Hidden Charges and Tipping Etiquette: What to Watch Out for While Traveling
When traveling abroad, it’s important to be aware of the potential hidden charges and tipping practices that can catch tourists off guard. In a recent incident in northern Italy, a tourist was charged an extra €2 for having his toasted sandwich cut in half at a bar on Lake Como. The proprietor claimed that the fee was to cover the cost of washing an additional plate and place mat. While this may seem unusual, it is not uncommon for businesses in tourist-heavy areas to add extra charges to maximize their profits during the limited tourist season.
In the United States, it is standard practice for restaurants to charge slightly more than half the price for a half-sized portion, often referred to as a “split plate charge.” However, if you order a dessert to share, you would typically expect an extra spoon to be provided at no additional cost. While Italy may have its share of hidden extras, such as the common “coperto” charge at restaurants that covers olives and bread, other destinations also have their own unique fees.
Venice, for example, is notorious for its high prices. A coffee in St Mark’s Square can cost anywhere from €12 to €18, and if the band starts playing while you’re sitting there, an additional €6 may be added to your bill. Travel writer Neil Taylor reports that price lists in Venetian cafes are often kept hidden at the back to prevent potential clients from seeing them before ordering. Similarly, James Hill, an experienced Italian travel guide, warns of soaring charges at beaches, with reports of €500 being charged for a day on a Puglian beach with an umbrella and four loungers.
It’s not just Italy where travelers need to be cautious. In the UK, motorists are charged up to £7 for dropping off passengers outside airport terminals. Some tourist bars in Prague have a policy of billing customers for salt, pepper, and ketchup, even if they are just having a couple of beers. In Vienna, there have been reports of a €3 per person charge for background music. When it comes to hotels, Italy has its own accommodation tax, known as “imposta di soggiorno,” which can be quite expensive. In Venice, this tax is used to finance tourism, cultural heritage sites, the environment, and public services. The tax typically ranges from €1 per star per person per night, meaning a couple staying in a five-star hotel for a week could pay an extra €70 or more. Amsterdam also has a similar fee, while Manchester recently became the first city in the UK to introduce a charge of £1 per room per night.
In the United States, some hotels have resort fees that can add up to $50 per night to the room charge. However, President Biden has vowed to outlaw fees that confuse or deceive consumers. When it comes to dining out, it’s important to be cautious and ask about prices before ordering. There have been instances where tourists have been charged exorbitant amounts for off-menu items or freshly caught fish whose prices were not clearly stated. Tipping practices also vary around the world. In continental Europe, including France, tipping is not obligatory, and leaving without tipping is perfectly acceptable. In many parts of Asia and Australia, there is no tradition of tipping. However, in North America, tipping is expected for various services, including taxi drivers, bellhops, guides, bus drivers, waiting staff, and bartenders. It is customary to tip a minimum of 18% for waiting staff and $1 per drink for bartenders. While tipping practices may vary, it’s always a good idea to be aware of local customs and adjust accordingly.
When traveling, it’s essential to be mindful of hidden charges and tipping practices to avoid any surprises or unnecessary expenses. By staying informed and asking questions when needed, travelers can navigate these situations with ease and enjoy their trip without any financial surprises.