Tipping & doggie bags in Rome: here’s what you have to know
Today we’ll try and dispel any false myths about tipping in Italy and taking a doggie bag of food to go from any restaurant – it’s two of the most frequently asked questions we get from our clients and a general topic we are happy to provide some insight on, as Italians who were born and bred in Rome.
First and foremost: know that tipping is not mandatory in Italy, nor it has a fixed percentage (for example: the 20% of the total amount you’re about to pay).
With that in mind, receipts (particularly in restaurants) containing “tipping entries” are completely irregular and that kind of listed item should be ignored.
What you could be finding, instead, is either an entry for “coperto” or a service fee, averaging at 1,50 EUR per person (you could be finding places where it’s higher, obviously), which includes the price of a bread basket. This shouldn’t be charged to you if you don’t intend to eat any of it, so you can send the basket back if it’s brought to you anyway, and you can certainly challenge this particular cost if you notice it has been added nonetheless at the end of your meal.
What’s important to know about coperto and/or service fee: the tips for your waiter are usually taken from these small sums. This is not guaranteed, though, and as a matter of fact this kind of money gets pocketed, more often than not, by the restaurant’s owners.
What we do: as locals, when we feel that service has been outstanding and the food truly exceptional, we’ll round up the bill to the nearest whole sum, so if – say – the receipt shows a total of 25 Euros, we might leave 30. That applies to any kind of sum and it’s completely up to the customer. It’s usual to leave an average of 2 to 5 Euros per bill. That way, you’re completely sure that the money goes to the actual waiter who served you.
Credit cards receipts don’t show a field for tipping, so you’re good leaving coins on the table before you leave the restaurant or café.
Tipping this way is not usually done in very high end restaurants (Michelin-starred establishments, for instance).
The reason why we do tip in spite of there not being an obligation is that waiters, particularly, are famously paid very low wages. So much so that they, most times, have to get another job (or two) to get by. Unfortunately Italy doesn’t have a minimum wage so restaurant owners are usually free to offer whatever they want, knowing full well that after two back-to-back recessions, people are after whatever job they can get.
This tipping rationale applies to all professions where salaries are low. So tourist guides, taxi drivers, baristas – you name it! If you feel like they’ve been extra nice to you and really went above and beyond their job description, you’re free to give them something extra!
What about a doggie bag?
A doggie bag with leftover food or wine is traditionally done in such countries as the United States, where customers will leave a restaurant with what’s left from their meal. This was completely unheard of in Italy until a law against food waste was passed in 2016. As food constitutes one of the main sources of trash in Rome, and it’s particularly appealing to pests such as rats, seagulls or pigeons, restaurants are being given responsability for trying to reduce the amount of food going into the rubbish.
Unfortunately, not all establishments are actually complying, so a doggie bag may not always be advertised. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask your waiter!