In North America, diners are pretty much required to tip anywhere they go. No 15% tacked onto your Visa bill or laid out on the table? Well, you’ll certainly get a dirty look from your waitstaff. And don’t think you’ll be given those nice little mints when you leave either. No-sir-ee-bob.
But in Italy, the tipping game is played a little differently. Waiters are paid more, and don’t rely on huge table turnover to grab as many tips as possible to supplement their measly income. This is better for you, the traveler, for two reasons; you’ll get to linger as long as you’d like at your table even after you’ve finished your meal, without being hounded to leave by a waitress whose “boss would just like her to settle all the bills before her shift ends” and, you’re not obligated to tip (dare una mancia).
I’m not saying tipping doesn’t happen in Italy. Sometimes a coperto charge is already included in the bill for 1 or 2 euros per person, which is like a service charge or a tip. An Italian receipt (il conto) is often hard to decipher (creative math, different way of printing numbers, etc.). I once overheard a group of young American guys wondering why the waiter charged them 1,50 euros a piece for the packets of ketchup they had requested! From a table away, I knew it wasn’t some culturally confusing ketchup charge, it was the coperto. If only I had written this sooner…
Anyways, in other places, such a charge isn’t added. If you feel your meal was exquisite and your waiter (cameriere) was extremely helpful/friendly/charming/funny/good looking then leave a 2 or 3 euro tip (and your phone number, if you’re really brazen) and call it a day. Round up a euro or two for your cab driver, especially if he helped you with your bags. Tip a hotel porter a euro or so, and your stay might just go even smoother than expected. Toss a two-euro coin to your tour guide if they explained things well, and they’ll be grateful that you’ve just paid their next coffee.
The rule of thumb is this: a few extra euros for good service is always appreciated, but not expected. If you want to be generous, be generous. The person will be grateful, and may even remember your kindness for the next time you return.