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Tipping in Europe: Dos and Don'ts

Posted by Carol Sicbaldi

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Ciclismo Classico guests often ask us for tipping guidelines in order to understand what is accepted—and expected—as local practice. Since things are certainly a bit different in Italy and the rest of Europe regarding tipping practices, we thought it would be helpful to demystify some the unknowns and answer questions we often get on tour. Read on to learn what Ciclismo Classico's Tip Advisor has to say.

"Spare change can be left at the bar. It's not customary or expected."

With the latest movement in New York City of eliminating gratuities and better compensating staff, tipping has certainly become a hot topic. Last year, the Union Square Cafe in Manhattan (whose chef and co-owner also happens to be a Ciclismo alum) began to phase out tipping. The news sparked a national discussion on tipping in a country where gratuities are embedded within the culture.  

While throughout Italy—and much of Europe—the mancia is always appreciated by taxi drivers, hotel staff, and restaurant servers alike, tips are never obligatory. In Europe, it's generally customary to tip in the same or similar instances as in the United States, but the amounts—and circumstances—do tend to vary.

The reason Italians don’t tip as much or as often as Americans is merely cultural. In addition to believing a tip isn't needed for financial stability, Italians also view tips as a means of highlighting the power dynamics between the tipper and the tippee, where the tipper is more powerful and the person receiving the tip is akin to a subordinate. For this reason, you should never tip the owner of a business. At a hair salon in Florence recommended by a friend recently, I had to makes sure whether the person cutting my hair was the owner or an employee before I paid my bill. (Owner = no tip, employee = tip.)

Of course, to most Americans, tips have nothing to do with power dynamics and are simply a way of showing appreciation for good service. Italians who give service to North American travelers are usually aware of this and tend to genuinely appreciate the gesture.

 

Tipping Taxi Drivers

You can give your taxi driver a bit of extra money, but it’s not really a tip. Think of it more as rounding up the fare a few cents so that nobody has to deal with small change. So if your taxi fare is 19 euros and 70 cents, you can give the driver 20 euros and tell them to keep the rest. If your fare is 18 euros and 70 cents, you can ask for one euro back in change.


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For drivers who quote a fixed fare—like an airport fare or a pre-paid fare—there is no need to add a tip. For example, let’s say you've booked a driver who meets you at the airport holding a sign with your name on it, and you know the flat rate is 70 euros from the airport to your hotel. Give the driver the 70 euros (or give them more, but expect change in return) and say thank you. If you decide to tip, 2-3 euros is an appropriate amount.

 

Tipping at Bars (Coffee Shops)

When sipping a good cappuccino or other beverage, it's considerate to leave the change or round up to the nearest euro on the total bill. As Giuseppe, the owner of my favorite local bar in Tuscany, says, "Spare change can be left at the bar. It's not customary or expected."

 

Tipping in Restaurants

Two-thirds of Italians leave no tip at meals, but leaving a small tip or no tip makes many Americans uncomfortable. So if you're happy with the service, leave a 10% tip. If you weren’t thrilled with the service, but it was fine, you can leave 5%. Remember the following, though:

-Know that your server is already being paid a living wage and doesn't depend on your tips for their own financial stability.

-Look at the breakdown of your bill. You'll very likely see a cover charge, called a coperto, in the amount of approximately 2-3 euros per head. This is completely normal and should be an expected charge on your bill anytime you sit down anywhere, even if all you order is a glass of water. (The key words here are sit down. If you stand at a bar, you won't get charged a cover fee).


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Do take note that some restaurants add an additional service charge, listed on the bill as servizio. A servizio charge is usually about 10% and should not be a surprise at the time you receive the bill. It should be written on the menu, and often applies to specific scenarios like for parties of 8 people or more. This charge is the tip, so if you ever see a charge for servizio, do not leave anything extra.

One final important note: Some Italian servers in places with lots of tourists—like Rome, Florence, and Venice—are now so accustomed to receiving tips from Americans that many have started asking whether the customer needs change. (If, let’s say, you give them 60 euros for a 55-euro bill). In the U.S., this is a common occurence and unoffensive, but in Italy it's incredibly rude. If any server ever asks you whether you need change, then of course you do.

It's customary to leave a small tip by simply rounding the bill up to the next notch or leave about 5%. If the service was to your liking or exceeded your expectations, then you can add on 10% for a tip. The more expensive and elegant the restaurant, the more one is expected to leave. Some restaurants will add on a 10% or 15% service charge—a servizio incluso—to the bill, in which case you don't have to leave any tip at all.

Please also note that Ciclismo Classico as a company does not cover tips for all group dinners.

 

Tipping a Special Chef, Farmer, Producer or Artisan

This is completely at your discretion and often depends on the following: relationship of the person to the trip guides, frequency of our visits there, time spent, and other factors. You can always check in with your Ciclismo tour guide if you're unsure.

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An excursion out with a local truffle hunter on our "Piedmont: Barolo and Truffle" bike tour.

 

Tipping at Hotels

The rule of thumb for tipping a bellhop for transporting bags to your room is 1-2 euros per bag. If a concierge spends a significant amount of time helping you with recommendations, booking tickets, or making dinner reservations for you, a tip is always much appreciated.

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When we think about the various cultural approaches, all of this tip talk can be thought-provoking. It will be interesting to see what happens with "the better wages vs. tipping debate" in the U.S. The bottom line for the overwhelming majority of Europeans is that they don't depend on tips as an integral part of their livlihood, but rather, as a bonus or an extra of sorts. Or as they say here: "Fewer expectations, less disappointment!"

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