Do’s and Don’ts of Dining in Italy

By Isabella Verga – Ohio State University | ISI Florence Spring 2023

Eating out in Italy is a fantastic experience but with that comes the fear of breaking any unwritten restaurant rules. I will give some do’s and don’ts of eating out in Italy to help make your transition from American dining smoother!

  1. DO dress a little nicer than you would in America.
    There is no dress code when going to most restaurants but you might receive some funny looks if you show up in sweats. Dressing well is respectful and you’ll want to try to blend in with the locals. Unless you’re going to a very fancy restaurant, dark jeans or other slacks are acceptable. Women wear a lot of dresses as it starts to get warmer. You usually don’t have to worry about overdressing if you’re in the mood to show off your new Italian labels.
  2. DO try an aperitivo.
    Aperitivo is a small snack and drink before your meal, usually around 5 pm. Some typical snacks include olives, nuts, and potato chips. It is similar to an American happy hour (but much better!). You will see many Italians enjoying an aperitive after work and before dinner as you walk the streets. It is a great way to spend time with friends and get your appetite ready for dinner!
  3. DO try local spots.
    There are many trendy spots in Italy catered toward Americans but of course, the small local spots have the best food. How do you know if a restaurant is local? Try to dine in locations where Italians actually live, ask an Italian, or take a look in the restaurant to see what people are wearing. Sometimes there can be more of a language barrier at local restaurants but that is part of the fun to immerse yourself in new languages.
  4. DO try new things (even if you’re picky!).
    If you’re a picky eater you might be worried when your safe food of chicken fingers and fries or pasta with butter isn’t on the menu. Trust me when I tell you to step out of your comfort zone! I have plenty of picky friends who love Italian food and try new foods every day. I never thought I’d eat wild boar or rare florentine steak but I ended up loving both and am glad I was brave enough to try new things.

    1. DON’T try to go out to eat at 6 pm.
      My friends and I made the mistake of trying to eat an early dinner once like in America and we were greeted by countless closed restaurants. Most restaurants in Italy are not open until 7 or 7:30 pm for dinner. A lot of Americans typically eat around 6 pm so it takes some adjusting to eat a later dinner. I have enjoyed eating dinner at a later time having finished all my tasks for the day and just getting to relax with friends.
    2. You DON’T need to tip (unless you get exceptional service).
      Many people wonder if it is necessary to tip in Italy as it is expected in America. It is not necessary to tip in Italy because oftentimes a service fee is already included in your check. Additionally, waiters and waitresses in Italy are paid a living wage so tips do not make up a lot of their income. However, if you experienced amazing service and everything was 10/10 you are more than welcome to leave a tip!
    3. DON’T expect to have quick sit-down meals.
      Italians like to relax and not be rushed, something very different than the American lifestyle we are used to. A typical Italian dinner averages around 2 hours but you will never be rushed out of a meal. It is also important to know that you have to ask your waiter for your check because they won’t bring it to you like in America. If you have somewhere to be don’t plan on being out of an Italian dinner in an hour. It is a nice change of pace not feeling rushed and being able to enjoy your meal.
    4. DON’T feel like you have to order every course.
      Italian meals are divided into antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni, and dolci. Portion sizes do tend to be smaller in Italy but you are still not expected to eat a 4-5 course meal every time you go out to dinner. I typically will get an appetizer to share with the table, and then a pasta or meat dish as my meal. I always finish off my meals with gelato of course!