As tourists, you’ll get ripped off at one time or another while travelling. And Italy is no different from any other country which means you should be aware of a few of the most common scams.
Here are a few tips for how to eat in Italy without getting ripped off.
- Eat far away from tourist sites: Sad to say that in some less-than-honest Italian establishments, tourists can be seen as easy prey. Restaurants and cafes right near the big tourist sites are the most likely candidates. Another tip-off that you’re in a touristy establishment: There’s a “host” outside the door asking you to come in, there’s a menu with pictures, or there’s a big sign that says “Tourist Menu” or even “No service!” or “No cover charge!”.
- Drink your Coffee Standing: Unless your feet are aching you to death, you should avoid sitting down in the kind of place that Italians call a “bar”. Why? Because as soon as you sit down, the price of whatever you’re eating doubles or even triples. That’s why you see Italians usually stand up to take their coffee.
- Know what to pay for: In Italy, you do have to pay for water and you do also have to pay for bread. And for that digestivo of limoncello or amaro or grappa. Here’s how to tell: If the waiter asks you if you want an after-dinner drink before he’s brought the bill, you’ll probably be charged. If he asks you if you want one after he’s brought the bill and/or paid, it’s probably a little “thank you” on the house.
- Be specific about what you want: Sometimes, waiters will ask if you would like an antipasto for the table. Most of the time, this is fine. Occasionally, though, the antipasto winds up costing an arm and a leg — and you don’t realize it until you get the bill. Be specific when you order an antipasto, or that bruschetta and other food might just keep coming and coming.
- Getting the bill at a restaurant: When your waiter brings you a bill (remember, you have to ask for it!), make sure that it’s itemized. Ask for the itemized bill. It’s the only way to know if you’re being charged what you ate.
- What’s that charge on my bill: Even if you don’t touch the bread, you might still be charged “pane e coperto” When an Italian restaurant charges you for bread, it’s generally not per basket. Instead, the price is usually per head. Most Italians pay for pane e coperto as well — not just tourists. So in general, you can let it go and play but there’s a warning. The charge should be written on the menu.
- To tip or not to tip: First, one thing to keep in mind: Waiting tables in Italy is much different than waiting tables in the States. Many Italian waiters are paid off the books, meaning they’re not paying taxes. Furthermore, if servizio has been added to your bill then leave nothing on top.You can leave something but it should not be 20,15 or even 10%. A few coins are sufficient.
- You can take some form of Action if it looks like you have been ripped off: When presented with a confusing or ridiculous bill, most times tourists don’t do anything about it. But remember, you do have control in this situation. Here’s what you can do.First, simply point out the discrepancy to the waiter and ask, politely but firmly, for it to be fixed. This is why you got that itemized bill. If your polite requests haven’t done anything to remove that 20% servizio that was added to your bill, demand a real receipt. In some cases, you may be presented with something called a preconti, a pre-receipt delivered by the waiter who should then take your cash and return with change and the real, official receipt.