Eating some of Italy’s delectable cuisines is one of the reasons you go to a restaurant in Italy. When Rick started visiting Italy in 2004, he wasn’t really a foodie. He was happy with spaghetti and meat balls, Hawaiian pizza, and yes, bacon and eggs for breakfast. Not only that, he wanted to eat lunch at noon and dinner at 6. Unfortunately, none of this was easily achieved – and it’s for that reason I put together this guide: Learn the in’s and outs, or the do’s and don’ts of eating in Italian restaurants so you’ll be prepared.
Dining Out In Italy
Dining in Italy is a serious business, and Italians take great pride in their food. In Italy, you may eat some of the best food in the world, and it will be one of the experiences you will remember forever.
Here is the guide to Italy restaurants’ do’s and don’ts to enjoy the best food and the most authentic Italian experience.
Like anywhere else in the world, not every restaurant is the same in Italy. As a result, something that is totally okay at a family restaurant might be a little off-limits at a high-end restaurant.
The restaurant’s location is another notable distinction. For instance, there is a much higher likelihood that a restaurant in a major city with plenty of tourists will be much more laid back than one in a more remote area with few people.
Proper Times To Visit A Restaurant In Italy
Let’s start by discussing the proper times to visit a restaurant. In Italy, lunch is eaten between 12:30 and 1:30 and dinner between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m., even at 9 p.m. in the southern part of the country.
If you visit a restaurant before 12:30 or 7:30 p.m., chances are that it will be closed. Again, you may find restaurants open all afternoon in more popular tourist destinations like Rome, Venice, Florence, or Milan, but often those eateries cater to travelers.
Italians enjoy staying at the table and chatting with their friends for hours. Hence, most restaurants don’t offer numerous seating. You won’t receive the bill unless you request it.
Italians would view receiving the bill without being asked as rude because the restaurant seems to be trying to get rid of them. After the pandemic, certain eateries in highly crowded places began to offer two seatings for supper, one at 7:30 and one at 9 or 9:30. Although if this is the case, the restaurant would inform you in advance that you might need to leave the table at a certain time. Again, this is an exception. It isn’t the norm.
Understanding Italian Food Menus
It is extremely uncommon to find menus with photos in Italy. The only exceptions are chain restaurants and eateries that cater to tourists.
All of the other restaurants have no photos on their menus. In fact, family restaurants and trattorie frequently don’t even have a menu; instead, the server will inform you of what is available on that specific day.
But, even though menus lack photographs, your server will be more than happy to describe the food if you ask them to.
This is the sequence of a typical Italian meal:
- You will have the antipasto, which is your appetizer
- You have the primo, which is usually the pasta or soup dish
- After the primo, you will have the second, which is your main course, generally meat or fish
- The contorno is the side dish that comes with the secondo
- Lastly, you have the dolce that is the dessert
Once more, you are not required to eat all four courses. However, remember that they will be served in order, and your pasta dish will never be served after the second course.
You might wonder if ordering two primi instead of a primo and a secondo is okay. Or if it is ok to order two secondi instead of a pasta dish and a secondo. Indeed, that is absolutely fine.
Now we know you are totally confused now because we called primo, and then we said primi and secondo and secondi etc. Let’s clarify it for you. Primo is singular, and secondi is plural. This is the same for secondo, singular and secondi plural. This also applies to the singular and plural forms of panino (panini) and gelato (gelati).
Can You Share A Dish In Italy?
Most people ask, “Is it okay to share a dish?” Rick will say, “Yes, of course!!” – but the the answer is, “It depends.”
The kind of restaurant is the first factor to consider. Sharing is completely acceptable if you visit a trattoria or an ordinary restaurant.
Actually, in many places, they might serve food family style that is meant to share. In more rural areas, it is also quite common to order two or three kinds of pasta family style for everyone at the table to share.
Sharing is typically inappropriate while dining at a Michelin-star or a high-priced restaurant.
Pizza is one food that Italians are incredibly hesitant to share. Pizza is not shared among Italians.
Italians take great pride in their cuisine, especially in restaurants. Therefore, a server will never ask about your meal. The only exception is if you leave all the food on the plate; in this situation, they will ask you if there is a problem.
Again, in touristy Italian regions, the waiter might approach you and ask about the quality of the cuisine, but this is not customary.
How to Order Drinks In An Italian Restaurant
In restaurants in Italy, how do you order drinks? Water and wine are the typical drinks served with meals. And, in case you’re wondering, here’s the scoop about Italy’s drinking age!
Italians make an exception with pizza and ethnic food when they might drink beer or sodas.
One thing that most Italians don’t do is drink cocktails with their meals. Cocktails like Aperol Spritz is for aperitivo. As a result, unless you’re in a popular region, they won’t even mix you a cocktail at a restaurant.
In Italy, finishing dinner with coffee and a digestif is customary. You may have heard that ordering a cappuccino after noon is a big no-no.
Cappuccino is served during breakfast in Italy. Likewise, getting a cappuccino after lunch or supper is more typical in tourist areas.
Drinking a cappuccino in the afternoon is regarded as strange in less touristy locations. Nonetheless, it is quite common to order a macchiato, which is essentially a miniature cappuccino.
A latte should not be ordered in any Italian restaurant or coffee shop unless you want a glass of milk. This is because latte means milk in Italian; if you request a latte, you will receive precisely that.
If you want the equivalent of a latte in North America, order a Latte Macchiato (which means a glass of warm milk with a splash of coffee).
How Italian Restaurants Bill Their Customers
The tab is divided among the diners at the table in Italy rather than by the things ordered.
No eateries would divide the check according to what each person ordered. The total is divided into five if there are five people at the table.
Also, although it is not required, tips are always appreciated. You can read more about tipping in Italy in here.
Finally, using a debit or credit card to pay is acceptable. A restaurant is lying if they claim that you must pay with cash because the credit card terminal is broken. Cards must be accepted in Italy.
We sincerely hope that you have found this article to be useful, and we want to reassure you that even if you breach some of the rules, Italians are very laid-back people who won’t be mad at you. They know your habits are different because you are not a native.
In the end, simply enjoy yourself and the incredible food and try not to worry too much about the restaurants in Italy.