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I'll be traveling to France and Italy, and a friend of mine said that it's common to pay a tax (? don't know if there is a better word in English) called couvert, and in exchange of that you receive some breads with garlic + tomato, or something like that.

So, it is obligatory? How should I proceed if I don't want it ?

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That's an Italian thing (and not just Italian, it also exists in some form in other south-western European countries including Portugal). It definitely doesn't exist in France; most French restaurants bring you bread to the table (no butter or tomato or whatnot, just bread), and that's free. –  Gilles Jul 10 '13 at 13:36
    
Note also that in Italy an espresso at the bar will be (often) much cheaper than at a table. Mostly they just have different prices for drinking your coffee standing or seated. –  Bart Arondson Jul 10 '13 at 15:08
    
Its to pay to clean your utensils, napkin, etc. –  Mike Christiansen Feb 28 at 17:59

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I can't speak for France, but here in Italy it is normal to have a small amount / fee added to your bill when you eat in restaurants. As Mouviciel says correctly, it is something you pay to have a seat at the table, with all the necessary things.

Although it is true that normally it is just 1.50 / 2 euros, it is also true that the amount of the "fee" depends on the restaurant (I think I've seen it as high as 5 euros per person). Expect to see it added to your bill in pizzerias, restaurants and "trattorias", whereas you won't be asked anything extra if you eat in a self-service restaurant, in a café where they serve sandwiches and ready-made dishes, especially at lunch time for office workers, and normally places which offer "exotic" food (Japanese, Mexican, Indian, etc.) do not charge it either.

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which offer "exotic" food (Japanese, Mexican, Indian, etc.) -- I am definitely too spoiled.... –  Karlson Jul 10 '13 at 22:06
    
@Karlson. I didn't know how to mark the separation between Italian restaurants, which normally make you pay this charge, and those which do not offer Italian cuisine, and that save you the extra expense. To tell you the truth, I very much enjoy eating out when I can get something not traditionally Italian, so Indian and Japanese restaurants are two favourites of mine. –  Paola Jul 11 '13 at 14:33
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That wasn't meant as a poke. :) Here only thing that's considered "exotic" is something that's rare like Ethiopian. :) Everything else varies from fast food to fancy. –  Karlson Jul 11 '13 at 14:38

It doesn't exist in France.

It exists in the form you describe in Portugal: starters are brought to the table, as if a gift, but they are not free. You can just say that you don't want them. Anything you ask shall be paid, including bread and water.

It exists in Italy but not only for bread, garlic and tomato. It is a way of saying that you will be seated, with a plate, a fork, a knife in front of you and all of that needs to be cleaned after your meal. This one is mandatory. The only way to avoid it is to focus on street food.

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I believe it is mandatory in many restaurants. On a recent trip, I kept noticing the charge on my checks, then I remembered that in Spain they would bring bread without asking and charge for it. In Spain I was able to avoid the charge by sending the bread back when it came. No such luck the time I tried it in Italy, charge still appeared.

On the positive side, the fee was usually only €1-2.

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