Eating in Italian restaurants

Apr 29th, 2009, 07:16 PM
Original Poster
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Eating in Italian restaurants

My wife and I and two grown children are traveling to Italy. My son is to receive an art award in Chioggia from the Teatrio. What guidelines, other than courtesy and good manners, should we follow to make the most of our dining in Italian eateries? None of us speaks Italian, but we don't leave till the end of May. We would like to enjoy native cuisine and avoid tourist traps. Tips on ordering, meal service and tipping would be appreciated. Are there common faux pax that Americans make that we can avoid?
geowhiz1 is offline  
Apr 29th, 2009, 07:56 PM
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Congratulations to your son! I'm sure you'll get some great advice here. I will share with you two things that I learned on my first trip to Italy. When shopping in the market for produce, do not touch! You have to point to the items you want and allow the shop person to put select it and put it in a bag. When you are eating in a restaurant they will not bring you your check until you ask for it.

You have a few weeks. Take the time to learn a few words before you go; good morning, good evening, please, thank you. You'll get by fine without speaking Italian but those are just polite.

Have a great time!
Grassshopper is offline  
Apr 29th, 2009, 08:01 PM
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The Slow Travel website has a lot of good information. Here is a link:
gracie04 is offline  
Apr 29th, 2009, 08:02 PM
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Be aware that sometimes in nice restaurants the price of things (especially fresh fish) is not listed on the menu, but is charged by the weight (etto), so if you order a whole fish grilled, e.g., and don't ask the price you might be in for a huge surprise.
StCirq is offline  
Apr 29th, 2009, 08:04 PM
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You should brush up on "menu Italian" as you might be dining places where no one speaks English. Usually you will encounter a bread charge and a service charge already on the bill. Italians do not tip like Americans.
kybourbon is offline  
Apr 29th, 2009, 08:52 PM
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The Marling Menu Master for Italy is a great guide for eating in restaurants. Your bookstore should carry it.
je is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 03:24 AM
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How great you are going to a very interesting place not often visited by tourists! You will probably get some of the best cooking available for the region -- much better than you would get in Venice, and at much better prices.

Here are a few things to know:

The kitchen in an Italian restaurant is open from 12:30 to approx 2:30, and from approx 8pm to 10pm. Outside those hours, you will not be served. Period. If you are hungry outside those hours, food is available in places that serve coffee (which includes bars as well as caffes in Italy). But the food you get in these places will either be cooked on a griddle or microwaves, since they are not allowed to operate stoves or open flames.

Pizza is not a regional food of the Veneto, but pizza is popular everywhere in Italy as a dinner, not a lunch item. Most pizzerias only serve pizza in the evening. A whole pie is meant to be consumed by one person. It is eaten with a knife and fork in Italy.

There is no such thing as "doggie bag" in Italy. If you don't finish all the food served to you -- which is not considered good manners in a restaurant -- you can't ask to have it wrapped up to take with you.

If you are not really wine students, drinking the house wine with your meal is perfectly all right.

In Choggia, it will be unusual to find a restaurant with meat on its menu, and if it is there, it might not be the best thing the restaurant serves.

It is not rude or un-Italian to peruse a restaurant's menu BEFORE you sit down. Many restaurants post their offerings outside or in plain view.

You can often get truly excellent advice about where to eat within your budget and according to your tastes from the tourist office.

Many Italian restaurants are quite formal and expensive, since Italian custom is to eat out as a special occasion, not a convenience. If you would prefer less formal places, ask the locals for help.

If you are visiting Venice, it is almost impossible to avoid tourist traps. I'd be surprised if Choggia has one.

Probably the biggest mistake tourists make is when tipping. Service is included in your bill. You will also be charged, most likely, a "cover charge." If you eat in small, homey eateries, it is most likely a family-run affair, and in some ways, tipping the person who serves you is a bit like tipping someone when you are a guest in your home. For very exceptional service in a very formal restaurant, even Italians will sometimes round up the bill to the next highest ten-point. Sometimes in cafes and bars, people leave behind their small euro-change as a gesture of appreciation (but only the silver and gold coins, never the coppers).

There is a quite interesting town not far from Choggia that you might consider visiting called Comacchio, and if at all possible, Ravenna is an extraordinary sight.

Buon viaggio.
zeppole is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 07:52 AM
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Zeppole! What a great post. Do you live in Italy and if so, may I ask where?
Grassshopper is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 08:15 AM
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Hi Geo,

Congratulations to your son.

Good advicde above.

It is not always necessary to make reservations in advance, but it is a good idea - especially in smaller restos. Stopping by or calling in the morning to make a dinner res is usually sufficient.

A 15% Service Charge is included in the price. If you wish to leave a couple of Euro extra for good service, leave it in cash on the table, not on your CC. Everything on the CC goes to the owner.

You don't have to order the full menu: antepasto, primo, secondo, and desert.

>Are there common faux pax that Americans make that we can avoid? <
There are too many to list here.

Enjoy your visit.

ira is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 08:25 AM
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Congratulations nipper!
I think one of the biggest compliments to the hostess or chef (even waitress who will pass on the message) is to kiss the end of your fingertips after tasting your dish - No? Too much?
tod is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 08:40 AM
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Chances are that your main courses (Secondi) will not include vegetables. It will just be the piece of meat or fish or whatever without any vegetables. There is a separate section of the menu (Contorni) that lists side dishes of vegetables. The contorni portions are large enough to share.

Similarly, you will receive a salad only if you order one. Italians have salad AFTER the main course, but are accustomed to having U.S. tourists ask for it to come before their main course.
ellenem is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 08:41 AM
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Portions in Italy are not "supersized" and normally serve one person. An antipasto or a primo (pasta, risotto) or some secondi (whole fish, e.g.) can be ordered "uno per due" or to be shared between two people. It is not customary for two people to share an entire meal.

Bottled water, offered naturale (flat) or gassata (sparkling), is not a tourist rip-off; Italians have been drinking it for decades. It is considered tacky to ask for tap water. Iced water (as opposed to chilled) is unknown; if you ask for ice, you might get one cube or at most two.

Coke is more expensive than wine.

As mentioned, your bill will not be brought unless you ask for it. As also mentioned, a meal in a restaurant is an occasion, and very, very few restaurants (probably none in Chioggia) "turn over" tables. Your table is yours for as long as you wish, within opening hours.
Zerlina is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 08:47 AM
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Cappuccino is a morning drink.
vjpblovesitaly is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 09:51 AM
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For my husband, the biggest adjustment in European restaurants was the difference in the attitude of the staff. Italian waiters are not teenagers looking to make a few bucks after school. They will not come to your table to say "Hi, my name is Tiffany and I'll be your server tonight." They consider themselves professionals and will serve you in a professional manner that some Americans may interpret as rude or cold.

However, in my experience, if you show an interest in the cuisine, ask basic questions, ask for an opinion on a wine, they will go out of their way to assist you. Indeed, if your appreciation for their food and wine is evident, they will often be your best friends by the end of the evening! And the biggest compliment is to return for a second meal - they will probably remember you and treat you as old friends.

At a full service ristorante or trattoria, expect to spend 1 to 2 hrs at lunch and at least 2 hours at dinner. At all but "fast food" restaurants, you will have a tablecloth, cloth napkins, a change of cutlery with each course, multiple glasses for water and different types of wine, perhaps a complimentary appetizer and perhaps a compimentary course of small sweets with your coffee and digestif.

My tips:
Learn the basic vocabulary for different types of foods, drink, and courtesy. All people you meet will appreciate your efforts to speak a little of their language.

Check the internet for restaurant information and menus in the places you will be visiting. You can practice reading the menus ahead of time and learn about the local specialties. Italian cuisine is very different from place to place, and the locals are very proud of their "piatti locali tipici."

Don't expect Italian food and drink to be just like what you'd get at home at the Olive Garden. Everything will be fresh and local, prepared with care and sometimes with a great deal of creativity in taste and presentation. If you are a little adventurous, willing to try new things, you will be well rewarded.

Read some of the Italian trip reports on this forum - many folks give pretty detailed descriptions of their meal experiences, and you'll get a better sense of what Italian dining is like.

That being said, enjoy yourself!! You will come back to the US dreaming of the wonderful foods you experienced!
drbb is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 10:36 AM
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Congratulations to your son. And lucky you. Chioggia is a delightful, very real place with a few rough edges that is very untouristy. It has canals like Venice but with prices unlike those in Venice. We loved it and had a wonderful meal there. I assume we didn't find the only good restaurant in town because many of them looked good. They also have a great fish market. It's a fun place. Number one rule--enjoy yourself.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 10:38 AM
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In Italy, a full meal requires four courses:

- you eat the vegatables as antipasti,
- you eat carbohydrates with the primo piatto,
- you eat protein with the secondo piatto,
- and you eat sugar with the dolce. (From a nutrional standpoint, you can skip this course.)

Don't be afraid that four courses will be too much for you - the portions are very small and four Italian courses have far less calories than one single appetizer in an American "family-style" restaurant.

Be aware that pasta or risotto usually does contain just minimal, if all, amounts of meat or seafood. You are supposed to order your proteines with the secondo.

Tourists who order just pasta, are often frowned upon by the waitstaff, because they consider them as parsimonious.

A last tip: Always order regional wines - they are much cheaper than overpriced Baroli or Brunelli. And the servers are very proud of their local products and will admire your connoisseurship!
traveller1959 is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 10:42 AM
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The check is "il conto". And, if you are really pleased with your meal, the word is "Complimenti".
DRJ is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 10:55 AM
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Well. Italy is actualy easier than a lot of other places, since you will alredy be familiar with the names of many dishes.

Be aware that in Italy (and muchof europe) portions are much smaller than in the US. Also pastas are sauced much more lightly - not drowned in sauce as you see here some places.

A main course is just that - the item ordered. It does not come with potato (or pasta) veggie and salad. Each thing youwant needs to be ordered. And if you order a veggie there will be enough usually for 2/3 people.

You are not required to order multiple courses, just what you want. But splitting dishes, except for dessert is usually not done.

Water is bottled (I think you can get tap, but have no idea what it tasates like) and we always get a large bottle for 2 or end up with 2 bottles for 4, as wel as wine. Soft drinks come in tiny cans and are usually warm and very expensive.

It's fine to eat at a cafe or sandwich shop for lunch - no need to have 2 big meals every day. Just realize that you will need to figure out what is on the sandwiches in the case by looking (you can try to ask if you have a good menu reader). And, as I answered one American tourist in a sandwich place in Florence, they are NOT made with Hellman's mayo - but the real stuff (from scratch) if the sandwich warrants.
nytraveler is offline  
May 1st, 2009, 09:17 AM
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Hi grasshopper, I do live in Italy. In Liguria. Near Camogli.

Since I live in Italy, I do feel entitled to say that RESTAURANT PORTIONS ARE OFTEN LARGE and most tourists -- who usually must eat out twice a day -- do much better asking to split portions, or skipping some courses in a moderately priced, non-Michelin, non-tourist eatery.

SPLITTING COURSES IS COMMON IN ITALY. Just ask for "uno per due."

Also, there is plenty of pre-made Hellman's (and Calvo) maionnaise for sale in Italy and served up on sandwiches -- although mayo is not common in most authentic Italian sandwich places. Don't be surprised if you get commercial mayo.

The advice above about contorni, cappucini and conti is accurate.

Also, soup and pasta are not customarily consumed at the same meal in italy. It's either or.

Having lived several years in Italy, I can say from experience that most Italian eateries and servers are most interested in having you enjoy your meal and leave with a happy stomach. You are not expected to order and eat more food than you are comforatable consuming. If you want to share a dish, they will happily bring you two plates and two forks. You will always have to ask for the bill and may linger as long as you like. If you are in a hurry and the bill is not brought quickly, simply get up and walk to the cash register.

In thickly touristed areas, you will find inauthentic food geared toward tourist tastes and proprietors who don't care if they ever see their customers again. In Choggia, you are not likely to have either problem.
zeppole is offline  
May 1st, 2009, 10:05 AM
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Well I have a comment to correct one point above, made by Traveller 1959.

While some antipasti may be vegetables, this is not always the case. Antipasti containing meat or fish are also common. Contorni can be eaten with the main course, or secondi.

And, as Zeppole writes above, you can order as you wish, for example, two antipasti, two primi and no secondi. Three appetizers and a secondi.

It is ok to deviate from the set sequence of courses.

I think the main caution in a coastal town like Chioggia was mentioned by St. Cirq, regarding the pricing of fish.

My guess is that the food will be superb! Happy eating!
ekscrunchy is offline  
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