How to order at a restaurant in Italy like a local

It’s no secret that Italian cuisine is some of the best in the world. Prior to studying abroad in Italy this semester, I have never been to Europe. I was naïve enough to believe that restaurant etiquette and the experience would be similar to that of America. I was clearly very wrong. In this post I’ll be sharing all the information I wish I knew ahead of time so that when you go to an Italian restaurant you will seem like a pro.

Step 1: To sit or to stand?

If you popped into a café for a coffee or a cocktail, beware that the charges for the beverage typically vary if you choose to stand at the bar or sit at a table. Most people choose to stand to save money.

Step 2: Timing is everything

Most restaurants do not stay open all day. After lunch (1-2 p.m.) most restaurants close down and will not open until dinner time. Dinner usually does not start until 7 p.m. at the earliest. If you go to a café or restaurant and order your pasta at 5 p.m. people will look at you like you are crazy. This is because typically 4-7 p.m. is Operative. Apertivois is common in Northern Italy. You go into a bar/café and order a beverage and there are usually appetizers to enjoy with your drink.

Step 3: Go off the beaten path

Restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the large tourist areas will hike up their prices. An easy way to save a couple euros is to go a couple blocks from the crowds. Often the food in these places tends to be more authentic anyway.

Step 4: Know your drinks

Unlike in America, tap water is not free. Usually, restaurants will serve you a glass bottle of water. Most Italians drink their water sparkling so if you want natural water, be sure to ask for it still. Soft drinks are typically served in bottle or cans so there are no free refills. Oh, and don’t expect ice in any of your drinks.

Step 5: Payment

In Italy, usually they do not spilt the check. If you are out to eat with a group of people, try to pay with cash. Sometimes, you can bring the check up to the register then pay separately that way.

Do not be shocked at the cover charge, all restaurants have them and they are usually 1-3 euros/person. This is typically the charge you pay for your waiter/waitress’ service, which is why it is not customary to tip in Italy.

Step 6: Do not expect a to-go box

In Italy they take the freshness and quality of their food very seriously. Asking for a box to put your food in means the food they prepared could become tainted and will not taste as good a couple days later. While not offensive, this is frowned upon to ask.

If you follow these steps, you will have a better understanding of how restaurants in Italy work. Italians take their food very seriously so it’s good to know these tips ahead of time.

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