Food, of course, is a staple wherever you go. But the customs that come with dining are different just about everywhere you go too. For starters, when visiting Italy, it’s worthwhile to know that dinner tends to be later there than in the U.S., and often starts anywhere between 7:30 and 9pm. (And this is true of much of Europe too).
It’s also important to make reservations whenever you can too, especially in larger cities, as well as for Michelin or gourmet restaurants. Of course, with many of our cooking vacation packages, there’s lunch and dinner included, but for meals on your own, you’ll have some options when dining out!
1. Opt for restaurants that aren’t next to major sites/attractions
When visiting and exploring larger cities, it may be tempting to go to restaurants right next to major sites or attractions out of convenience. But if you’re looking for a restaurant where the locals eat, then step a bit off the beaten path. You’ll also find that smaller menus often mean that the restaurant is focused on fresh and seasonal dishes. Your accommodations can often give you some fabulous recommendations on places to try too.
2. Don’t expect oil to be served with your bread
Bread is treated a bit differently in Italy than it is in the U.S. For starters, you won’t find the locals buttering their bread, nor will you see them dipping it olive oil! Rather, bread is typically used to soak up the rest of the sauce or food on your plate. As the Italians say, “Fa la scarpetta!” (or “Do the little shoe!”) and soak up all that deliciousness that’s left on your plate!
3. Order straight off the menu
In other words, no substitutions! Dishes are often carefully curated, so look for a dish that you want to eat all of… and don’t ask for things like spaghetti and meatballs, because they’re not offered together since meatballs tend to be their own course! Other dishes you won’t see are simple green salads (insalata verde). Stick to what’s on the menu, and you’ll get a true taste of a region’s specialties.
4. Enjoy the house wine
In Italy, where there are wineries just about every region you visit, it’s a safe bet to enjoy the local wine (which can, in fact, be cheaper than water). Plus, you’re getting wine straight from (or pretty close to) the source, whether you’re enjoying the famous Bolgheri wines, or Prosecco from the Veneto.
5. Ask for the check
If you don’t ask for a check when dining out in Italy, you might be sitting at the table for a long time. That’s because waiters in Italy don’t want you to feel rushed in any way. So when you’re ready to pay, ask for the bill, or il conto. To add a please on there, be sure to say per favore!
Read more of our travel tips.
Check out also our Tips for Ordering Coffee in Italy!
While these are some good rules of thumb for dining out in Italy, you’ll learn even more about the food of a place and its customs with an Italy cooking vacation!
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