Bread and Wine

by Audrey Sherman (University of San Francisco)
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. Not the tipping. I am still not used to the fact that you are not supposed to tip here in Italia. I must admit that it is nice not having to shell out an extra five bucks, but I still find myself almost adding that extra 15-20 percent onto the check. Living in the States it is almost as if the service experience is as important as the food that is being consumed.

Here, however, the restaurants acknowledge the fact that the customer is there for the food and the food alone. It goes with the relaxed cultural feel and the fact that people go to cafes and restaurants not just for a quick bite but a few hours of extended conversation and visiting. Instead of catering to the diner for the whole three hours the waiter just leaves them be, and in return expects no tip. Instead they include a service charge. To me, an American, this was something new.

After sitting down to dinner, one unfriendly server set down a few baskets of bread and packets of breadsticks. Just as my fingers swiped up a slice of the bread, one of the other girls shouted to not touch the bread. The reasoning was that in many Italian restaurants they charge you for the bread.

What? How could this be, I thought to myself. Italy makes some of the best bread. My Italian grandfather’s last name was Pagnotta, meaning bread, and here they are about to charge us for a measly basket of bread? However, after a much misunderstood conversation in “Italian” we were reassured that the bread was not an additional cost but included in the service charge. To say the least, we were not the waiter's favorite table of the night.

* * *

Spending the weekend traveling, I expected to spend a few euro, which I successfully did. The one cost that did come as a surprise, but perhaps shouldn’t of if I had thought about it more, was the fact that a cup of coke cost more than a glass of wine.

After getting off of the train and arriving in Florence we were all a bit exhausted and ready to walk around and get a drink. Luckily we ducked into a café with an outdoor canopy since a few minutes later the clouds opened up and a huge down pour of rain began to soak the cobble-stoned streets. As a group of about six of us sat down we all ordered different drinks.

There was, of course, an espresso in the group, along with a grande beer, glass of red wine, and a coca-cola. After gulping down our drinks of choice in order to make the Bruno walking tour, we went inside to pay.

After the espresso, I was surprised to find out that my glass of wine was over a Euro cheaper than the soda and at least four Euro less than the grande beer.

It didn’t take long to realize the reasoning that the latter two were exports and therefore more expensive, but coming from the U.S. where wine is always more it was a new reality.

I guess it just goes to show, when in Italy stick to wine!