The Restaurant Fee You Should Look Out For In Italy

Dining out in foreign countries can be tricky territory if you aren't familiar with the landscape, so it's important to brush up on any local customs and faux pas to avoid — like knowing what to order at an Izakaya in Japan and opting to skip the ranch dressing when you're out for a pizza in Italy. Local tipping customs also vary highly (not to mention the rules of tipping during fine dining); for example, it's considered rude to leave extra change on the table in Japan, while many European Union countries like the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Spain, and Sweden automatically add a service charge to the bill, no matter the quality of the service.

To make dining math even more complicated, Italy is known for adding another fee to the tab which may take some foreign visitors by surprise. The next time you eat out in the Bel Paese, look out for this additional charge on your bill.

The coperto charge in Italy

Imagine this scene from an Italian restaurant: a group of four American tourists are finishing up a delicious meal of risotto alla milanese and fritto miso, followed by a tiramisu and a coffee. The bill comes, and the diner checks it over casually to make sure that everything is accounted for. Their eyes stop at four unknown charges, for about two euros each. Coperto, they read with confusion. They hesitate to ask the waitstaff what the charge is for.

Had they done their research in advance, they would know that coperto is a common charge in most Italian restaurants that are meant to cover the costs of what you used to eat: your cup, the cutlery, your plates, glasses, and even the tablecloth. Bread is sometimes included — and sometimes not, so if you're craving bread but don't to pay extra for it, ask ahead, or else you'll see a pane charge. Italian restaurant menus that charge coperto will also state this charge upfront, though it may be hidden in small fine print, and if you're just having drinks or coffee, the coperto usually won't be added to your bill. The other charge to know of is the servizio charge for service; that's where you can add or omit a tip, which isn't expected in Italy, anyway.