Tips for Tipping in Italy

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Tipping in Italy: a guide for US tourists.

Doubts about tipping in Italy are common among my guests. There’s a lot of controversy on the net, and most of it is negative. However I’ve never found an article that’s written from the service providers point of view, so I’ve decided to put that right. If you want a quick answer here it is: Tipping isn’t automatic like in the States and no one will be offended if you don’t. However it’s very much appreciated if you do. Tipping is a custom which Americans do more than other nationalities, and its a custom we value. We also value the way Americans conduct their interpersonal relationships with everyone working for them. I’m referring to a friendly informal nature that however maintains respect towards the individual, regardless of  their hierarchy in the service chain. Americans are welcome clients, tip or no tip.

Tipping in Italy

 

A few internet myths

The Internet is an infinite source of information, and the more a certain piece of information is repeated, the more we consider it an absolute truth. However nobody controls if that information is correct, or if it’s just the opinion of the writer. An article can be written that contains errors (even in good faith), then other writers will read and repeat that concept. This being the internet means the concept will then multiply exponentially. Consequently I’d like to debunk some of the internet myths on the subject.

1. Waiters are well paid & receive holiday and sick pay.
2. Italians never tip.
3. Italians are offended by tips.
4. Tipping a private driver in Italy isn’t necessary. They’re expensive anyway.

Tipping waiters in Italy

Myth no 1 is that waiters (and many other workers in the tourist industry) are well paid with many benefits. This one really bothers me even though I’m not a waiter or hotel worker. It’s the perfect example of how we should be careful about everything we read on the net. Most waiters do not, I repeat do not, get great pay and benefits. Anyone writing this obviously has no knowledge of how work is regulated (and not regulated in Italy). It’s simply the regurgitation of a would be expert’s opinion, that has been read and copied by even more would be experts. I’m prepared to contest anyone on the matter, because it’s totally false. I don’t think it’s false…I know it’s false!

There are a small number (around 15%) of waiters who are academically trained. They are career personnel who in fact do get a decent salary. This is the personnel you usually find these in five star restaurants etc. The other 85% are on temporary contract if they’re lucky. The contract lasts 12 months, after which they’re generally laid off. During said period they mature one and a half days paid holiday, and the hourly rate is around €7,00. Then there are those (many) who don’t have a contract. It’s illegal but there are thousands of them. There are no benefits and the hourly rate is €5,00. Given the cost of living in the US and Italy are similar, do you really think either of these last two categories will be offended if you leave a tip?

More about tipping in restaurants.

Restaurants add an extra to the bill called “COPERTO” which is a seating & bread charge. It’s common practice throughout Italy, but it goes to the ownership not the staff. If you decide to leave a tip, make sure it goes to the waiter. To a lesser extent you could find the word “SERVIZIO.” This is in fact a mandatory gratuity, so obviously no tip here.

Do Italians tip?

Myth no 2 is Italians never tip. The truth is we tip less often, it isn’t automatic, but we do tip. It all depends on the type of service. Generally we don’t tip common everyday services like a quick coffee etc. But for continued service involving hours or days (hotel staff, waiters, drivers), we generally do. The amount depends on how we assess the service and to some extent our own income. A blue collar worker may never leave a tip, while someone on a higher income may. Of course it’s a personal matter. Also keep in mind that salaries are lower in Italy than in the States, hence we have less money to give away. When I read that Italians tip very little, and silly Americans tip too much, I know it’s written by someone who’s not aware of this difference.

Italians are offended by tips

Myth No 3 and the answer is: no we’re not!

Tipping a private driver in Italy

Myth No 4: tipping tour guides and private drivers isn’t necessary. This because their services are expensive. Ha! This is where I come in. Yes they are expensive because it’s seasonal work. The season for private Tuscany wine tours lasts about eight months. However the Italian state doesn’t give us a discount on tax, or our health and social security contributions. There’s a minimum to pay regardless of our income, and regardless of whether we make a profit or not. Our vehicles have to be paid for all year round, as do all other services like accountants, website etc. Not to mention we have the most expensive gas prices in Europe. A gallon in Italy costs three times what it costs in the States.

Having stated the above, I will always give the best service possible regardless of whether I receive a tip or not.  I respect my client’s decision, and I’m just happy they’ve chosen my services. I have many repeat customers who don’t tip and they continue to come back,  so I presume this confirms the last statement.

So how much should I tip?

Generally we don’t tip common everyday services like a quick coffee or short taxi ride. However you may find a container for coins in cafe’s where you can leave small change (the 1,2,& 5 cents are of no use anyway). You can round up the sum up and leave a euro or two for other quick services if you feel inclined.

In the case of continued service involving hours or days (hotel staff, waiters), then as I said earlier, “no one will get offended if you don’t tip” However it’s very much appreciated if you do. How much depends on you, but if you tip like back home you won’t go wrong. If you don’t want to leave a tip, don’t leave a coin which indeed would be offensive. It’s better to leave nothing. Tipping a private driver in Italy depends on the quality of the service and the amount of time involved. If it’s a short drive to the hotel, than tip like you would a taxi. If it’s a full day’s tour where you driver is also a guide, then 10% is good.

Never tip if the service is poor or rude. It happens all too often and if it does, it’s not because they don’t like you. It’s because some Italians are just plain rude.

For more info on Etiquette in Italy visit my FAQ page here.


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