Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Il Coperto, The Italian Cover Charge

■ 12 March 2010 by James Martin

It must be time for another tome from Frances Mayes. Media is loaded with interviews with her. I’ve just read ‘Tuscan Sun’ author on Italy’s pleasures

It’s a good interview. And there are comments below the text. Like lots of what passes for “discourse” in the US, the comments soon degenerate into xenophobic idiocy.

I’ve never been to the area of Tuscany that is described in this story. I’m sure the land is pretty, however, it’s the people that many disagree with. What other country in Europe (or the entire world) charges a “cover charge” to eat in their restaurants. Absolutely pathetic… ~ MarcoP

I always love the idea of arbitrary hate. Where does that come from? You hate the people of a place because the restaurant charges a cover charge just like clubs in the US? Why is that?

But nevermind, Marco probably isn’t going to read this. But I’m going to talk about cover charge anyway.

Coperto is a small fee, usually a couple of Euros or so, tacked on to an ala carte meal you eat in a ristorante. Usually, the coperto is included in the price fixed meals, as in the “pranzo di lavoro” or “worker’s lunch” served in my corner of Tuscany, the Lunigiana, so you don’t see it on the bill.

This cover charge was implemented years ago, and was called at the time a “bread and cover” charge. It is explained as the cost of washing the linens and providing the free stuff—like pane or, as we say, “bread”.

How folks think they’re getting ripped off when they get charged the coperto is troubling to me. It’s written on the menu, usually at the bottom, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. It is a way of breaking cost out that is different, I suppose, than the way we do it in America. So what?

When restaurateurs were allowed to add this charge to menus by the crack Italian government they all did, of course. So, in a sense, this got equalized by its ubiquity. The free market tells you that if you are willing to pay $15 for a meal, then it doesn’t matter if the charge is $5 for cover and $10 for food, or if the cost of cleaning the linens is included in the all inclusive charge of $15. Its the same goddam thing. You’re not getting ripped off, you’re just getting charged in a different manner.

It’s different in the US, where the charges might come as a complete surprise to the uninitiated. We’re told by the restaurant owners, “Hey, we don’t wanna pay our help, so you’ll have to do that yourselves.” So we leave an obligatory “tip.” This is what makes the American experience less “pathetic” I’m thinking, to guys like MarcoP. It’s just so darn logical (if you’ve lived with it all your life and haven’t traveled to see how other people might do it that is).

On top of all this added crap, of course, there’s the tax. So when we decide that we just have $15 in our wallets and the meal is gonna cost us $15 we have to say, “Hey, wait a minute! I can expect to be charged much more than that!” Imagine what foreigners think after eating a $15 meal that costs them over $20. It’s nuts.

(Even nuttier in San Francisco, where the employee health insurance is added to your bill in many cases!)

So should Italy please us by eliminating those troublesome tablecloths? (remember that in the US, restaurants are charged over $1 per napkin and $4 to wash a tablecloth, and if you think you’re not getting charged for that, stop reading now—you’re certifiably nuts! Get help!) The answer to the eliminate tablecloths question is not only “no!” but “hell no!” And here’s why: The Cultural Anthropology of Tablecloths

——-

Need to know where to eat in Tuscany? Have a gander at our Tuscany for Foodies Mobile App.

Looking for more tips for a trouble-free experience on your Italy Vacation? Download the mobile app for iPad or iPhone: Italy Travel Tips & Hints - Sutro Media | Android

Il Coperto, The Italian Cover Charge originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Mar 12, 2010, © James Martin.

Filed in: |

Cuss or discuss this article on our Wandering Italy Facebook Page.