Italy is arguably one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Meandering stone and mortar streets, the corner cafes, and a fascinating history call out to millions of visitors each year. Wander the streets for a day or two and you’ll see a culture that revolves around cuisine and community that’s difficult to find in combination with such refinement.
Tipping is a No-no
It can be a difficult thing for Americans to accept because we’ve been so ingrained with the idea that tipping is a way to show appreciation and that servers rely on tips to make a living. The truth is you don’t need to tip in Italy. You’re probably already paying a supplement through the servizio(service charge) on your restaurant bill and/or the coperto (cover charge), sometimes both. If you do tip, it’s for wildly exception service and it’s a choice of convenience rather than rewarding service, and it’s nowhere near 10 or 20% of the bill.
Make sure you understand the different levels of service at restaurants and cafes. The rules are pretty much the same throughout Italy – you either sit at a table and get waiter service, or stand at the bar to eat/drink or buy something to take away. The prices are different in each case. Never assume that a business or restaurant accepts credit cards. Never assume that a shopkeeper will break a large bill for a small purchase. Always ask, and expect they may say “No”. Carry small bills for small purchases. Also make sure that during the meal, your hands are always visible. It is thought to be bad manners to rest them out of sight on your lap.
A bit like siesta time in Mexico (but don’t call it that). Each business day between approximately noon and 3:30pm take an extended lunch hour. Here in the States, we would get upset about not being able to get anything done for three hours. But in Italy, Riposo is a very important part of a culture where taking the time to enjoy life comes as a high priority. Don’t fight it.
Most Italians will forgive you if you make an honest mistake. However, it’s always a good idea to review Italian customs and etiquette before traveling abroad.