The Added Fee You Should Expect When Eating Out In Italy

Whether you're fresh off a gondola ride in Venice or you've spent the afternoon visiting the best Amalfi coast beaches, a day of seeing the sites will most definitely wake up your appetite. But before you decide between fresh fish and risotto in Burano or a decadent dessert of panficato on the island of Giglio, you should know what to expect when the bill arrives. Dining protocol in Italy differs from that at home, so be prepared to face an additional fee that's unique to Italy: the coperto.

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Is it a tax? Is it a tip? Actually, it's neither. Coperto, which translates to "covered" in English, is a cover charge that helps restaurants recoup the costs of having you as a guest. The fee offsets the expenses for your tableware items, such as utensils, glasses, napkins, and linens, as well as another Italian essential — bread. Not all restaurants in Italy charge a coperto, but most do. It will show up as a per-person charge, and the amount will typically range from one to three euros each, regardless of the amount of the bill.

How coperto affects the bill

Although it may seem like a gut punch to have additional fees tacked on to "il conto," there are several things to keep in mind. The first is that you won't be charged this fee for grab-and-go food, such as a panino al prosciutto or a cup of gelato. Secondly, the tipping culture is different in Italy. Although you can leave a few euros if you want to reward excellent service, it's not expected. If it helps, you can think of the coperto as a cheaper version of a standard tip. With reasonable food prices and little to no tip, the total bill balances out in the end.

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The third thing to keep in mind is that the coperto will be listed on the menu. You might have to get your readers out to spot it in the margins or at the very bottom, but restaurants are required to post the information. While a few extra euros added to the bill might not make your radar, you should know the amount of the coperto is unregulated. This means restaurants can charge what they like, and in some touristy areas it can be substantial, so it's best to get in the practice of looking at the menu posted out front before you take a seat.

Embrace the coperto experience while dining in Italy

You'll likely encounter coperto during your time in Italy; however, there is a notable exception. Out of the 20 administrative regions that make up the country, the Lazio region is the only one where the coperto is technically banned. In reality, however, it's not uncommon to see another similar fee on the bill. It may be labeled as a "pane," which is the Italian word for bread, or "servizio" which is a service fee (that is also listed on the menu). You may be able to deny the offered bread at the beginning of the meal and subsequently argue the fee. You could also refuse to pay a fee that's not listed on the menu. However, a coperto is standard practice in Italy, and it's best to simply embrace it.

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The joy of travel is having new experiences. Whether you're checking out the most beautiful Italian islands (as rated by fellow travelers) or working your way from Sicily to lesser-known Italian locales to experience an authentic island dining experience, Italy is a country that's umbilically connected to food. Eating out is a cultural and gastronomic experience that's not to be missed. So expect the unexpected and buon appetito!

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