Italy - meals "protocol"

Old Aug 1st, 2007, 02:32 PM
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Italy - meals "protocol"

I've got some questions...I'd like to learn how a typical meal should flow.

1. Do you order all the courses you want at once, or do you order as you go?

2. If there is an antipasta 'buffet', do you serve yourself from it, or do you tell the waiter what you'd like? I think I understand it isn't 'all you can eat' style, rather you are charged according to what you eat.

3. Is it acceptable if you
a)don't order all the courses
b)ask to share a course (as long you are ordering more than just a shared course).

4. Can you ask for a half-portion? Is this very common? Is the price adjusted?

5. How is wine typically listed?
a) by the glass
b) by the full bottle
c) carafes or half-bottles (like in France)

6. If you want to tip a little, do you leave a couple euro on the table, or is it customary to hand to the waiter? Is 'rounding up' a common method (ex. 52E bill, leave 55E). Or do the Italians want us to knock it off and pay exactly the bill?

7. Is there a visual clue that only meals are being served vs. just drinks are OK ? (ex. bare table vs. tablecloth)

8. If you want (only) a primo and your companion wants (only) a segundo, do they come out at different times or together?

9. Is pizza actually a dinner item, or served at both lunch and dinner? Is it a faux-paux at dinner to pick up a slice by hand to eat it, or will I look more odd using my fork and knife?

I think that's it, at least until I press "post"... Thanks!
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Old Aug 1st, 2007, 03:03 PM
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1. You typically order all the courses at once.

2. Many restaurants have a buffet, from which you serve yourself a plate, and it is common protocol not to heap.

3. a), yes, it is no problem just to order a 1st or 2nd course, whatever you wish. b) I have never had a concern or a problem asking for an extra plate to share items. The concept is well understood.

4. don't know.

5. depends. In places like Rome, Venice, Florence I always found wine offered by the glass, 1/2 bottle, or carafe. Higher end restaurants tended to sell only by the bottle.

6. If you tip you can do either - round up a couple of Euro or leat it on the table.

7. Not that I know of.
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Old Aug 1st, 2007, 03:04 PM
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Hi Travelnut,

Great list! I look forward to seeing the answers from diners more experienced than I am.

Here are a few of my answers based on my experiences over the past 5 trips to Italy (many parts of the country, and customs may vary regionally).

2. At the 2 restaurants (Venice and Sorrento) where we've ordered an antipasto buffet, a waiter escorted us to the table and he placed the items onto the plate as we pointed/directed. No self-serve, but it was nice that we were able to look at the items and then select.

5. You can normally order house wine by the half liter, full liter, and sometimes by the quarter liter (about a glass). I'm not sure about bottled wine. In Positano, we were charged only for the wine we drank/poured from a bottle... they plunked down a mainly full bottle, we poured a couple glasses but didn't finish the bottle, and only what we drank appeared on our bill. I don't know if this is the norm.

8. Food tends to come out when it is ready, no matter the course.

9. I normally try to eat my pizza with a fork and knife but have been known to eat a slice with my hands. It's easy to use utensils on the thin-crusted pizza from the south, but more difficult on the northern-style pizzas with thicker/chewier crusts. In Monterosso, I sent a piece of pizza flying across the pizzeria on accident this way! Luckily, everyone thought it was funny and no one was upset.
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Old Aug 1st, 2007, 03:05 PM
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Here's the first thing you need to know: Italians themselves expect to talk with the waiter or the owner in a restaurant, and so you should ask in the restaurant for guidance about anything.

1. It's OK to order as you go. Just tell the waiter that's what you want to do. However, you're going to wait a long time for your "secondo."

2. If you try to serve yourself where that's not what's happening, you'll be stopped. Some buffets are "all you can eat," but you're expected not to make a pig of yourself and order your pasta or pizza or secondo from the menu.

3. a) yes b) yes and one way to ask for it is "uno per due, per favore" (one for two, please) and pointing helps.

4) Yes, but no, it's not common, but I have done it. If you tell Italians that you don't feel well, and need to eat only a little, they will be nice to you. The price will probably be adjusted, but if it's not, you're the one who asked for the favor, so I think you should be willing to pay the labor cost. It took the same amount of effort to get it to your table.

5. Sometimes by the glass and often by the liter, 1/4 and 1/2.

6. Italians don't tip. Neither should you. If you are a party of six or more, you might discuss tipping with the owner.

7. Ask.

8. You can ask to have the primo and the secondo served together. But if you don't ask, it won't happen.

9. Pizza is mostly a dinner item, or a pre-dinner snack. Many places do not make pizza until evening. This is especially true once you get out of the main cities. Italians never eat ice cream and pizza in the same meal, nor do they finish a meal with a cappucino (that's breakfast).

Italy is not France. If you don't know what you are doing or make a mistake, Italians will help you out even if you don't speak Italian, and they'll do it cheerfully. They have a very strong feeling that eating should be good for your digestion, so every effort is made to give you a happy stomach, which means easing your confusion, trying to give you exactly what you want, and not demanding a tip on top of the bill.
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Old Aug 1st, 2007, 03:35 PM
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Hi T,

Our experience has been:

1. Yes

2. You ask the waiter for a selection, they serve it. (One place greatly disappointed me when they put the vegetable antipasto into the microwave, because they thought that Americans expected it hot rather than at room temp.)

3. a. Yes b. Yes

4. Ask for the secondo as a primo, or vice versa

5. Yes

6. Service is included. If you want to leave a tip for extra good service, leave it on the table. Do not put a tip on your charge slip, it goes to the owner, not the waiter.

7. ...

8. You have to tell the waiter that you want both at the same time.

9. Yes. You use a knife and fork when eating at table, whether at home or in public. Where were you raised, in a pig sty? (As my mother would ask me.)

Enjoy your visit.








3.
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Old Aug 1st, 2007, 04:25 PM
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1. Do you order all the courses you want at once, or do you order as you go?

We ordered all the courses (except dessert) at once. Once or twice when we were starving and couldn't make a decision, we would order bruschetta to get the party started.

2. If there is an antipasta 'buffet', do you serve yourself from it, or do you tell the waiter what you'd like? I think I understand it isn't 'all you can eat' style, rather you are charged according to what you eat.

Didn't do any buffets this trip.

3. Is it acceptable if you
a)don't order all the courses
b)ask to share a course (as long you are ordering more than just a shared course).

This was our first trip. We didn't order all the courses and we learned to ask for one piato per due...or something like that.....

4. Can you ask for a half-portion? Is this very common? Is the price adjusted?

Don't know this answer..

5. How is wine typically listed?
a) by the glass
b) by the full bottle
c) carafes or half-bottles (like in France)

Depended on the restaurant. I was the only one drinking so well, my first dinner I had a huge carafe for myself, But hand signals and pointing seemed to help me out. Everyone seemed to speak some English in the cities.

6. If you want to tip a little, do you leave a couple euro on the table, or is it customary to hand to the waiter? Is 'rounding up' a common method (ex. 52E bill, leave 55E). Or do the Italians want us to knock it off and pay exactly the bill?

I would give them the tip separate fromt he credit card charge. We would stress about the amount. Somewhere between rounding and 10percent for great service.

7. Is there a visual clue that only meals are being served vs. just drinks are OK ? (ex. bare table vs. tablecloth)

Not sure about this one.

8. If you want (only) a primo and your companion wants (only) a segundo, do they come out at different times or together?

The good waiters asked if courses were mis-matched.

9. Is pizza actually a dinner item, or served at both lunch and dinner? Is it a faux-paux at dinner to pick up a slice by hand to eat it, or will I look more odd using my fork and knife?

I saw it for lunch and dinner in Rome, Cinque Terre, Lake Como and Milan.

I used utensils and hands depending.


You'll adapt quickly......They are just people like us.....make sure to laugh at yourself if you make a mistake....

Enjoy.
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Old Aug 1st, 2007, 04:32 PM
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Great questions - bookmarking.
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Old Aug 1st, 2007, 04:48 PM
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My hotel in Rome had coffee and pastries sitting out in the lobby each morning. First morning, my brother and I went to lobby, helped ourselves and all was fine.

Next morning I went alone and began helping myself. The desk clerk came rushing from behind the counter and scolded me. He seemed to be telling me he should serve me even though we had a language barrier. I just pointed, he served and steered me to a table.

I gathered the rules of self service change when a woman is alone versus when she is with a man. After that, I just made sure I was with my brother whenever I went to the lobby for breakfast and afternoon refreshments.
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Old Aug 1st, 2007, 05:34 PM
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Most people order the appetizer and entree at the same time - assuming you are having both - which you don;t have to. If you want veggies with the main course you order them them too. If you want several courses (antipasto, pasta, then entree - you would probalby not order all at once.) Dessert is ordered later, then, later coffee. (Unless you go to a separate cafe for coffee (very common for tourists to go to somewhere in Piazza Navonna - with nice cafes but ot great food.)

It is very rare to find smaller versions of anything, since european portions are much smaller than those in the the US. A half-portion might be enough for a small child - not an adult.

If you want to share an appetizer or dessert that would be fine. But - esp at dinner - each person should order their own main course. Often the main course doesn;t have much in the way of veggies and you can order separately - but one portion of veggies is enough for 2/3 people.

You can ask for the wine however you want. We have found with most meals that the house wine is fine - order by the bottle only at special meals.

At a restaurant you should eat dinner - not drinks. At an outdoor cafe there will be a menu - which may say something about minimum cost at certain hours. You will see if people are having dinner or eating meals.

We always tip - in cash - even when we charge dinner - and leave from 5% up - depending on the service. (I know the locals tip less- but this is as little as I can reconcile with my conscience.

Above all, relax. The waiters are flexible and will help you out.

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Old Aug 1st, 2007, 05:42 PM
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It's a diehard myth that Italian portions are smaller than American portions. After two days of eating out in Italy, most Americans are almost nauseous with the amount of food an individual order brings to their table.

Dividing a pasta and an entree between two people is sensible and is done all the time by adult Italians, and even if it wasn't, you're entitled to save yourself.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2007, 09:05 AM
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bookmarking
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Old Aug 2nd, 2007, 09:17 AM
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When we were in Rome last time, after dinner, I wanted to order a cappucino, which is common here in the states. Our Italian host said that was a no-no. Cappucino is OK for the AM and very late evening, but not after dinner. I also mentioned bruschetta, but I pronounced it "brushetta". He quickly corrected me saying the way I prounounced it was a naughty word. It is "brus-ketta".

On our latest trip this past July, we were eating in a restauaunt for lunch and my husband cut his spaghetti. Our host had fits!! Never cut your spaghetti. Also when you make toast each other with your drinks, it is "chin-chin" and only with alcohol, never with non alcohol - bad luck.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2007, 09:22 AM
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We have dined with Italians and learned the following:

You can order courses one at a time if you want to make a longer, more banquet-like night of it, with shared dishes, or order all at once if you want a quicker meal.

It is certainly fine to order just one or two courses, and the waiter will ask about how to match things up.

Never order a glass of milk with a pasta dinner. My son tried this and was flatly refused -- the owner had a slightly nauseated look on his face as he explained that milk doesn't go with pasta.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2007, 09:51 AM
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I'm not sure Italians ever drink milk by the glass. I don't recall seeing Italian children it. Their objection to cappucino after the morning hours is precisely the milkiness of it. They consider milk a food all unto itself.

Most Italians I know also have to look the other way when the see Americans drinking orange juice with their breaksfast. Orange juice is something you drink as mid-day pick me up, not something into your stomach on top of morning coffee.

But my experience of Italians is that, overwhelmingly, they'll let you eat whatever you like, but if you ask them, they will tell you the local habit.

When Italians come here, nobody forces them to eat like Americans. We don't make them eat breakfast like we do or pick up pizza with their fingers. So I don't see any particular reason why Americans should feel obliged to eat like Italians. I think it's good to know their own ideas about how best to enjoy their food, but if you want a glass of milk or a coke or a cappucino, you shouldn't hesitate to ask for it. If you feel a need to explain, tell a white lie and say it's medicinal for you. It's nobody else's business what you put in your mouth!
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Old Aug 2nd, 2007, 09:54 AM
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Hey there travelnut,

You've gotten some great answers so far. I just wanted to add a thought about pizza (and maybe one about milk).

I worked in a pizzeria on Capri, and they only served pizza in the evening even though they were open at lunch in order to allow the wood-burning oven to reach the correct temperature. The fire would be started in the morning and would be fed throughout the lunch hours and left to burn and stabilize between lunch and dinner. This ensured an even heat in the oven and a higher chance of turning out evenly cooked dough without as much scorching around the edges. You can eat pizza with a knife and fork or with your hands. I mostly saw knives and forks, but every once in awhile someone would cut off a quarter, fold the quarter in half, and then bite in.

Capxxx, interesting point about the milk. It's not just with pasta either -Italians don't drink milk with any meal (except breakfast). I got the same disgusted look when an Italian friend of mine came to visit me in Wisconsin and saw everyone drinking milk with their dinner. He asked how people could handle drinking something so "heavy" with their meal.

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Old Aug 2nd, 2007, 10:15 AM
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It's also helpful to learn the Italian word for "quarter" or "half" if you think you are wanting to order a half liter of wine.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2007, 10:20 AM
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Never seen pizzas precut.

Pizza in Europe can't be eaten with hands. Crust too thin and with the sauce and cheese, it's not stiff enough to be eaten in slices the size Americans are used to.

American pizzas are better.

One thing though, in Italy, some restaurants seem to be used to Americans ordering pizza and nothing else, other than maybe a salad as the whole meal.

Do Italians eat pizzas and also a primo or segundo? And then dessert, cheese, cafe?
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Old Aug 2nd, 2007, 10:26 AM
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>"American pizzas are better"<

They might be better for eating with your hands... but at least in my opinion, just about every pizza I've had in Italy was tons better than the ones I can get here in the US. We have recently discovered (Denver) a small pizzeria run by Sicilian immigrants and their pizza is very good... they say it would be better if they could get all their ingredients in Italy ;-)
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Old Aug 2nd, 2007, 10:36 AM
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There is no one kind of pizza in Italy. Neopolitan pizza is distinctly different from Sicilian, and both are very different from Roman pizza. In some parts of Italy (like Liguria/Cinque Terre) they prefer a thin-baked bread made of chick pea flour, or a foccacia, which is quite pillowy and only rarely has tomato of any sort on it.

American pizza is not better. It's just American. Nothing wrong with liking it, but it's not to be compared with Italian pizzas.

I have seen Italians tuck into whole 14 inch diameter pizzas as a meal in itself for one. I've also seen them order an antipasta first (quite common in pizzerias to have a serve yourself antipasta buffet). I've also seen Italians -- this was in Firenze -- eat pizza and then eat veal plus french fries! But ordinarily I think of pizza as what Italians eat as a relatively "light" supper, with no secondo, as one might have a pasta course for supper.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2007, 10:43 AM
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I have seen Italians (in Italy) eating pizza and pommes frites.

I have seen pizza in Italy with fries on top.

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