What does coperto in Italian Restaurants mean?

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Last Updated on November 29, 2023 by Laura Teso

The coperto [koh-PEHR-toh] is a per-person fee due in all kinds of restaurants in Italy and it means cover charge. It covers the costs for tableware, table linen, and bread. So only trattorie, pizzerie, and restaurants charge you with it. Or places where you sit and have a meal (or at least a course). And not if you have an aperitivo or an espresso at a café.

The coperto habit has its origin in the Middle Ages. At that time many people used to stop at inns, but, in order to save money, they only ate food brought from home. Basically the only thing they ordered were the drinks. So the innkeepers, unable to sell them their food, started to charge these customers for the place they occupied (posto coperto) and for the use of cutlery and plates.

The coperto fee can vary from 1 to even 5 € (in the most famous and expensive tourist places). Mind, you can eat the bread or not, but you still have to pay the coperto. It might seem a very strange habit, but for us Italians is a normal thing. It is a way to cover the cost of pane e grissini (bread and breadsticks). Plus the use of cutlery and tablecloths (cause the restaurant must then wash them).

Tipping vs Coperto: the latter avoids embarassment

On the other hand in Italy tipping is not common, except perhaps in luxury places: hotels, restaurants and cafés. We normally do not tip or, if we do, we leave a €1 or €2 coin, or we round up our bill to the nearest round number. I personally prefer the coperto to the tipping habit. It’s a matter of customs. For example, when I’m abroad I’m never sure what is the proper amount to give and I often feel embarassed. This is because I’m not used to it.

Anecdote

Not a long time ago I had lunch with two American friends, here in my town. At the end of the meal, we were about to leave and… one of the them felt guilty. She wasn’t able to leave without leaving a tip to our waiter. Even if the service was nothing special. So she did. To me it was completely odd.  To her it would have been odd not to do so. It is always a matter of perspective. Of course, if the waiter or waitress was particularly nice, or you asked for unconventional things or you’re a rather demanding customer (I mean like Sally in the movie When Harry met Sally) then yes, I think it’s a very nice gesture to tip him/her. Or if you’re a generous person. No waiter will be unhappy of receiving a tip.

Once I was in Lienz, Austria, and I felt forced to tip a very rude waitress. Yes, because I’m a bit of a coward. I had not the courage to leave the place without giving her a tip. So I felt terrible, before and after. On the contrary, when there is the coperto, there’s no tipping doubts. So I find it is quite convenient in the end. Probably it is just a matter of habits.

How restaurants calculate coperto

Coperto fee commonly includes bread and mise en place: use of cutlery, plates, glasses, tablecloths and napkins. Naturally, in an unpretentious trattoria you can find paper placemats and paper napkins, packaged breadsticks and non high quality bread. So the coperto will be low. At least I hope so. While in a fine restaurant with fabric tablecloth, good silverware, and homemade bread (perhaps of different types and with quality grains) the coperto will be higher.
Another factor that influences the cost of coperto if the location: if it is prestigious (breathtaking view or unique position) the coperto will be more expensive.

Is coperto legal?

Yes, it is legal. Even if sometimes it is quite annoying, especially when it’s high. Or rather, there are no regulations that prohibit restaurateurs from requesting it. The only national law in this regard states that the coperto fee must be clearly written in the menu (art. 18 del Regio Decreto n. 635/1940).

However the amount is at the total discretion of the owner. Except in the case of some regional or city laws. For example there’s a law in Rome, dating back to 2006, which prohibits the coperto. But of course some restaurateurs found how to workaround the problem. So they charge for the bread basket. But it must be stated in the menu. And you can refuse to pay it they bring it to you without asking. You can simply send it back saying you don’t eat it. Something that would be impossible for me because my husband loves bread too much. Sometimes I think he comes to the restaurant just to eat bread. While I prefer to leave space for dessert.

What is servizio in Italian restaurants?

At some restaurants, you may also notice the indication of servizio, service. It can be incluso, included or it can result in an additional fee. What’s that?

Servizio includes the staff assistance at the table during the meal: taking care of the order, giving advice on the menu, serving and removing the dishes, refilling the glasses. The custom of adding a service charge to restaurant bills in Italy dates back to a past when there were no employment contracts. And so the staff members were paid a percentage of the customers’ orders and tables they served. The “service” was, in fact, how much the waiters earned. It was a variable cost, depending on the level of the restaurant. Typically, 15-20% of the total bill.

Nowadays there are regular employment contracts for the waiters. So, even if you could still find it in some venues, many restaurateurs removed it (or better, they say it’s included). On the other hand not all work contracts in Italy are that fair, considering the cost of living.  

In this regard, don’t be surprised to find increased prices on Italian menus (compared to a few years ago). Unfortunately, the major energy crisis of recent times has increased the prices of bills and raw materials, as well as rental costs. 

The case of Florian Café in Venice

I thought of adding this because I know that many of my regular readers are in love with Venice and go there as often as they can.

At Florian Café in Venice there’s no coperto charge. On the other hand, you’ll find two different menus, with different costs (you can find them both on their official website, also in English): one menu, cheaper, for those who order at the counter (but on their website you’ll see they wrote bar and not counter), and another one, more expensive, for the clients who sit at the tables. Plus, if the orchestra is playing and you sit on the outside tables, there’s an extra per-person fee, called orchestra fee, of €6. Servizio is included though.

For example, 1 espresso at the counter costs €3,5 while at the table it costs €7. If the orchestra is playing the total would be €13. Honestly, I don’t think this is too excessive to sit for a while at the most iconic café in the world while hearing some music in Piazza San Marco.


In conclusion, coperto is a per costumer fee,a common practice in Italian restaurants. Its cost can vary but it is typically around 2-3 euros per person. So, if you are dining in an Italian restaurant, be prepared to pay the cover charge.

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Discussion10 Comments

  1. Pingback: Taverna del Borgo in Cittadella Review - My Corner of Italy

    • Servizio is a charge that goes to the wait staff. This is actually an ancient habit, dating back to a time when the staff was only paid through tips. Nowadays, the staff has a salary, even if not that high. Besides, this “servizio” is found only in the most touristed areas. For example I never found it in Padova, which is off the beaten track. But I saw it in Venice. Plus there are regional differences, that create more confusion. For example in Lazio (Rome for example) there’s a regional law that forbids the coperto and allows the servizio. Actually, when in Rome I remember sawing the coperto and not the servizio, so it’s a bit of a mess. It’s a matter of paying attention ourselves, I guess!

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  3. Does the coperto necessarily include bread to the customers? I did not receive bread but while dining at one particular restaurant but the server gave bread to other customers.

    • Hi! It does not “necessarily” include it, but it usually does. Yes, it happens sometimes. To me, too. Maybe the service was not attentive. In those cases, feel free to ask the waiter fro some bread. No problem. Probably the other customers aked for it. Or maybe the waiter assumed (it can happen) you wouldn’t want it (who knows why!) People can be strange… everywhere! 😀 Or just distracted.

  4. Alexander Kostylev

    Very interesting! It mean if I bring my panini in restaurant, I am able to eat my own food after I pay for Coperto? 🙂