Cover charge in restaurants


We are all used to Italian restaurants adding a “cover charge” or “coperto” to the bill. On Forum (a television court programme) recently a restaurant owner and a customer were arguing over whether the coperto could be charged for children as the customer claimed the children had eaten from the parent’s plate. The judge found that the children had used knives and forks etc. and so should pay the cover charge. Giving her judgement the judge talked about the origin of the practice which is unique to Italy.

 It began in the 1900s when osterias were places that served only wine. Customers were allowed to bring food into the osteria but owners got fed up with having to clear up after the customers that started to put large sheets of paper or a coperto on the table and charged for this. When the osterias started to produce their own food the charge remained and in fact the idea was taken up by other types of restaurants and became ubiquitous.

However, things may be slowly changing as in some parts of Italy local by-laws have prohibited restaurants adding a cover charge but the situation remains confused.

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