The American media has had a field day with the fact that billionaire Facebook Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, did not leave a tip while dining in Italy.  What a shame.  Our media tends to vilify those who are high profile. They become easy targets often without providing facts to support the negative press.  

Now, let me step aside here for a moment – the history of Facebook, and its origins, is one thing, but this article is addressing the topic of tipping in Italy and specifically Zuckerberg’s tipping procedures while on vacation.

Tipping in Italy has never been customary.  In fact, tipping is eagerly anticipated in some areas of the country only as a result of foreigners, primarily Americans, who brought our unique tipping methods into another culture.  But Italy isn’t America.

“Servizio incluso” means service included.  It usually hovers around 10 – 15%.  It may or may not be clearly visible on the check.  The “sitting fee” is called the coperto (or cover charge).  It may be written there as well.  Even if you don’t see “servizio incluso”, it is most likely there, either factored into the sitting fee or already added into the bill in another way.  It has always been included.  If you feel you’re being given the “stare-down”, my Italian sources tell me that this is simply because Americans have created an environment where there are expectations from one group, but not from their own countrymen.  There is an expression that says, “We don’t expect Italians to tip but Americans, yes!”  And even if you ask whether or not it’s included, you may or may not be given the truth.  Once again, it is included.

Why the difference between our tipping procedures and theirs?

Wait staff in Italy are not, for the most part, the underpaid minimum wage workers, as are those in the service industry here in the United States.  As a matter of fact, they are paid fairly and often have government benefits.  In our country, waiters and waitresses rely on tips, thus begins the great debate as to whether our system is the perfect design or not.

The United States Federal standard for minimum wage, untipped employees, is $7.25.  The Federal United States minimum wage for a tipped employee is $2.13; therefore, tips are crucial to survival.  There is a vast difference.  We could debate all day whether restaurant owners are pulling their fair share by encumbering the public with paying their staff’s salaries, but the fact is that we have set that standard and it has been in effect for years.

In many European countries, including Italy, the patron will simply round off the credit card bill to include a few extra euros or leave spare coins on the table as an additional acknowledgment.  It is not mandatory, but is most always well received.

Some Italians, when dining in an elaborate, upscale restaurant, and after being treated like royalty, will leave an additional 10% tip.  Once again, this is not mandatory, nor should it be expected.  It would, however, bring the service charge to around 25% which is not uncommon in fine restaurants, even here in the United States.

Taxi drivers work the same way, but through the years, they have become increasingly accustomed to the Americanized method of appreciation and these days, somewhat expect it. But beware – there is a little area below some of the meters where an additional charge is added for your luggage, so no tipping is required.

So did Mark Zuckerberg violate any protocol?  No.  Would it have been nice to leave a little something in addition?  Sure.  Did his celebrity play a part in the attention drawn to this? Absolutely.

Service is almost always included in the charges in Italy.  Tips are not required – not at restaurants, not at salons, not at barber shops, not in pubs or wine bars, and not in taxis.  But, feel free to leave a few extra euros on the table or round off your bill to the euro.  It’s that simple.