upon the guest.
The following explanation and guidelines should clear things up (as much as anything gets cleared up in Italy):
1. Italy does not have tipping culture.
It is not forbidden and you won’t offend anyone by offering a gratuity. A small token is welcome and appreciated but people in the service industry do not work for tips like they do in the states. The hospitality industry is considered a very respectable trade and skill and as such, the employees are paid a salary that is greater than what our servers in the US can expect.
2. Italians do not tip.
If they do tip, it is a very small amount, like a couple of euros for the table, if anything. It’s not that they are displeased with the service, it is just not their custom. So if you want to be “Italian”, then you don’t have to leave a tip. The problem with this is that you are not Italian and the servers have come to expect tips from foreigners, especially Americans. I know, it’s tricky.
3. Tip in cash.
Most restaurants do not have the tip line on credit card receipts that we have here in the United States. There is no way to add a tip on to a bill. So if you decide that you do want to tip, make sure you have some small bills in your pocket
4. Never overtip.
A gesture is appreciated (see guidelines below) but if you move toward the 20% that is often expected in the US, Italians become uncomfortable. This is the land of hospitality, and although a server or a driver or a guide may be doing a job, they do so with great pride in their craft. Large, overly generous tips may be met with uncertainty and suspicion.
Guidelines for tipping in Italy
- In a cafe: leave a coin – 20, 50 euro cents – on the counter, along with the receipt (click here for advice on how to order at a bar) If you are sitting at a table, leave a euro or two
- In a restaurant: Depending on the level of formality, my guideline is 1 – 5 euro per person (1 euro for a casual pizzeria, 5 for a very fancy restaurant)
- Guides: The standard is 5 – 10 euro per person on a tour. Often times the guide is also invited to lunch or for coffee at the client’s expense.
- Drivers: 10 – 50 euros depending on the length/duration of service (10 for short transfers, 50 for a very long day with multiple stops
- Hotel: Bellhop: 1 euro per bag; housekeeping: 2 – 5 euro per day; concierge: at your discretion depending upon the services requested
- Taxi: 1 – 2 euro
I hope this information is helpful (though I doubt it clarified anything…. that is the Italian way!)