Today we're talking about Italian culture and specifically Italian restaurant culture! I'm going to give you some basic rules to follow so that your restaurant experience will be super authentic!
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What time should you go to the restaurant?
Don't go to a restaurant at 4PM or 5PM in the afternoon. Most restaurants will probably be closed at that time because in Italy restaurants close in the afternoon. We usually have dinner late and restaurants are open for lunch from 12PM to 15PM, then they close and reopen for dinner from about 7:30PM until 11:30PM.
Obviously these hours are very flexible and change from region to region. But for dinner, I don't think you'll find a restaurant open before 7PM. For example, I live in Puglia and when I go out to dinner I go around 9PM, instead, when I was in Milan, even at 8PM, but still not before 7PM.
So, if you find a restaurant open at 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon, do you know what this means? Well, that it's a tourist trap! This is because there are some restaurants that decide to be open at that time because they know that tourists will eat at that time. That's probably not an authentic restaurant though. And now, if you want more information about tourist traps, on my podcast, The Teacher Stefano Show, I did an entire episode on this topic, click here to learn more!
Ordering all courses
As you probably know, in Italy our meal involves an appetizer, generally cold cuts, cheese and bruschetta. Then a first course, so pasta or risotto. A second course, meat or fish and then a side dish that comes with the second course, so for example a salad, vegetables, potatoes... Then, of course, we have dessert and coffee. But the fact that this is the organization of our meal does not mean that we really order appetizer, first course, second course and a side dish. That would be too much! Sure, if you go to a wedding or an event it might happen, but it's not the usual. So, when you go to an Italian restaurant, don't feel obligated to order every course.
Ordering cappuccino at the end of the meal
Are you in a restaurant and would like to order a cappuccino at the end of the meal? Don't do it! In Italy ordering a cappuccino after a meal is unacceptable! I assure you that if you order a cappuccino at the end of the meal even the waiter will look at you mad (and he should). Remember that cappuccino is a breakfast beverage only!
Ask for cold red wine
There are some people who prefer to drink a nice cold red wine, right? Well, this is a huge crime! Red wine should be served at room temperature, at 16/18 degrees, not cold! There is a reason for this, red wine contains tannins, which are natural chemicals in grapes that give that good taste to the wine. A cold red wine alters this flavor and completely destroys the work of the winemakers. So if it took 5 or 6 years to make that wine, putting it in the refrigerator and serving it cold would ruin the work of many people. Therefore, white wine and rosé wine can be cold (not too cold though!), but not red wine! If you are interested in this topic, check out this article in Italian.
Do not ask for tap water
When you are in Italy, in a restaurant, do not ask for tap water. This is because simply it's not in our culture to drink tap water at a resturant. Tap water is still very good and drinkable, especially in Northern Italy since it comes from the mountains. But in restaurants in Italy people take bottled water, many times in glass, which pollutes less. In fact, at an Italian restaurant, you always pay for water and remember that you can choose between still or sparkling water.
Ask for ice
We Italians don't like ice that much. If you order even a can of Coca-Cola at a restaurant, they will bring you a glass without ice! I know, it's Incredible! It may seem strange, but it's true, in a restaurant they will never bring you a glass of water with ice. Sure, if you ask they will bring it to you, but it's not that common.
Don't ask for the bill
Don't wait for the waiter to bring you the bill. In Italy you have to ask for the bill. In fact, if someone brings the bill to your table before you have asked for it, it is considered rude. Bringing the bill to the table, without the guest's explicit request, is very rude because it almost seems like they are rushing you to leave. So, remember that you will have to ask for it yourself.
In Italy you don't have to leave tips! It's not a cultural thing. We Italians almost never leave tips, so don't feel obligated to. Then of course if you still want to tip your waiter because the service was very good, do it, but it is not necessary.
Relax and take your time
One last thing you definitely need to do is relax and take your time. Italians like to go to restaurants to relax. We don't have the time to go to a restaurant all the time, but when we do go we want to spend a pleasant evening with our family or friends. So we talk, drink, eat, but without being in a hurry. This is a time to relax and it is a very important moment for us Italians.
For today's article we are done! What do you think about these rules? Are there similar rules in your country too? Let me know by sending me a message in the contact section of my website.