Italian Restaurant, in Italy
photo credit: Pudpuduk

I have to admit, it can be a little intimidating to walk into a new restaurant, in a new city, in a foreign country. You may or may not speak the language and although it is probably your overactive imagination- you are sure half of the room just turned to stare as you walked through the door.

Your foreign status is stamped on your forehead and you’d give anything to know what to expect.

I know. I’ve been there.

Last week we discussed Eating Out in Southern Italy-Who Pays What and When and we had some fun comments. This week we are tackling the menu.

If you subscribe to my newsletter, you have already gotten the scoop on the four basic types of restaurants you’ll find in Italy-but you might not know exactly what is expected of you once you are there.

So, here is the deal.


At pizzerias in Italy, each person orders a personal pizza and the group usually orders stuzzicherie-some type of appetizer to split among the group, usually french fries, mozzarella balls, meatballs, etc. Drinks are sometimes split, as well with the waiter bringing a few bottles of water and beer to the table for the group to share. Children’s items aren’t usually on the menu, so feel free to ask for a child-size pizza for your kiddos.


Paninoteche, or restaurants that served grilled sandwiches, operate like pizzerias. Everyone chooses their own sandwich (or if you are like my husband, your own sandwich, or two, or sometimes three) and shares appetizers. I was interested to notice that if you order a sandwich and fries, they’ll bring the fries first-like an appetizer, then follow up with the sandwich.

Trattorie and Ristorante

Trattorie are essentially low-cost restaurants that serve authentic food from their area or region, but when it comes to ordering your meal-they’re basically the same.

On the menu, you’ll notice sections for Antipasto, or appetizers, Primi, or first plates and Secondi, second plates. It is generally expected you will order at least two of these-like an antipasto and primo or a primo and secondo. Some Italians order all three and many waiters will encourage you to do so. But don’t feel pressured-99% of the time I go out, I only order a first plate. Depending on the restaurant’s specialty, my husband might get a first and second plate or we might share an antipasto.

Remember when you are planning your meals in southern Italy that lunch and dinner are served later than in the states. People don’t generally start lunch until at least 1:00, and some restaurants don’t even open their doors before 8:00 at night. Most places will add a per-person cover charge to your bill, you aren’t expected to tip and you can usually hang out after your meal as long as you want … and by all means, don’t threaten the owner.

What are some of the best things you have noticed about eating out in Italy? How is it different from eating out in your home country?

5 Responses
  1. joanne at frutto della passione

    I like small family run places where the owner comes out and says *Leave it to me and I’ll take care of everything* and he then proceeds to bring out a sampling of all his best dishes pairing a different wine with each course. That has happened to us so often – especially when we go out in a large group, and I love it. So many times I end up enjoying something that I would never have ordered!
    I’ve been burned by that a few times, Joanne so I am skeptical. I’d LOVE it for the reasons you do, though. The times we’ve done that we’ve felt we got the leftovers and food they were trying to get rid of…
    joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..Forte e gentile, tu sei abruzzese

  2. Great tips Cherrye.

    For me the best thing I’ve notice about eating out here is that you are not rushed through your meal. I understand why it happens in most places in the States. Restaurants want to turn tables. The more tables turned per night the more money they make.

    Many places in Italy are family owned. Your table is yours for the night. There are no shifts. The idea of eating in 30 or 45 minutes again is not appealing to me. That is not eating, it’s inhaling.

    Another thing l like is the waiters don’t hover. I want to talk to the people I’m having lunch/dinner with, not hear about the waiter’s (this is more of a L.A. thing) latest audition, head shots, dating problems, etc. One time a friend and I were trying to have a very serious conversation about something heavy going on in her life, and our waitress sat down and talked to us for a good 15 minutes about her guest spot on some TV show. ha
    Wow. That *is* bad. Here you actually have to track ’em down to get served! lol
    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post.."Pandamonium" in Piazza del Popolo

  3. I was hoping for a Calabrian menu in this post… oh well. I’ll have to come and check it out.

    What’s different? Ummm, it used to be that you needed to order 3 courses, but they made them bigger so you can order one if you like. NO tipping except for exceptional help. Waiters get paid just like busdrivers, electricians and clerks here. Just be nice and always polite.
    Unless I know what’s on I don’t want them bringing me whatever, because sometimes it’s lamb guts and strange leggy creatures.
    I don’t like them bringing out whatever, either. Maybe I am too finicky. Maybe. I said maybe! 🙂
    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..Macedonia di Frutta

  4. When we were there, Our restaurant didn’t have a menu. They just told you what you could have, we took pot luck..but they never ceased to amaze us…we had all three courses, but with the primo we shared one, they asked if we wanted to! Just read the above post and we didn’t have anything strange like that at all!!!!
    That is great you enjoyed it. I always ask what it is when they bring it so I don’t have strange stuff. Also, I sometimes ask for vegetarian to ensure I’m getting “real” food. More so than the icky stuff, though is the thought that you are getting the freshest food if you order from the menu. That is my husband’s thought on it anyway! 🙂
    Anne’s last blog post..Hi All…..

Leave a Reply