Like any good practices, let’s start with a definition of terms:
TIP: “a gift of money for a service, especially as an amount above what is owed”
So, why do we tip? TIPS – To Insure Personal Service
And, who receives those tips?
In the USA, we generally give a tip to people who have the following qualities:
- making well under the minimum wage (and that wage has been kept to a bare, unmovable minimum for years).
- do not get paid vacations
- probably do not even get paid sick leave, which means they lose income for getting the flu
- do not have health coverage on pretty much any level, although this is not across the board
- are often students/ actors looking to top up income
- try their best to assure you get great service in order to gain those tips
In Italy, waiters are a bit of a different breed:
- they make the standard wage for their category, assured by State Law (not by the enterprise), although that wage does not always go up year after year
- they get an extra month’s pay in August or December, or both
- they get paid vacations, upwards of 4 – 6 weeks
- they get paid sick leave, with no max no. of days that they can’t be sick. In fact, if they break their leg or even pull a shoulder, they don’t have to go back to work for 6 weeks, all the while, getting paid their entire wages
- they receive free national health coverage on pretty much any level
- they are professionals in their industry, and often get paid as well as a banker or other professional categories. If they’re paid under the table, 100% of their income is in their pocket, no taxes applied. And they probably can still use those health benefits
- they try their best to assure you get great service anyway, which is a good thing although this is not always the case.
The incredible thing is, if you leave a tip on the table, it almost all goes handily into the cash register of the owner, and not into the pocket of the person who served you in the first place.That same owner, aside from charging you $12 for a 12 cent plate of pasta, already owns most of that gorgeous block of buildings where you’re eating, right in the heart of (fill in city name here). They bought the block around the corner too, after doubling prices following the introduction of the euro.
When you sit down, aside from being charged double in bars, you pay what is called a COPERTO (bread / tablecloth use). This is a per person charge of about $1.50 to $4 depending on the establishment. I was once charged near the Pantheon $8. This can come out to 10% of your bill in mild-mannered places. In Rome, they did away with the Coperto, so now, it’s off the menu but still on the bill. I can personally attest you'll be charged even if you’re yeast intolerant.
Taking the lead of the hordes of American tourists coming here and leaving large tips for no apparent reason (even in the fanciest of places in the old days Italians would leave a 1000 lire bill on the table – roughly 40 cents), many tourist places also add a 12% or so service onto the bill. It is sometimes stated on the menu in fine print.
As a result, Americans have ruined the market, as waiters, on hearing your English, expect the big bucks. [In Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, after paying a hefty coperto, plus the Service charge, the waiter actually chased me down for the tip…! Needless to say, I never ate there again]. The craftier establishments give you a credit card receipt with the tip line empty, hoping you are none the wiser.
So, for all you Americans who, despite all of the above pointers, still FEEL GUILTY out of habit, or simply feel like indulging your obvious masochistic tendencies, you are off the hook. You have my permission NOT TO TIP. Ditto on taxi drivers.
And, to assuage your guilt further, just say to yourself as you leave and graciously shake hands, “50 years’ of Americans have been paying my tips for me.”
Besides, as the Japanese tourists recently discovered (after a 130 euro tip was added to their bill), you’re probably paying a bit more for everything anyway than the Rossi table dining right next to you.
picture from Ethisphere Click there to read about the great debate at Starbucks.