Many travelers feel a bit anxious about doing things right when it comes to dining in Italy. Since meals happen three times a day, we’ve created a list of dos and don’ts when eating in Italy so that you can confidently stuff your face.
DO follow your nose and locals, the best places are often in tucked away alleys.
DO look for eateries with hand written menus.
DO try and pay in cash at smaller places and always tip your waiter in cash.
DON’T tip more than 10% no matter how hard it is not to. Many restaurants have a ‘pane e coperto’ charge (bread and cover) of a few euros per person and/or ‘servizio incluso’ (service charge) built into the bill. You will find both of these on the bill with the ‘servizio incluso’ usually on the bottom. If that is not included in your bill, round up by a few euros. If the tip was already included in the bill then don’t tip in addition to that. Remember that Italian waiters are paid differently than servers in the States and they don’t depend on tips to make a living.
DON’T eat in tourist centers or restaurants with English menus advertising that they accept credit cards.
DON’T expect restaurants to be open before 7:00 pm. If they are you can be guaranteed a horrible meal. If you are the first to show up, you will be eating with tourists. If you wait until 9:00 pm you will be dining with locals.
DO expect that the table will be yours for the evening. Italians do not turn tables like they do in the states, to rush you is considered extremely rude.
DON’T expect your waiter to hover over you and be at your beck and call. They are honoring your experience. If you need something you will most likely have to get their attention.
DO grab your waiter’s attention when you are ready for the bill. Hold up your hand as if you are scribbling on your palm (writing the check) or ask for ‘Il Conto’.
DON’T use a spoon to twirl your pasta and NEVER cut the noodles with a knife.
DON’T ask for cheese, or tarter sauce, or ketchup, or any other any topping. If it didn’t come with your dish, then it was not meant to go with it. It is considered insulting to add anything to a dish that the chef prepared as they pride themselves in knowing exactly what ingredients pare with each dish.
DON’T eat bread with your pasta or ask for olive oil to dip it in.
DO use your bread to sop up the extra sauce. This is known as fare la scarpetta or make the little shoe and is considered a great compliment to the chef.
DON’T feel that you need to order every course. Meals are served in order unless you ask otherwise, starting with antipasti (appetizers), primi (pastas), secondi (meat and fish), then sides (usually veggies or potatos) and wrapping up with dolce (sweets and cheeses).
DO eat the regional specialties. In Rome get the carbonara or cacio e pepe, in Liguria don’t miss anything pesto. Pasta al nero in Venice or polenta all’abruzzese.
DO ask to share your order. I often order my own primi but share a secondi so that I can have time for the most important course – dessert.
DO end your meal with an espresso (you can request a decaf).
DON’T ask for coffee (especially cappuccino) during your meal.
DO try a digestivo after your meal. These are regionally diverse, strong shots of liquor that really well help with your digestion. I have overeaten more than once in my travels but now that I have embraced the digestivo, my gastric distress are a thing of the past. For those not ready to brave the after dinner drink, eat the mint that is often served with your dessert.
DO Take your time to enjoy the meal, each one is an adventure in itself and part of the joy of travel to Italy.
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