Italian Food

Coperto 101, What it Means, Why it Exists in Italy

Coperto is a mandatory per-person charge that has been part of eating in Italy since the middle ages. What coperto means, costs, why it's not a scam or tip.

Coperto is a mandatory per-person charge at restaurants in Italy. What coperto means in English, costs, why it’s legal and not a tip.

In Italy, coperto is not something you order, it’s part of a deep cultural tradition that goes back to the middle ages. Yet it still surprises tourists to see Coperto on the bill in Italy. What follows is a quick cultural background about eating in Italy to help anyone visiting for the first time avoid embarrassment and mangia like a proper Italian.

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Coperto

Coperto has been part of eating in Italy since the middle ages when Italians would bring food with them as they traveled. If they stopped at an inn to seek shelter or cover during harsh weather but brought their own food in, coperto was paid to use shared items. Think of plates, silverware, tables, and chairs. If the travelers ate food prepared by the inn coperto was simply part of the bill. Back to Top

What Coperto Means in English

In English coperto means covered. In fact the Cambridge English dictionary defines it as covered, protected, indoors. Think of it as a cover charge for the cost of providing indoor shelter, table linens, clean utensils, and bread of which no table in Italy is complete without. Back to Top

History of Coperto in Italy

The history of coperto in Italy is explained in the video below. If you don’t speak Italian, I recommend turning on English closed captions. After the video is information about how much coperto typically costs, why it’s legal, mandatory, and not a tip. Back to Top

Video: History of Coperto in Italy

What Coperto Typically Costs

Typically, coperto is between 1€ to 3€ per person. Locals and tourists alike pay the same amount.

Coperto on Receipt in Italy
Coperto on Receipt in Italy

Coperto is not a way to up-charge tourists or scam them out of money. That is unless coperto is exceedingly high and you’ve found yourself in a tourist traps. To be sure, simply look for the coperto listing on the menu and keep in mind this is a per person charge. Also don’t be afraid to ask how much coperto costs “quanto è coperto?” if you cannot find it. Back to Top

Restaurants list coperto charges directly on the menu or post it in the restaurant. As a result its legal in Italy. Although coperto is set by what the local market will bear, because its unregulated restaurants can charge as they see fit. Touristy places like Venice, Rome, and Florence can and sometimes do demand higher prices. Back to Top

Yes, You Have to Pay It

Traveling on a budget? Keep in mind, coperto is part of the culture of eating in Italy. So even if you don’t want bread and there are no table linens, expect to see coperto on the bill in Italy. It might seem strange but when compared to the 15% – 20% tip American restaurants expect customers to fork over, it’s a steal. Speaking of tipping. Back to Top

No, It is not a Tip

Because coperto is a restaurant charge, the funds go to the restaurant not the waiter. Consequently it is not the same thing as paying a tip. Unless there is a charge for ‘servizio’ meaning service on the bill, there is no tip included for the waiter. Back to Top

Servizio has historically not been common in Italy. Unlike coperto, servizio is a bit of a tourist tax. Areas highly trafficked by tourists such as Amalfi, Venice, Rome, and Florence are seeing it show up more and more. Fortunately servizio must be listed, so be sure before settling in to check any fine print on the menu. Back to Top

If servizio is included in the bill, there is no need to leave a separate tip for the waiter unless you really want to. In which case, so our guide to tipping in Italy. Back to Top

In Conclusion

To sum it up, coperto is legal in Italy and has been since the middle ages. Do expect to see it on the bill in Italy and pay it. Although tipping in Italy is minimal like coperto don’t confuse it for a tip. If you want to make sure to not get scammed while in Italy, check the menu or restaurant listing to ensure you know the cost of coperto before ordering.

As an American married to an Italian for over a decade who now lives in Italy, I’ve had the privilege to eat in Italy’s best restaurants and been invited to Italian family tables. This experience served as the inspiration for our Eating in Italy article series. Quick bites of how to enjoy eating in Italy without the stress or frustration that can come when confronted with new cultural experiences. Back to Top

Additional Tip About Eating in Italy

Here is a quick list of helpful articles about eating in Italy including tips, tricks to ordering, where to find the most authentic food in Italy and more.

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References

2 comments

  1. Hi Brandy sending a hug. I found this piece really interesting I did not know about Coparto and I’ve been to Italy once on a Parillo tour and once with Valerie and I going on our own!

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    1. Hugs right back to you Dolores! I’m always happy to share fun tips that I’m learning about life here in Italy. Especially after watching a tourist fight with the restaurant staff about Coperto. Poor guy. Paolo and I had a long discussion about Coperto that day which is how I learned about it myself. Hoping you’ll get another chance to eat your way through Italy soon.

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