Mangiamo: 6 Practical Tips for Dining in Italy

Kaydee Culclasure and Kira Elton


Dining in Italy is truly a great experience. The food and drink are incredible and the atmosphere ties everything together as one of the best things to do while visiting Italy! To gain a truly iconic Italian experience, what better place to do so than at one of the many restaurants? That being said, there are several things that you need to know before you dine in Italy.

1) Attempt to Communicate in Italian: Most waiters are accustomed to working with tourists in medium to large cities across Italy, however it is important to attempt to communicate in the language to show that you’re willing to try instead of expecting them to cater to you. Don’t worry; it’s scary at first but it’s the thought that counts and it gets easier the more you do it.

While there are many important terms to know, here are the ones important for the restaurant:

  • Acqua naturale- water
  • Acqua frizzante- sparkling water
    • Make sure to ask for “naturale” otherwise you will get “frizzante”
  • Coperto- Cover charge
  • Grazie- Thank you
  • Il conto per favore- May I have the check please
  • Per Favore- Please
  • Siamo in trie. – There are three of us
  • Vorrei – I would like
  • Prenotazione- Reservation

Pronunciation is key and practice makes perfect! Check out our video that highlights the pronunciation of certain words for dining out:

2) Eating Late: Instead of eating large meals, Italians eat small meals all day, so cafes and snack shops are open during the day, while restaurants open later. Since Italians eat late, most of the restaurants don’t even open until 7:30pm or later. This was interesting and different for us because a lot of restaurants in America are open almost all day to fit into everyone’s schedule, but we had to make some adjustments.

Due to Italians eating late dinners, the restaurants are busy later in the night. It may be necessary to make a reservation unless you plan to eat early or around the time the restaurant opens.

3)How to Order: First of all, antipasti (appetizers) are ordered. Primi piatti (first dish) is next and typically includes pasta or risotto and secondi piatti (second dish) is the meat dish. Drinks: Drinks are typically ordered by the liter. For example, you could order “un litre agua naturale” or “un litre vino de casa” (house wine) and share with the table. Although if you would only like a cup, you can say “un bicchiere.”

4) Experience New Things New Foods: Every town and region has their own speciality dish. Wild boar (cinghiale) is a popular dish in Tuscany, and we were so excited to try it! It is delicious, and very different than anything we’ve tasted before. We encourage everyone to take at least one bite so you can go home and impress your friends by bragging about tasting wild boar. Not only that, but we encourage everyone to find out what the regional specialty is in the area you dine in. Ask the waiter for “un consiglio” for his or her recommended dish. It’s so much fun to learn what is popular and different than what you’re used to.

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Handmade pasta with wild boar sauce from a local restaurant in Arezzo

New Places: One place that we tried was called Miva di Piu. It is a popular restaurant located in a large piazza in Arezzo that visitors and locals both enjoy. It had hands down the most amazing gnocchi and pizza we’ve ever had, so that’s definitely a place to check out!

It’s great to eat at popular restaurants, but sometimes it’s way more fun to find the hole in the wall places that are located down small alleys or back streets. The restaurants that are located in large Piazzas or main roads generally have more customers and will be a little more expensive. It’s nice to try places that aren’t as popular because they won’t be as busy and you might be able to have better conversations with the employees. Explore! Find those gems that you can tell the others in your group about!

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A group pic at Osteria de Luchino where the “bisteca florentina” is HUGE!

5) The Check! Don’t Split the Check: As American students whenever we go out to eat we automatically split the check between whomever is there without a second thought. However, in Italy that is not part of the cultural norm and is not a popular thing to do in restaurants. Most of the time, the waiters won’t even give you that option, so have euros ready so you can put in your share!

No Need to Tip: Tip is included on bill as the service charge (servizio) or cover charge (coperto). The service charge is essentially means a “sitting fee.” For example at a coffee shop, you have the choice to stand at the bar and drink your coffee or to sit down. If you stand at the bar you will only have to pay for your coffee, but if you sit to relax for a bit, you will pay for your items AND a small fee for sitting down in the shop. However if you insist on giving a tip, hand it directly to the waiter. Our waiter was surprised when we handed him a euro for his service because it’s not common, but he accepted it with a “grazie.”

Ask for the Check: When you are done eating, you’ll have to ask for the check (remember: “Il conto per favore”). Restaurants in Italy are not constantly trying to seat as many people as possible, so the waiter will not automatically bring the check to the table. They don’t want you to rush, and the meal is experienced at the customer’s pace. 

Take the Receipt: In Italy in any shop you go to you have to take the receipt with you because if you do not, there is no proof that you actually paid for your items. Also, the shops and restaurants can actually get fined if they do not give you a receipt.

6) Take Your Time: Italians like to take their time to relax at dinner, and unlike in America, they aren’t rushed out of the restaurant. Meals are a leisurely activity, which was extremely refreshing. Remember that service charge we mentioned earlier? You’re already paying to sit and relax, so take your time and enjoy the atmosphere!

20150521_141217 To have an unforgettable dining experience don’t forget:

  • Try to speak as much Italian as much as you can!
  • Ask for the check and take the receipt!
  • Don’t be in a rush!

The iconic food and dining atmosphere of Italy is one of the main things everyone has to try when visiting the country. Use these tips and you’ll have the best experience possible that you’ll never forget!

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