Italian food is one of the main reasons for visiting Italy. Heck, it was the whole “eat” part of Eat, Pray, Love. Master of None did a whole season in Italy, just so Aziz Ansari could eat Italian food. Iron Chef Bobby Flay and Rome native Giada De Laurentiis spent six weeks sampling everything from gelato to pizza for their new mouthwatering Discovery+ show, Bobby and Giada in Italy.
Eating is a big part of anyone’s Italian vacation. Knowing how to eat like a local in Italy is important because no one wants to stick out like a sore thumb, or worse, inadvertently offend someone. We reached out to Steve Perillo, CEO, President, and third-generation family owner of Perillo Tours, America’s leading tour company to Italy, for some expert advice on how to eat like a local in Italy. Here are some tips he shared with us.
1. Seat Yourself At Cafés And Bars
Italian seating customs will be familiar to Americans. “While visiting a ristorante (restaurant) or pizzeria/trattoria, guests should wait for the host to seat you. At a café or bar, guests can seat themselves,” according to Steve.
2. Tips On Tipping
Steve’s advice on leaving a tip: “You are not expected to tip restaurants in Italy, but it is appreciated. If you are sitting down or standing for coffee, you can leave one euro, which is more than enough. You can tip as much or as little as you like, but the tip is not anywhere near the 20 percent that has become standard in the U.S. A good rule of thumb in a restaurant is about one euro per person. Or you can round up the bill. For example, if the bill is $91, you can leave $100.” Read on for an explanation of charges you may see on your bill.
Steve says to keep in mind that there is sometimes a charge called a coperto. “This coperto should be clearly stated somewhere on the menu and may range from one to three euro per person. A coperto is not a tip, it is a cover charge to offset the price of bread, oil, salt, and anything else you might be using.”
Steve told us, “Another charge that you may be charged is called the servizio. This should also be clearly stated on the menu and should be used for groups of eight or more. The servizio is a tip, so there is no need to leave anything more if you have been charged this fee.”
3. Reservations Are Recommended
Steve recommends making reservations for dinner, especially in major cities.
4. Dress For Dinner
Italians are quite fashion-conscious. While American standards for dining dress consist of “No shirt, no shoes, no service,” Italians would expand that to say, “No tank tops, no shorts, no flip flops.”
When we asked about dress codes, Steve responded, “Unless it is a fancy restaurant that enforces a dress code, one can wear slacks with a nice shirt or blouse. Jeans are also fine unless it is a fancy restaurant.”
5. Don’t Butter Your Bread
In Italy, bread is served with the meal, not as an appetizer. Steve explains why: “A typical Italian meal consists of a first course, ‘il primo’ (pasta or soup); a second course, ‘il secondo’ (meat or fish), served together with a side dish, ‘il contorno’ (vegetable or salad); dessert; and coffee. No pasta dish is complete without the act of ‘fare la scarpetta,’ which literally means make a little shoe and mop up the leftover sauce on your plate. It’s a widely used ritual in Italy. This is why bread is usually left on tables in restaurants. Butter and oil are not served with bread in Italy.”
6. Follow These Table Manner Dos And Don’ts
Here are a few more tips from our guide Steve that you may not be aware of:
- Don’t cut your pasta with a knife
- Do fill up your neighbor’s glass before your own
- Don’t ask for salad dressing — oil and vinegar are all you need.
- Don’t expect ice in your drinks! Italians do not drink ice-cold drinks and normally do not put more than one cube in a drink unless you ask for it.
- Don’t put any cheese on pasta with seafood.
- Don’t ask for a doggie bag at a restaurant.
7. Don’t Order Cappuccino After Mid-Morning
Ordering a cappuccino after a certain hour of the day is a sure-fire way to oust yourself as a tourist. According to Steve, “Cappuccino is considered a breakfast coffee and is never drank later than mid-morning.”
8. If You Ask For A Latte, You’ll Get A Glass Of Milk
Steve sets us straight when it comes to Italian coffee: “The classic Italian coffee is an espresso, though the term espresso is hardly ever used in Italy — it’s simply called a caffè. The word lattè means milk, so if you order a ‘latte’ at an Italian bar, you’ll get a glass of cold milk. Ask for a caffè con latte if you want the Italian version.”
9. At The Café, Pay Then Order
It may seem backward to Americans, but if you stop at a café for a quick coffee, pay at the cash register first, then take your receipt to the barista and give them your order.
10. Don’t Buy Bottled Water
Just bring your own reusable water bottle! As Steve relates, “Italian fountains contain some of the freshest water in the country. Rather than buy multiple water bottles, do as the locals do and bring your own disposable bottle and refill it from these fountains. If you don’t have a water bottle handy, you can plug the side spigot on most fountains with your thumb and the water will come out of a top spigot so you can drink.”
11. Bring Something Edible As A Hostess Gift
If you’re going to someone’s house for dinner, don’t bring soap or candles as a gift. In Italy, it’s customary to bring dessert, wine, or prosecco instead.
12. Take La Passeggiata After Dinner
“Passeggiata is a daily ritual that Italians really enjoy,” according to Steve. “Take some time later in the day to stroll through the streets, chat with friends, or do some window shopping.”