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Tipping In Rome

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April 27, 2010 Exploring Rome, Travel Expert 1 Comment

Tipping is a very emotive subject. Just look at the comment section of an opinion piece published in the NYT here. Unfortunately, I am with the author on this: I find the tipping issue confusing and annoying, not to mention that it is a moral minefield.
tipping 207x300 Tipping In Rome

Visitors travelling to Rome always ask as one of their first questions: Is tipping “required” in Taxis, restaurants, hotels etc? The answer is no. The law here in Italy is that each person you meet should be paid for the work they do, by their employer. Surprisingly, people are not paid in accordance to how much a particular customer likes them or not.

Is tipping “expected”? Well, that is another question. (Tip me, now – click on the button to “Donate” on the right hand side of this page – please, I expect it). Taxi drivers and waiters and others will generally try to coax more money out of you. On those occasions, the best thing you can do for humanity, is NOT tip (including me now, sorry if you have already done so). If you are going to tip, at least choose the people who don’t use emotional blackmail. Show some personal strength.

Many people who write about Rome and other places suggest that you leave 10% or so for waiters as that is what is expected. Someone like myself is just “tight” and doesn’t want to give money away unnecessarily. The waiter is paid the same in the same way as the check-out girl at the supermarket. She smiles and is just as helpful as any waiter – why don’t you tip her? Why do you spend an age trying to pick up that  1, 2 or 5 cent coin off the slippery darn bag packer area? And you don’t tip your dentist or doctor – why? They may have saved your life.

Tipping is a very strange behaviour to bring into today’s commerce. It has been around for hundreds of years, and is now inextricably associated with service culture in the US, while also spread throughout the world but less embedded in local culture. I have a suggestion. If you pay these people a livable wage, it can be added to the price of the meal, and hey presto, the meal, drink costs the same as it costs now with a tip. But you avoid all the begging and grovelling, the manipulation, and the “you’re tight, I’m generous” behaviour and narrative.

Somehow it is believed that tipping is an incentive to give better service. Who knows what good service is. Isn’t it just social and culturally intelligent that everybody should be either pleasant or at least not rude to each other, whether you are providing a service or not. So if taxi driver smiles and points out a few things on the way in, great. I will tell him about me and airplanes and other cities and two people will share some time based on humanity. I don’t expect him to give me a discount because I chatted to him. I don’t expect him to ask for “smile money” either. I personally find that I can be perfectly pleasant and informative and helpful to people even if they don’t give me cash for it.

That is where it is a little repulsive. Waiters or taxi drivers shouldn’t be reduced to prostituting themselves for cash. It is a wonderful thing generally about Italian dining when you find a waiter who isn’t expecting a tip. You meet with a person. He could be having a great day or a bad one, but his emotion will be on his sleeve and you experience a real person.

When they come to Italy, visitors are very insistent about having a set price, all included, no hidden extras. This is a way of making sure they are not being cheated. In the same way, the expectation of the service provider that you should pay the price plus a tip is also blatant false pricing.

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Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Eli says:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Provocative… I wonder what the service industry would look like if there were no tips! Certainly in Rome, I guess service mentality might go away completely.

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