The service charge and IVA, or value-added tax (V.A.T.), are included in the rate except in five-star deluxe hotels, where the IVA (15% on luxury hotels) may be a separate item added to the bill at departure.
Many, but not all, Rome restaurants have eliminated extra charges for service and for pane e coperto (a cover charge that includes bread, whether you eat it or not). If it is an extra, the service charge may be 12%–15%. Only part, if any, of this amount goes to the waiter, so an additional tip is customary.
Always ask for an itemized bill and a scontrino, or receipt. Officially you have to keep this receipt with you for 600 feet from the restaurant, bar, or store and be able to produce it if asked by the tax police. Sound absurd? It's something of a desperate measure for the country with the highest taxes in Europe and the highest levels of tax evasion/avoidance, and there have been cases of unwitting customers falling foul of the law, even though this practice is meant to catch noncompliant restaurants.
Be advised that the vendors selling imitation knock-off purses, sunglasses, and other accessories are unauthorized street vendors. If caught buying from any of these street vendors, you could be served with a hefty fine by Italy’s tax police (Guardia di Finanza). Value-added tax (IVA in Italy, V.A.T. to English-speakers) is 23% on luxury goods, clothing, and wine. On most consumer goods, it's already included in the amount shown on the price tag; on services, such as car rentals, it's an extra item. If a store you shop in has a "euro tax free" sign outside and you make a purchase above €155 (before tax), present your passport and request a "Tax Free Shopping Check" when paying, or at least an invoice itemizing the article(s), price(s), and the amount of tax.
To get an IVA refund when you're leaving Italy, take the goods and the invoice to the customs office at the airport or other point of departure and have the invoice stamped. (If you return to the United States or Canada directly from Italy, go through the procedure at Italian customs; if your return is, say, via Britain, take the Italian goods and invoice to British customs.) Once back home—and within 90 days of the date of purchase—mail the stamped invoice to the store, which will forward the IVA rebate to you.
Global Blue (800/566–9828; 0331/1778 000 within Italy. www.global-blue.com.)