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What does the “cover charge” cover in Italy’s restaurants?

grissiniSome travelers to Italy are taken aback by the idea of paying a cover charge for eating in a restaurant. To many, the idea of a “cover charge” applies to night clubs but to restaurants? Not so much. You’re going to be paying for the meal, right? What’s the cover charge covering, exactly?

In general terms, a restaurant cover charge, or “il coperto” in Italian, is a per-person charge which takes care of the basics which many diners are used to getting for free at home – things like a glass of tap water or a plate of bread. It’s also sometimes called the “pane e coperto,” the bread and cover charge. When you see breadsticks propped up in a cup on your table, they might be covered in “il coperto,” but it’s also possible that you’re going to pay for whatever you eat. Be sure before you bite.

Italians don’t mess around when it comes to food, and even something as simple as bread is taken seriously. Some of the different kinds of bread you might find when eating out in Italy are:

  • Rustica – country-style bread, thick and crisp crust
  • Grissini – thin, dry, crispy bread sticks (sometimes individually wrapped)
  • Galletta – thin and small pieces of crispy bread, like a cracker
  • Focaccia – thick, flat bread, often dressed with olive oil and fresh herbs
  • Ciabatta – relatively flat, sometimes misshapen, loaf with big air holes and nutty flavor
  • Toscana – bread found in Tuscany, where it’s made without salt
  • Carta da musica – literally means, “music paper;” thin and papery, very crisp, from Sardinia

If you’re on a strict budget, avoiding the breadsticks can be a good money-saver if they’re going to cost extra. And because many Italians prefer bottled water to tap water, check to see if there’s a charge for a simple glass of tap water. If there’s not, that’s another way to save. Mind you, we’re talking about a couple Euro here and there – not necessarily big money. But as long as the Euro keeps rising against, well, pretty much everything else, every Euro counts.

For more information about dining out in Italy, see this article on tipping in Italy – sometimes customary, often unnecessary.