Discover The Aperitivo: Italy’s Enchanting Pre-Dinner Tradition

Italy's culinary prelude to dinner, where each sip and bite comes with a Symphony of flavors and friendship.
Written By: Andrea Spallanzani
Reviewed by: Rick Orford
How & Why We Created This Article

This article has been written, reviewed, and fact-checked by Rick and I. We live in Italy and travel throughout the country to help you make the best choices for your trip. We wrote this piece to help you have the best trip possible on your next trip to Italy. Portions of this article have been written using assistive AI tools to help with tasks like research, spell-checking, grammar, and translation.

Last Updated March 22, 2024

In this article, you'll learn how:

  • Aperitivo, Italy's pre-dinner tradition, originated from Antonio Benedetto Carpano in 1786 and is designed to stimulate appetite before dinner.
  • What sets Aperitivo apart is that drinks come with complimentary food, ranging from light snacks to full buffets, making it a unique Italian happy hour.
  • To find the best Aperitivo spots, avoid tourist areas, ask locals for recommendations, look for crowds, and inspect the spread of food inside the bar.

Aperitivo, or Aperitif, is a pre-meal drink and it is an Italian happy hour. The word Aperitivo comes from the Latin word Aperire, which means to open. So, you could say that Aperitivo “opens the stomach” before dinner. And in Italy, there’s a saying “L’appetito vien mangiando,” – which kind of means Eating awakens the appetite. 

Today, Italians enjoy Aperitivo usually in the early evening hours. The Aperitivo hour starts around 6:30 to 7:30 pm. It’s not made to replace dinner because Italians eat dinner around 8:30 pm or even later on the weekends. So, socializing with friends before dinner is around 6:30 pm.

People think Aperitivo was invented by Antonio Benedetto Carpano of Torino, Italy, in 1786. Antonio was also an investor in one of the first types of sweet vermouth. This distiller said that his vermouth and various herbs and spices stimulated the appetite. As such, it became one of the first popular aperitivo drinks. Today, the Italian Aperitivo has evolved and has exploded in popularity over the past 20 years – so much so that other people have claimed to have invented it. 

What Makes Aperitivo So Special?

If Aperitivo is an Italian happy hour, what makes it so special about it? The thing that sets Aperitivo aside from happy hour everywhere else is that when you order drinks, it also comes with complimentary food! Usually, the typical Aperitivo will cost something between €5-10 depending on how much food they will serve. The type of food varies a lot depending on where you have your Aperitivo in Italy. In some places, it can be some light snacks and a full food buffet.

aperitivo and apericena sign

This tradition has become so popular that some bars specialize in Aperitivo and have an amazing spread of finger foods included with your simple drink. Some people have Aperitivo every day (or every other day) and then skip dinner! Also, other Italians made up a new word: Apericena. Apericena combines Aperitivo and Cena (dinner), meaning a light dinner as opposed to a 4-course meal that includes an antipasto, primo, secondo, and dolce (appetizer, first course, second course, and dessert.)

OriginAperitivo, a pre-meal drink, originated in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in Torino, Italy
TimingEnjoyed in early evening, around 6:30 to 7:30 pm, before dinner
Special FeatureDrinks come with complimentary food; cost ranges €5-10, offering varied food options
Popular DrinksSparkling wine, beer, Aperol Spritz; regional variations exist
Non-Alcoholic OptionsBitter (red/white), Crodino, virgin mocktails available for non-drinkers
Locating SpotsAvoid tourist areas for budget options; ask locals or look for crowded bars with good food spread

What Types Of Foods Do You Get?

Typical Italian Aperitivo

In general, you can expect anything from some potato chips and nuts to pizza, cured meats like proscuitto or salami, sandwiches, and more. But here’s the thing. For aperitivo, you won’t get a menu. Rather, you’ll usually get a plate of food – the same items that everyone else gets. This means you might be out of luck if you have a special diet. Indeed, vegan or vegetarian options in Italy is not as common as you’d find back in the United States.

How To Pick A Good Aperitivo Place

If you want to experience this great Italian culture but don’t know where to go, here are some tips:

  • First, if you’re on a budget, stay away from tourist areas. The restaurants in front of the Pantheon in Rome or across the street from the Duomo in Florence are way more expensive than they should be.
  • Second, ask the locals –  they will be more than happy to suggest their favorite Aperitivo place. In particular, ask people in their 20s or 30s. They will know for sure that it is a great place for Aperitivo.
  • Third, if you see many people, especially in their 20s and 30s, at a bar eating and drinking a classic cocktail or white wine, that might be a great place to go for Aperitivo.
  • Lastly, poke your head inside the bar, if you see a great spread of food, it should be the right place!

What Do People Typically Drink For Aperitivo?

Rick and Andrea enjoying an Aperitivo in front of the Pantheon in Rome

Usually, Italians drink sparkling wine, beer, or Aperol Spritz which is a little Aperol with an orange slice, carbonated water, and a splash of prosecco. Now, some people might also drink gin tonic or some other cocktails for aperitivo – so there are no set rules. But, this is the only time that Italians drink Aperol spritz. Also, in case you’re wondering, here’s the scoop about Italy’s drinking age!

There are around 94,000 restaurants in Italy, and if you walk in front of one and you see someone drinking Spritz with their food you can be 100% sure that the person is not Italian. Italians drink wine, water, or beer with their meals. Kids might drink soda, but it is not very common at all. Also, if you are not in a tourist city like Rome, Venice, or Milan and you ask for a dirty martini with 2 olives at a restaurant, chances are they have no idea what you are asking.

Different areas in Italy have their popular drinks. For example, in Milan, they have a Campari Spritz. In Venice, they have the Venetian Spritz, which uses Select instead of Aperol. Select is a bitter aromatic dark red liquor that is used in combination with prosecco. Interestingly though, the further south you go, the less popular the spritz is. But it’s becoming fashionable.

Select Spritz

Do They Serve Non-Alcoholic Drinks For Aperitivo?

Yes, if you don’t drink alcohol, there are several non-alcoholic drinks you can choose from. The first one is called Bitter, and it comes in two versions: red and white. They taste the same they just have different colors. These drinks have a mildly bitter taste, carbonated, and are usually served with ice and a slice of orange. The second choice is called Crodino.

Crodino typical Italian Non Alcoholic aperitivo drink

This carbonated drink tastes very similar to Aperol but it has no alcohol. It is citrusy again with a very mild bitter taste. It is served with ice and a slice of orange as well. Lastly, many Aperitivo bars offer virgin mocktails usually with fruit juice. Just ask your waiter what they suggest to you.


Who invented the aperitivo?

The northern city of Turin deserves much of the credit. It was there in 1786 that distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano created vermouth, a widely popular aperitivo drink. He made it by blending fortified wine with various aromatic herbs and spices.

What is the history of aperitivo hour?

Although Romans pioneered aperitivo, the tradition became widely popular in 19th-century Turin. The northern Italian city’s cafes were frequented by upper-class residents in the afternoons and evenings, helping drive aperitivo’s popularity.

What is the history of select aperitivo?

When creating Select Aperitivo in 1920, the Pilla Brothers made contributing to post-war Venice’s social and economic revitalization a high priority. The name was both intentional, as selectus means “to select” in Latin, and fortuitous, as Select Aperitivo would become the preferred aperitif for the next 100 years.

What is a traditional Italian dinner?

A typical Italian dinner menu includes dishes like pasta, soups, risottos, and seafood. Specific examples are pizza, spaghetti, ravioli, and desserts such as tiramisu.