The coperto [koh-PEHR-toh] is a per-person fee due in all kinds of restaurants in Italy and it means cover charge.
If you want to learn more about other Italian traditions and habits, go to All About Italy.
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. The innkeepers, unable to sell them their food, started therefore to charge these customers for the place they occupied (posto coperto) and for the use of cutlery and plates.
The fee varies from 1 to even 5 € (in the most famous and expensive tourist places). 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. You can see it as a way to cover the cost of pane e grissini (bread and breadsticks) and the use of cutlery and tablecloths, that must then be washed.
Coperto 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.
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… oe of the them felt guilty. She wasn’t able to leave without leaving a tip to our waiter. So she did. To me it was completely odd. To her it would have been odd not to do so.
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. I felt terrible before and after.
On the contrary, when there is the coperto, the tipping problem is gone. So I find it is quite convenient in the end. Or maybe it is just a matter of habits.
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Thanks for the explanation, Laura. I’ve also noticed that sometimes there’s service included (servezio…is that how I remember it?). Is that the restaurant just adding in a tip?
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!
Thank you for that explanation as well, Laura!
You’re welcome, Helen! 🙂
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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.
Very interesting! It mean if I bring my panini in restaurant, I am able to eat my own food after I pay for Coperto? 🙂
Of course not! 😀 It was only a Medieval times thing. Now they would throw you out!