Italian Restaurant Etiquette

Learning about different cultures, one of the most fascinating aspects is the food culture.

A good dining experience is not only about the food you are enjoying, nor the wine and not even the company. There are also the social circumstances and local etiquette to consider.

Italian Food - the starter ('antipasto') lets you try great cheese, salami and other delicacies from Italian cuisine

Seeing how the locals dine is yet another cultural experience to be enjoyed. Here is a list of things to look out for when going out for a traditional Italian meal:

Of Courses: a traditional, special-occasion Italian meal consists of 4-plus courses. But in Italy, having a meal actually is a special occasion in itself, and so it is not unusual to find yourself working through an ‘antipasto’ (Hors d’?uvre or appetizers), ‘primo’ (first course), ‘secondo’ (main meal) with ‘contorno’ (side dish) and then a dessert ? and sometimes also (yes, additional to dessert) fruit and/or biscotti, an espresso coffee and a digestive shot (you’ll need it!) of grappa or other liqueur.

You’ve Got It Covered: on your bill, you will see ‘coperto’, which means something like a cover charge. It’s usually only a few euro per head. You will also pay this cover charge even if you are sitting down for a coffee, hence why most Italians take their coffee standing at the bar!

Spooning and Spaghetti: Italians don’t use a spoon to twist their spaghetti strands. Instead, the bottom of the plate serves as the base on which to twist the fork and wrap it in a few strands of pasta. If you have to do a little slurp to reel in the last few strands, do it as delicately as possible!

Shovelling: Whilst at British tables, you do not ‘shovel’ your peas with your fork, Italians have no problems with using their fork to swoop up peas or other fiddly foods. It’s practical after all.

Idle Knife: Except for larger-sized ravioli or ‘girasole’ (‘sunflowers’ ? super-sized, round ravioli) and some lasagne, you don’t need to use your knife, just your fork to eat pasta and risotto dishes.

Cutting to the Chase: Italian pizzas come thin-based, steering-wheel size, un-cut and one-per-person. At home, you can cut a slice then eat it with your hands, but in most restaurants, you would cut your pizza bite per bite. The energy used in doing this means you have burned off enough calories to order dessert!

Raising a Toast Without Raising Eyebrows: it’s a big no-no to make a toast with only water in your glass. Even non-drinkers will pour a dash of wine in their water to cheers. The Italian word used is ‘Salute’ ? ‘to health’. It is also good manners to look people in the eye when you clink glasses with them.

To the Finish Line: It is considered quite rude to not finish all on your plate. You can however stipulate that you want a smaller serving so as to not make the faux pas of not eating all on your plate. Waiters will often enquire with a worried expression if there was something wrong with the food that you could not eat it all.

Basket Case: Almost every Italian table will feature a bread basket. This is for whether you want to nibble your way through the time it takes to prepare a great meal, or leave the bread aside to accompany your main. It is not the height of manners to use the bread to sop-up the sauces, but if no-one is looking…

It’s a Dog’s Life: If you do have food left at the end of your meal, it is not part of the culture in Italy to ask for a doggy bag. In fact, most traditional places will not even have means to prepare the food for export. The idea of eating only half your meal, then having it prepared to go so you can have it for dinner is unheard of amongst Italians. We have seen visitors to Italy clean out the bread basket into their napkin and ask for the cork back to take the rest of the wine which had the locals laughing for ages!

Will Bill: In most places in Italy, the bill will not be presented until you actually ask for it. ‘Conto, per favore’ is Italian for ‘the bill, please’. If you are getting something from a coffee shop, you will usually have to pay first, get your receipt and present it to the barista when you order.

A Tip On Tipping: having already paid the ‘coperto’, tipping in eateries is not necessary in Italy. It is certainly appreciated, and something you should do if you feel you have had great service and food. It is more a done thing in places frequented by tourists for whom it is part of the culture. Of course, if you have a large bill, it is standard to round up and leave a little bit of a tip.

*** If you’d like to experience Tuscan dining in a more hand-on (or tastebud-on) kind of way, email us at or visit our website for more information. Our Tuscany Tours include food, and we can also arrange fabulous hands-on Tuscan Cooking Classes***

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