Wednesday, July 22

Tips for Travelling in Italy

With so many visitors to Italy, I grow a bit tired trying to explain the tipping thing. Time & again. Inside & Out. And, no matter how much I blather, there they go, leaving tips and ruining the market for the rest of us. So, as one of my periodic Public Service Announcements, here it is, YOUR GUIDE TO TRAVELING IN ITALY – TIPPINGDo you? Or, don’t you?
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.


Dave514 said...

Bravo! Make a copy of this and blog it at least once a year, for the great unwashed.

An interesting side note re the owner pocketing the cash. What happens to the tip left on the credit card ...the owner gets it. I would think if in cash the waiter gets it, unless the owner is faster.

In Hungary, the rule is the house gets all tips left on a credit card but the server gets all cash.

In Europe being a waiter is an honourable profession in the US a necessity. Hence poor service in general.

It was 45C for several days last week, time to roll over in bed and have another beer. It's cooled off today, quite pleasant in fact, it will 42C. IT'S A DRY HEAT!!!

My pool was great at 06:00 both the water and air temp were about the same 29C.

I talked to my friend Peter Van Wood this morning in Castiglione della Pascaia where it was a hot and humid 40C. Firenze has been about the same. I know what it's like I've been there when it was 41/42C. Never again!

Stay cool or jump in a pool...or fountain.


Irreverent Italy said...

That's BravA to you, Davide!

regina di roma said...

Great and informative post! But what do you mean by "ruining the market"?

Dave514 said...

Sorry about that, never thought that Bravo was gender sensitive. Brava...It looks weird. Sounds weirder, but OK, got it.


Irreverent Italy said...

Americans, by always leaving tips, condition the natives to EXPECT them! While appreciative, in many countries around the world, they don't feel grateful, they feel like they've just pulled one over on you!
So, that's why prices keep rising, 'service' charges suddenly get 'included', and waiters chase you down for a tip, even if it's not part of their local culture.
I was in Tibet in 1993, and, could not buy even a fake turquoise belt as the hawkers wouldn't even negotiate! They wanted $50 in a country that the annual avg income is $40 -- and wouldn't go down. Why? They knew a rich German tourist would just cough up the cash after me! Ruining the market...

J.Doe said...

On a personal note, I always got the worst restaurant service in Italy (except Naples). I assumed this was because I didn't have to leave a tip. The waiters got paid the same whether they gave good service or not. In the US the service seems better because the size of the tip is dependendent on the goodness or badness of the service received.

Dave514 said...

Possibly you have an overly high expectations.

Even at the Bikini Beach restaurant on the Bay of Sorrento I had excellent service. I've never experienced bad service in Italy, Germany, Austria and Hungary and I don't always eat in five star restaurants either.


chandi said...

THANK YOU! I heartily agree! I used to run a business organizing weddings in Italy (and vow renewals and general trips) and I too, had to continually explain this to my clients. I once had a waiter on Capri get really insistent about a tip and it definitely put a damper on my experience at what was a lovely location....

Clayvessel said...

I just discovered your blog.

What a great and useful post! When I first traveled to Europe the question of tipping was one always on my mind and I had difficulty getting a direct answer. How great to read this about Italy. I'm trying to remember if I tipped while there, but probably!

I had simply horrible service at a cafe in Vienna, Austria and consequently didn't leave a tip but wondered if it conveyed any message- probably not.

Another topic that would be interesting to address would be the beggars and whether or not to feel compassion and give them things (food, money, etc). I learned some surprising things from what I observed of the beggars and learned more too late after returning home. I tell people that the beggars I saw in Italy make those in America look like posers!

Irreverent Italy said...

That's a great idea! Will do.
The church says one should always - always help another out, and have won a few battles to keep the vagrants from getting removed from in front of churches.
Most journalists have found they are put up by rackets all over town, and is part of a huge money scheme...
But, watch this blog...I'll get to it!

Cherrye at My Bella Vita said...

LOVE this post! I'm gonna stumble it or tweet it or do whatever I can to help spread the word. The people I tell don't seem to believe me! ha!

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