Thursday, March 7, 2013

Should I Tip in Italy?

Like many twenty-somethings heading to Italy for the first time, I was broke. No tour groups or a suitcase on wheels for me. No, no. I was a backpacker who made my own way and slept in questionable one-star pensioni. Although I wanted to save money, I didn't skimp on my meals, however. I wanted to eat my way through the country, sampling all of Italy's regional specialties—ribollita in Florence, carbonara in Rome, scampi in Venice. To save money, I headed to mom-and-pop trattorie were I ate well for just a few Euro (although back in my day, it was lire). Yet as an American I was used to tipping 15 percent and I did so religiously. That is until I began to notice that the locals weren't doing the same. When they paid their bill and their change arrived on a little black tray, I couldn't help but notice that they'd scoop up every last cent and head out the door. No tip!

1000 lire bill 200 lire coin
"What gives?" I thought.

When I arrived in Bologna, I became friendly with the desk clerk at the pensione where I was staying so I decided to ask. "Italians are not big tippers," he said. Waiters get paid a decent salary in Italy and receive government-sponsored health benefits, not like it is in the United States where waiters get less than minimum wage and no health coverage. Then why, I asked, do some restaurants add a servizio or service charge to the bill? "Restaurants in large tourist centers add the service charge because they know that Americans are used to paying it."

Hmmmm. Makes sense. Digging a little deeper, though, I've come up with these tips from various experts on Italian travel.

Sara Rosso over at Ms Adventures in Italy, insists tourists should not, she repeats, should not tip in Italy. In facts, she says, Italians are beginning to expect tips solely because foreigners can't keep their hands in their pockets! But she adds, most Italians will round up their bill to the nearest Euro.

Jessica Spiegel from Why Go Italy agrees. She says the standard 15 to 20 percent tip that most Americans leave just doesn't exist in Italy. Like Rosso, she says that most Italians will leave a few coins on the table or round up their bill.

Katie Parla from the popular food site, Parla Food, confirms that servizio is common in tourist destinations, and that it "makes her blood boil" when a waiter approaches her table to announce when service is not included on the bill. It's a trick, a way to squeeze more money from tourists. But, Parla adds, it's a good idea to leave a Euro or two, in cash, per diner on the table when you leave.

Apparently Mark Zuckerberg is getting the no-tipping message. While on his honeymoon in Rome, he allegedly didn't leave one at a restaurant, prompting the owner to post the billionaire's bill online in protest. As a good reporter, author Sean O'Neill wanted to know the truth behind tipping in Italy and asked top travel specialist, Brian Dore, his opinion. The co-owner of Concierge in Umbria takes a bit more lenient approach, however, saying that when dining in a good, sit-down restaurant, Americans should leave ten percent.

The debate rages on.


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