In America, tipping is a cornerstone of the service industry. We live in a world where tips dictate how well a server worked, how much money they deserve, and whether or not you think they should be able to eat or pay rent that week.
Yeah. When you think about it, it’s kinda messed up, especially if you think we all deserve to be able to live in a fair society and earn a living wage that isn’t dictated by peoples’ personal thoughts and opinions about what constitutes great service.
What many people don’t realize is that tipping is one of those things that doesn’t occur everywhere outside the United States. Many parts of the world do not engage in tipping, certainly not to the same degree as Americans.
This is largely because most nations in the civilized world (Italy included) have laws that ensure service workers are paid a minimum wage that’s on par with other industries, instead of relying on temperamental customers to make up someone’s wages instead of their employer doing it. Not only that, most other countries have more social safety nets to protect workers so those extra cash tips U.S. services workers need to survive just aren’t necessary.
As the old adage goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So, what exactly do Italians inside and outside of Rome think about tips? Is tipping in Italy the done thing, or are you just broadcasting to the locals you’re an American tourist? What’s the restaurant etiquette? Is tipping taxi drivers necessary?
Delve into this essential guide to see when it’s best to tip in Italy, and when you might want to avoid tipping altogether.
Is Tipping Expected in Italy?
For the most part, tips are appreciated, but not necessarily expected when you’re roaming around Italy. The ways Italians tip is different from how we tip in the U.S., so it’s important to know how and when to tip the people who help you out. Here’s what you need to be aware of when it comes to Italy’s service industry:
Restaurant tips are meant to be small gifts of gratitude – not wages
A single Euro, or rounding up your restaurant bill, is considered the norm. Tipping 15 to 20 percent is considered to be crazy. This is because Italian waiters and waitresses are paid much more handsomely than their American counterparts and do not rely on tips to survive.
It’s common practice for most restaurants in Italy to provide their patrons with fresh bread and olive oil, which can incur a cover charge(or coperto). It’s worth noting here that this charge goes to the restaurant, and not the person who waited on you. So, if you enjoyed exceptional service, round your bill up to the nearest five or ten Euros as thanks for your table service.
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Bars and coffee shops will have even smaller tips
Tipping in bars across Europe is pretty uncommon. Again this is because bar staff are paid fairly compared to their American cousins. Loose change is considered to be a good tip here, so 20 cents of spare change is fine. If your bar has a service charge (or servizio incluso) no tip is required, so don’t feel obligated to leave one.
Tipping in cafes and coffee shops should follow the same sort of convention as restaurants. Leave a few coins or simply round up to the nearest Euro.
If you have a full-service hotel, single Euro tipping is expected
Tipping expectations for hotel staff are a little different. As a general rule, hotel porters get one Euro per bag carried, valets get a Euro for parking your car and one for bringing it around, one Euro for anyone bringing room service, and it’s also good practice to tip housekeeping staff a Euro per day too. If you have service fees, then you don’t have to tip, but voluntary contributions go a long way.
Bear in mind that from valet to hotel porter to cleaning staff to room service, there are quite a few people involved here, and having all those coins on hand can be tricky. If you want to leave tips to show appreciation for services received, you can always leave a tip in an envelope at the front desk with a request that it be shared among the staff who made your stay a good one.
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Tour companies do not require tourists to tip the workers, but it’s good to tip free tour guides
If you book a tour bus to Rome, a gondola in Venice, or some kind of guided tour, there’s no need to tip your tour guide. They are paid a steady salary and are not expecting a tip, although tipping tour guides a few Euros here or there is always greatly appreciated.
This rule is not universal among all tour guides. If you happen to latch yourself onto one of the many free tours found around metropolitan Italy, it’s common courtesy to tip around 5-10 Euros per person if you receive exceptional service.
Salon and hair specialists do not expect a tip
Did you get your nails done in Milan? Get a perm? A trim? That’s great. Tell the manicurist you appreciate their work, but realize they don’t need a tip, nor are they expecting one. This is probably just as well as the price you’ll pay to get your hair n’ nails done in Italy is on the spendy side.
Tipping taxi drivers isn’t expected, but tipping private drivers is
Again, taxi drivers (particularly ones in the more touristy cities) are pretty well paid and aren’t outright expecting tips. If you try to tip your taxi driver a hefty wad of cash for the service provided, you’ll likely get funny looks. If you feel obliged to tip your taxi driver, treat it like a restaurant and round up to the nearest five or ten, especially if they’re helpful with your luggage.
This rule is different for private drivers. Say you ask your hotel to have a car come and pick you up, or you book a rideshare. In this case, a 5 Euro note is a pretty standard tip.
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Most other services do not expect a tip
With that said, it’ll be hard to find someone who will turn down money.
Important Things To Know About Tipping In Italy
While Italians are fairly relaxed about tipping, there are still some things you need to be aware of. After all, there are a lot of unspoken rules and you want to make a good impression on the locals, right? These important points can make a huge difference in how you’re treated abroad:
Tipping American style is often regarded as a way to show off
Europeans hate show-offs, and the Italians are no different. A lot of Italians view American-style tipping as a not-so-subtle way of flashing cash, showing an undeserved sense of self-importance, that you have some sort of savior complex, or as a sign that you’re naive to the ways of the world.
While they won’t refuse the money or necessarily be insulted by it, it doesn’t look good to them, and ultimately tipping 20% is a waste of your cash.
Always tip with cash
Even if you paid via a card machine, a cash tip is a must. Cash is what many Italians use for a quick bite to eat after their work, and it’s tax-free. Besides, paying with a card means that your server might not actually see the tips.
If your tip was meant for a particular person, hand the tip directly to them
Much like tipping in the U.S., there is no guarantee that they will get the tip otherwise since some establishments have a “first grab, first gotten” or “whoever’s on right now” type of policy.
Remember that there is no real formal code for tipping in Italy
Tipping is still relatively new to broader Italian culture (mostly thanks to American tourists) and they’re only beginning to see a change in the way people see it. Some don’t see tipping as important, while others see it as a must. Some even think tipping has set a bad precedent as some institutions are beginning to expect tips from tourists (especially American ones), resulting in less scrupulous employers offering lower pay. A good rule is to tip as you feel comfortable doing it, but don’t go overboard.
If there is a service fee for the service or venue you’re at, maybe forgo the tip
The service fee is supposed to be the fee that covers the tip, so it’s never necessary to tip unless your server offered extremely good service that went far above and beyond.
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When Shouldn’t You Tip In Italy?
Generally speaking, you don’t need to tip if you’re just doing things casually or if there’s a service fee involved. The act of tipping is one of those things that many Italians view as an act that’s mostly relegated to highly formal places—such as a full-service hotel or a fancy restaurant.
There’s no need nor expectation to tip for a paid tour, quick snacks, taxis, salons, or other similar services. They are paid a regular wage just like everyone else. And when it comes to actually tipping in Italy, the amount you’ll be tipping is far below what you’d expect to tip in the U.S.
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While the tipping culture in Italy is markedly different than it is in the United States, as a rule, tipping in Italy isn’t considered rude.
If you want to tip the way that naturalized Italians do, then you should expect to keep a few extra Euros in your pockets. Italian tipping culture is fairly casual and malleable, unlike what you might find in the United States. Again, this is thanks to Italian laws ensuring service workers are fairly paid, and the social safety nets in place.
When in doubt, a small tip of one Euro should be a polite way of thanking the person who helped you out.