In most cases your restaurant bill will include an additional charge that may take you by surprise: the ‘coperto’. Typically ranging from €2-3 per person*, this is a flat cover charge in addition to the cost of food and drink.
It is not optional. It is not a tip, and it is not a charge applied only on tourists. The addition of the coperto is standard practice in restaurants all across Italy. It is a fee that is added per person for the table service and the use of tableware, bread (even if no bread is served), and other items.
Legally, the coperto should be printed on the menu. You might have to look carefully to find it. It might be a small footnote or it might only be listed on the outside menu.
Travellers on a budget will need factor in the coperto in addition to the menu prices, and should ask about the cost if they cannot find it on the menu they are given.
*The most expensive that we have encountered to date is €5 per person at Osteria Madre on Ostuni’s Piazza della Libertà. That will add €20 to your bill for a table of 4, €30 to your bill for at table of 6 etc..
Al bar, drinks on the terrace
In most cases if you just sit on the terrace at a Caffè Bar for a Spritz, glass of wine, beer or coffee you will not be charged a coperto. But this is not always the case. We were charged a coperto when we had cocktails on the terrace of a bar in Milan’s upmarket Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Should I tip?
The coperto is not a tip.
In Italy, waiters don’t depend on tips for their income. They are paid a decent living wage by the restaurant.
This will feel a little strange for visitors from America. Do not feel obliged to automatically include a 20% tip (or by way of cultural compromise half of that). The custom here is to leave a little change, to round up the bill to the nearest euro.
Italians won’t be tipping here, other than rounding up in this way, and your waiter will certainly not be expecting it. In fact, if you leave anything other than small change they might come running after you to give you back the change you have left by ‘mistake’!