Yes, Italy has tonnes of history and all that art, but the food is the one thing everyone goes to explore there. Italian cuisines are some of the best in the whole world and Italians take their etiquette seriously which is why you will get some sharp looks when you order a cappuccino at 2 PM or beer alongside your main meal at dinner. You also want to use your hands when eating your pizza and stick to the fork when eating spaghetti. Italians are hospitable, so you can expect a warm welcome in restaurants and homes if invited to one. Once at the table, these are the things you can do to enjoy your Italian meal like a real Italian.
Enjoy The Butter-less Bread
Italians are not selfish with their butter, they just don’t see it as a necessary complement for your bread so don’t be surprised if the waiter brings bread and no butter or oil is coming with it. Italians enjoy eating their bread without butter, but if you find it too dry for you, you can always ask for some although you will receive a few looks and probably a smile acknowledging that you are a foreigner. If you are lucky, you will get a table that has oil and vinegar and you can use that to dip your bread instead.
Don’t Order Cappuccino After Noon
Italians love their food and to them, everything has its time and there is no way someone will ask for cappuccino, a breakfast drink, at noon. The rules are not that strict though as some people are breaking them nowadays but true Italians only take cappuccino in the morning. If you need your digestives after lunch or dinner, you can order espresso instead and no one will look at you too hard. If you ask for it, it will still be delivered; but now you know what to do.
Give A Tip
In Italy, your bill will include a certain charge known as Coperto or service charge which already goes to the waiter or waitress and many people consider it a tip. Tipping is therefore not considered a mandatory practice as is the case in the US. Some visitors say that service at most restaurants is poor because of the pre-charged tip but that doesn’t mean you should change the rules and not leave a tip. Depending on how well you were served, it is always appreciated to leave a few extra euros at the table to appreciate the service you have been given.
Take Your Time
In the US and other countries, waiters will be on the watch to evict you from a table as soon as they notice empty dishes or once you don’t seem to be touching your food anymore. It is usually rude but you can’t blame them because it is engrained in the culture. In Italy, waiters are usually slow at bringing you the bill because they want you to enjoy your meal and take your time while doing it. Once you are done, you will have to look for the waiter to pay your bill. They haven’t ignored you, it is just their way of allowing you to enjoy your food.
Keep The Bread For Last
Italian meals are served in courses but the one thing you will have all the time is bread especially with your primo (first meal of the course) which is usually rice or pasta. The bread is not for complementing the meal though, it is meant to mop up the remaining sauce on your plate once your primo is finished. It is called Scarpetta and it is a very important practice for the chef and waiters to show them that you enjoyed your food. Most visitors tend to eat the bread before finishing their primo, so they have to skip the ritual.
Be Smart With The Courses
Italians do courses so if you are not used to it, you have to be smart about how you order your meals. Most menus will start with antipasto or starters usually made of drinks and snacks that come before the first meal called the primo. Your primo will be a light meal of rice, pasta or whichever cabs you prefer with your favourite stew and sauce.
The second or secondo is made of meats, fish or a veggie dish for vegans. Every meal can be served alongside a side dish which can be potatoes, sauteed vegetables or a salad. You then get a dessert which most people tend to ignore and go straight to the digestive, usually a café. If you are not able to afford these, you can go straight to the primo or the secondo and choose a side dish that will suit you before closing with a café or dessert if you like. Do not order a primo and a secondo together though.
Don’t Put Cheese On Everything
This is where we say trust your waiter because they understand Italian cuisine better than you. Italian cheese never disappoints, but it is not to be placed on everything. In the US, people like having extra cheese on pizza or pasta, fish, meat and everything they think can go with grated cheese but not in Italy. Parmigiano or grated cheese in Italy is not to be used on any plate containing fish and seafood as well as pizza and pasta among other foods. If the waiter doesn’t bring cheese with your food, you should probably not ask for it because they know better.
Don’t Ask For Tap Water
Tap water in Italy is totally safe to drink but no one does; Not in restaurants anyways. If you need water at a restaurant, ask for aqua natural (natural water) or Frizzante (sparkling) to avoid scaring the waiter. The reason why they don’t serve tap water at restaurants has never been clear but since everyone drinks bottled water, just do the same.
Don’t Order Beer With Your Meal
It is customary to maintain eye contact when toasting in Italy, but just don’t toast the right drink at the wrong time. When placing an order for your food, ask for wine or water to go with it, not beer. Customarily, beer and other alcoholic drinks are taken before or after the meal in Italy. You can order beer with your pizzas and pasta though.
Don’t Overuse The Aperitivo
If you are on a budget or unsure about which meal to order, you will still get something to eat when you order drinks at the bar. Italians eat their dinner late so most restaurants won’t be open for dinner until around 7.30 to 8 pm, but bars are open for pre-dinner drinks. Most bars serve snacks to complement these drinks and most of them are free if you are buying a drink. Some people opt to eat these snacks and call it a day though and that draws some nasty looks from the bartender as it shows that you lack etiquette.