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Coperto: Dive into the Exciting World of Italian Dining Etiquette

Coperto is a unique tradition deeply rooted in Italian dining culture. This per-person fee, charged in Italian restaurants, covers the cost of table linen, tableware, and bread. It’s a mandatory charge that applies to all diners, both locals and tourists alike. The fee typically ranges from €1 to €5, depending on the restaurant, adding a small additional cost to the dining experience.

The concept of Coperto dates back to the Middle Ages, originally serving as a charge for the bread and tableware provided by the restaurant. This was intended to cover the cost of these items, ensuring the restaurant could provide these amenities to all diners. Over time, the charge expanded to include table linen and other items, solidifying its place as a mandatory fee in the Italian dining experience.

What does coperto mean on a bill?

“Coperto” is a common practice in Italian restaurants and is often a source of confusion for tourists. This per-person fee is added to the bill on top of the cost of the meal. Essentially, it’s a flat, fixed cover charge that is mandatory for all diners, regardless of what they order.

The coperto is intended to cover the cost of the restaurant’s service and amenities. This includes the use of table linen, tableware, and the bread that is typically served at the start of a meal. However, it’s worth noting that the provision of bread can vary from restaurant to restaurant. Some establishments may serve bread without explicitly mentioning the coperto, in which case you’ll likely see an item for “pane” (Italian for bread) on your bill.

The amount charged for coperto can vary widely, but it typically ranges from €1-3 per person. This charge is standard across Italy, although the exact amount can depend on the region and the type of restaurant. High-end restaurants in major cities or tourist areas may charge a higher coperto.

what is coperto
To avoid surprises, check the menu to see what is the price of Coperto

The term “coperto” literally translates to “covered” in Italian, reflecting the idea that it covers the cost of the service and amenities provided by the restaurant. While it might seem unusual to those unfamiliar with the practice, it’s a deeply ingrained part of Italian dining culture.

The practice of charging a coperto has a long history, tracing back to medieval times when wayfarers would compensate taverns for the comfort of a warm seat. If a patron ordered a meal, the coperto was not applied as it was considered part of the meal cost. Also, if they stopped at an inn to seek shelter or cover during harsh weather but brought their own food in, travelers paid to use shared items such as plates, silverware, tables, and chairs.

Is coperto the same as tip?

“No, “coperto” and “tip” (as discussed in our previous article about tipping etiquette in Italy) are not identical, even though they both constitute additional charges in restaurants.

“Coperto” is a cover charge that is added to your bill in Italian restaurants. It’s a per-person fee that is meant to cover the cost of service and amenities, such as table linen, tableware, and bread. This charge is mandatory and is typically included in the bill regardless of the quality of service.

On the other hand, a “tip” is a voluntary amount of money given over the cost of the goods or services to show satisfaction with the service provided. In many countries, including the United States, it’s customary to leave a tip of around 15-20% of the total bill for waitstaff at restaurants. The tip is not included in the bill and is given at the discretion of the customer.

In Italy, tipping is not as customary as it is in some other countries. Service staff are generally paid a living wage, and the coperto is seen as covering the cost of service. While customers can leave a tip if they wish to show appreciation for exceptional service, it’s not expected in the same way it is in countries like the United States.

So, while both coperto and tips relate to additional charges at restaurants, they are different in their purpose, implementation, and cultural expectations.”

Can you refuse coperto in Italy?

In Italy, the practice of charging a “coperto” is considered legal if it is explicitly stated on the menu or visibly displayed within the restaurant. This means that as a customer, you are generally obligated to pay it and cannot refuse this charge. The “coperto” is a deeply ingrained part of Italian dining culture and is considered part of the overall cost of the meal. It covers various services, including the use of table linen, tableware, and the provision of bread.

If the “coperto” is not mentioned on the menu, the restaurant owner does not have the right to impose it. Therefore, if you wish to avoid paying the “coperto”, it’s advisable to check the menu carefully or inquire with the restaurant staff about it before placing your order.

However, it’s important to note that refusing to pay the “coperto” in a restaurant where it is clearly stated could lead to misunderstandings or disputes. It’s also worth noting that in some cases, the “coperto” charge has been legally challenged. For instance, in Rome in 1995, it was forbidden to impose the “coperto” charge, but it was mandatory to include the cost of bread and service, both aspects normally included under the generic term “coperto”.

Coperto through the eyes of locals and tourists in Italy

For locals in Italy, the “coperto” is a familiar part of dining out. It’s a longstanding tradition and is generally accepted as part of the cost of a meal at a restaurant. Italians understand that the “coperto” covers the cost of service and amenities, such as table linen, tableware, and bread. They are accustomed to seeing it on the bill and typically don’t question it, as long as it was clearly stated on the menu or displayed within the restaurant.

Tourists, on the other hand, often have different reactions to the “coperto”. Those who are unaware of the practice may be surprised or confused when they see an additional charge on their bill. Some tourists may perceive it as an unnecessary or hidden cost, particularly if they come from countries where such a charge is not common. However, those who are familiar with the concept of “coperto” and understand its purpose generally accept it as part of the dining experience in Italy. It’s always recommended for tourists to check the menu for any additional charges or ask the restaurant staff if they are unsure.

what is coperto in italy
What Is ‘Coperto’ in Italy? Non-Italians may find this dining charge confusing

Dealing with ‘Coperto’: 10 rules for tourists

Navigating dining customs in a foreign country can be a challenge. This small guide provides ten simple rules to help you understand and manage this customary cover charge, ensuring a smooth Italian dining experience.

  1. Understand What Coperto Is: Before dining out in Italy, familiarize yourself with the concept of “coperto”. It’s a per-person cover charge that is added to your bill, intended to cover the cost of service and amenities.
  2. Check the Menu: Always check the menu for any mention of a “coperto” before ordering. This charge should be clearly stated, and knowing about it in advance can help avoid any surprises when the bill arrives.
  3. Factor in the Coperto: Remember, the “coperto” is a per-person fee, so factor this into your budget when dining out.
  4. Know the Tipping Culture: Tipping is not as customary in Italy as it is in some other countries, and the “coperto” is seen as covering the cost of service. While you can leave a tip if you wish to show appreciation for exceptional service, it’s not expected.
  5. Speak Up If Overcharged: If you believe you’ve been overcharged for the “coperto”, it’s advisable to politely raise the issue with the restaurant staff.
  6. Know Your Rights: If the “coperto” was not listed on the menu, you can argue that you should not be charged for it.
  7. Report If Necessary: If the issue is not resolved to your satisfaction, you may consider reporting the incident to local consumer protection authorities.
  8. Keep All Receipts: It’s important to keep all receipts as they may be required for any complaints or disputes.
  9. Respect Local Customs: While the “coperto” might seem unusual to some tourists, it’s a longstanding tradition in Italian dining culture. Respect local customs and practices when dining out.
  10. Enjoy the Experience: Despite the “coperto”, dining in Italy is a wonderful experience. Enjoy the delicious food, beautiful surroundings, and warm hospitality that Italian restaurants have to offer.

Comparing ‘Coperto’: A Look at Similar Practices Around the World

The practice of adding a cover charge, akin to Italy’s “coperto”, is not exclusive to Italy and can be found in different forms across various countries, each with its unique nuances.

DestinationLocal CustomDescription
ItalyCopertoA mandatory fee contributing to staff wages.
FranceService ComprisIncluded in menu prices, akin to Italy’s cover charge.
SpainCubiertoSimilar to Italy’s cover charge, covers bread and table service.
USATipA voluntary amount typically around 15-20% of the total bill for service appreciation.
JapanOtoshiApplied in bars and izakayas, often includes a small appetizer or “tsukidashi.”
BrazilCouvertAdded to the bill for appetizers like bread, butter, and olives served before the meal.
GreeceKouverCommon practice including bread, olives, and sometimes tap water.

Each of these practices, like the “coperto”, contributes to the final cost of dining out and is a reflection of the cultural norms and expectations of each country. These charges, while sometimes surprising to tourists, are part of the global dining experience and offer insight into the dining customs of each culture.

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