Photo: Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock

Follow These Food Rules to Eat Like a Local in Italy

Italy Food + Drink
by Olivia Harden Aug 14, 2022

It’s no secret that one of the best parts of visiting Italy is the food. There are the many regional pastas and different types of pizza. And whether it’s sipping coffee in Venice, or wine tasting your way through endless vineyards, Italy is a food-lover’s paradise. And like any country, there are certain customs around food to follow that might be different than what you’re used to, especially since Italians are so reverent toward meal time. Even when it comes to what foods go together, you’ll definitely want to be cautious about breaking any tabboos. Brooke Eliason, the influencer behind Female Foodie, recently posted an explainer of 20 things you should know to eat like a local in Italy.

Over the four videos, here are some of her most helpful tips:

  • Most restaurants have a cover charge or “coperto” that covers bread and tableware, but even if you don’t eat the bread you’ll still be charged. It can range anywhere from around 2 to 8 euros, but you’ll usually see an average of a 3 Euro coperto per person. Some places charge for children, while others do not.
  • When you’re eating out, the sever typically brings you bread and takes beverage/food orders at the beginning, but they rarely “check in” throughout the meal. If you need to speak with your server it’s totally acceptable to give a friendly wave (servers are constantly scanning their tables so it’s usually not hard to get their attention). We really love this style of service because it lends to more privacy and uninterrupted conversation!
  • You’re always going to pay for water. Frizzante (sparkling) or natural (still) are offered at every restaurant and typically come in a 750 ml glass bottle that’s usually good for two. Don’t order tap water at an Italian restaurant- you will get weird looks and it’s just not something that happens in Italian restaurants.
  • Restaurants aren’t always open during their official hours that are advertised on Google or their website. It’s totally normal for restaurants to shift their hours here and there. Another reason why it’s best practice to call ahead and make reservations.
  • Smoking is fair game and completely culturally acceptable on patios (even if you have a small child with you). You won’t see smoking inside a restaurant ever, but if you’re dining outside it’s something you may encounter.
  • Breakfast is super minimalist in Italy. Most Italians have a quick pastry and coffee at most. Lunch is traditionally the biggest meal of the day, and almost all restaurants close between lunch and dinner (if they’re open for lunch to begin with).
  • Italian cuisine is hyper-focused on local specialties from region to region, so get to know what the area you’re visiting specializes in, and don’t go looking for life-changing pesto in Rome, pizza in Venice, or carbonara in Milan (there are exceptions of course, but this is general rule of thumb).
  • It is very uncommon for Italians to eat dinner earlier than 7 pm. If you see a restaurant serving dinner before this time, it’s likely that they’re catering to tourists (and even more likely that it won’t be the most amazing meal of your trip).
  • TAKE YOUR TIME. Italian food is meant to be savored and enjoyed slowly and thoughtfully. Unless you’re at a pizzeria or bakery, plan on 1-2 hours for lunch and 2-3 hours for dinner. The BEST part about Italy is the food, so why rush?!

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