Driving in Italy

Most Italians do not tip. Not at restaurants, not at salons or barber shops, not in pubs or winebars, and certainly not in taxis.

Tipping etiquette for restaurants in Italy
Servizio: More and more frequently, restaurants in Rome, Florence, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast (ie tourist destinations) add an unprecedented 10-15% service charge to bills. As far as I can tell, this charge is perfectly legal,
though it must be written on the menu in order for it to appear on the bill (look for the small
print!). Often locals and regulars are exempt from this charge. If you sit down at a cafe for lunch,
coffee, or a snack, the price already includes a service charge, so no need to leave extra. NB: The
service charge is not the same thing as a tip, as you don’t have much choice in the matter. The
service charge is mandatory and unusual and the tip is completely voluntary (see below).
Four dirty words: Nothing makes my blood boil more than a server telling my table “service is not
included”. This only happens when I dine with English speaking friends and clients and it is
nothing more than a ploy to exploit tourists. Service is absolutely included. If you wish you can
leave a little extra but this is not required unless you really liked the service.
“Pane e coperto”: The “bread and cover charge” was officially banned by the regional government
of Lazio in 2006, yet it continues to appear on many bills, both for visitors as well as locals.
Traditionally, the charge was seen as a “tax” for taking up a spot in the restaurant and as a means
to pay the servers. The charge ranges between €1-3.
The small number of Italians I know who do tip leave a euro or two per person, regardless of how
much the bill is. Please do not tip as you would in the US or other service based places. Servers in
Italy are paid a living wage and don’t depend on tips like waiters in the US. They do expect tips from Americans, but they shouldn’t! Leaving a big tip perpetuates the expectation and double-
standard placed on tourists.

You can leave a tip in a restaurant if the service has been excellent. It’s best to hand it to the waiter
in cash, rather than adding it to the credit card bill (in this case the waiter won’t receive it). Five
euro per table is plenty in a good restaurant; in a fancier place a 10 euro tip is more than enough.
Also, don’t get upset if the waiter doesn’t bring you the bill when you finish eating. It is considered
rude to give a client their bill if they haven’t asked for it.

Tipping etiquette for hotels in Italy
Tipping at hotels in Italy is not required but appreciated. You can tip the porter, usually no more
than 5 euro. It is recommended you tip around 5 euro for room service as well.
Tipping etiquette for tour guides in Italy
If you take a group tour, tipping your guide is very much appreciated. Common practice is in the
range of 5 euro for half a day, or 10 euro for a full day. If you take a private tour, tipping is not
Tipping etiquette for taxis and private drivers in Italy
In Italy you can tip your taxi driver, but it isn’t expected. It is common practice to round up to the
nearest multiple of 5. If you have a private driver for a city to city transfer and he is friendly, on
time and helpful, a 10 euro tip is appreciated. It is not necessary to tip drivers for short transfers.

Shorts and sleeveless shirts are not allowed in many churches. Women wearing low-cut shirts
must cover up with a sweater or scarf. They are very strict about attire at the Vatican (no shorts or
sleeveless shirts for men or women, no low-cut shirts or short skirts for women). Very few eating
establishments impose a dress code, although shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps go down badly in
formal, upmarket restaurants.
A number of restaurants have taken anti-smoking by-laws seriously (note that unfortunately
diners are allowed to smoke at outdoor restaurants). Booking, once unusual, is becoming more of
a habit, even in places that might appear to be spit-and-sawdust – especially so on Friday and
Saturday evenings.

Crossing streets
Only cross streets at zebra crossings and stop lights. At zebra crossings, drivers will not stop for
you if you wait patiently at the side of the road. You must step out into the street, looking into the
eyes of the drivers coming towards you. They may stop, or they may go around you. Do not
hesitate! They have their timing down perfectly, and if you stop in the middle of the road, you will
upset this timing. The same goes for scooters – they will almost always choose to go around you
rather than stop.

Meal hours
Most restaurants will serve lunch from about 12:30-2:30 pm and dinner from 7:30/8-10:30 pm.
Italians tend to sit down for dinner around 8:30 pm or later. Bars serve sandwiches and other
snacks all day long. If you decide to sit at a table inside or outside a bar, wait for a waiter to take
your order. You will pay more than if you had chosen to stand at the bar. Never bring something
that you have bought to a table. If you want a quick drink or bite at the bar, first pay at the
register, then show your receipt to the person behind the bar.


The easiest and cheapest way to get money in Italy is to use your ATM card. Otherwise you can
exchange cash and traveler’s checks in banks, which are usually open Mon.-Fri. from 8:30
a.m.-1:30 p.m. Most banks are also open from 3-4 p.m. or from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Banks are closed
on Sat. and Sun. For the exchange of traveler’s checks, you’ll need your passport. Most hotels will
also exchange money and traveler’s checks for you, but they charge commission, as do exchange

Be careful. There are lots of very good pickpockets and gypsies around, so keep your eyes open,
especially on public transportation and in crowded tourist areas. Don’t carry around a lot of cash,
and leave passports at your hotel (have a photocopy with you at all times just in case). Men
shouldn’t keep wallets in pants pockets, but close to their chest. Women have to be careful with
their purse – make sure it closes well, when you’re in crowds hold it close to you, and never put it
down and take your eye off it. There’s certainly nothing to be scared of – just keep your eyes open
and be aware of what’s going on around you.

Shopping hours
Due to recent liberalization of opening hours, an increasing number of city-center shops stay open
non-stop from 9:30 am or 10 am to around 7:30 pm or 8 pm, Monday to Saturday. Many central
shops, especially chains and those on major shopping streets, also open on Sunday, though for
shorter periods (generally 11 am-1 pm, 4-7:30 pm). Among shops that do still shut for lunch, the
traditional 1-4 pm shutdown is getting rarer: shops more often close for an hour or so. Small
neighborhood and corner shops tend to stay open later (often after 8 pm) or close for longer hours
at lunch. Most food stores close on Thursday afternoons. Most non-food shops are closed on

Monday mornings.
A note about counterfeit goods – a law to protect the competitiveness of the “Made in Italy” brand
has been passed; under this law, it becomes highly punishable for anyone to buy counterfeit
brand-name goods, even from ambulant vendors; the purchaser will be fined up to ten thousand
euros for each counterfeit item purchased, even if the buyer was unaware that the goods were
fake, and the fine will be reduced to one third, or 3,333 euros, if the individual pays the fine
without contesting it. In buying goods from an ambulant please make sure that there is no
trademark label on the goods. It is safe to buy a no-name umbrella from a street vendor, but if the
umbrella has Gucci or Valentino on it, don’t buy it. The police is enforcing the law also on tourists.

Taxis in Italy cannot usually be hailed as they can in other countries, though there are always
exceptions. Authorized taxis can be found at taxi stands near important tourist points around
cities. You can always call a taxi and have it pick you up from wherever you are. However, keep in
the mind that the meter will start running as soon as the driver starts heading your way. At
airports and train stations, always wait in line at the official taxi stand. Do not go with people who
approach you asking you if you need a taxi; they are not official taxi drivers and they will
overcharge you. Official taxis are always equipped with meters. The fare is comprised of the
distance you travel, plus any number of additional charges. There are surcharges at night, on
Sundays and on holidays.

Electricity in Italy, as in the rest of Europe, comes out of the wall socket at 220 volts alternating at
a 50 cycles per second. In the US, electricity comes out of the wall socket at 110 volts, alternating
at 60 cycles per second. Not only the voltages and frequencies, but the sockets themselves are
different. Plug adapters are the interfaces between the American flat-pronged plug and Italy’s two
(or three) round-prong socket. These allow you to plug your electrical device into the Italian wall
socket, but they do not convert the electricity to the American 110 volts. If your appliance is
designed to run only on 110-120 volts, you are likely to see smoke, if not fire, from this potent
miss-mating. You will need a step-down power converter or transformer to safely step the voltage
down from 220 to 110. More on this later. You can get along with just a plug converter for many of
today’s small electrical devices designed to run on dual voltages. Devices like this include most
laptops and phones, most recently produced battery chargers, and many small, electrical gadgets,
especially those designed for world travel. You can check the back of the device or the “power
brick” for the electrical input specifications. Hair dryers and curling irons are the bane of modern
day travel. These devices cannot often be used in dual voltage situations without voltage
conversion. They are extremely high current devices, meaning that combined with the high
voltage, they use a whole lot of power (current times voltage = power). You’ll need to lug a large
power converter or power transformer to convert Italy’s higher voltage to the lower American
voltage–or you’ll risk having the curling iron really curl (meaning “fry”) your hair. Frequent
travelers will want to simply buy one of these devices in Europe to avoid carrying both the device
and the converter around. They aren’t expensive in Italy. Most hotels and rental properties supply
proper hair driers so you probably won’t need to bring your own. If you buy a power converter,
make sure its power rating meets or exceeds the power rating of the single device you will use with
it. This information is usually found on the body of the device near the power cord.

Thank you and congratulations,
you took your first step towards Italy.

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