Tips are not expected in restaurants in Italy.
Let us repeat that to let it sink in: tips are not expected in restaurants. However, a service charge is sometimes added, in a way that can often cause confusion for the visitor.
This is not to say that exceptional service shouldn’t be rewarded, and won’t be gratefully received, but the payment structure for restaurant workers in Italy means that staff are not reliant on tips to survive. Italians may leave change of a few coins after a meal or when buying a coffee, but they certainly don’t work to a 20% structure.
We understand that if one has grown up in a tipping culture, the feelings of guilt at not tipping generously for good service may be overwhelming, but here’s how you can alleviate it: on the flipside many visitors become outraged when they look at their conto (the check) and find that the small basket of dry bread they’ve been nibbling on during the meal has been charged at €4 or €5.
That’s the “tip”.
Sometimes this money isn’t credited to the bread, but added on a per capita basis as a “table charge”.
In bars too there’s a difference in price between a coffee drunk while standing at the bar, and one taken sitting down, or at an outside table. Sometimes an enormous difference of several hundred percent – particularly in tourist trap areas like Piazza Navona. This, too, is a service charge: theoretically it supplements the salary of the person bringing the drink to the table.
We do not want in any way to discourage you from being generous, but before you dispute that bread charge, or complain that the bottle of tap water you drank should be free, remember that the money you don’t tip is being made up by the extra sundries added to the bill.
Similarly, taxi drivers don’t expect tips – there are a large number of extras that get added on to your tariff (luggage charges, late night charge, pick-up charge) that supplement the tip. Most Italians round up the change, but many taxi drivers in Rome – despite their poor reputation – sometimes round down just so they don’t have to make change!