The traveler’s dream of going to Italy is often centered on
the idea of the Italian dinner table. Whenever I come back from a visit or long
stay in Italy, most friends and family don’t want to know what I saw, but
rather what I ate. Eating out in Italy is a sport that knows no stopwatch. The
Italian meal is one you want to enjoy in the ristorante with every sip of house wine and bite of prosciutto. And
like most countries, there are cultural consistencies to eating out in Italy
you will want to know before you sit down at the table. If you have questions,
here are your answers so you can eat your way through Italy without incident.
Where’s the bill?:
I remember one of my first times eating out in Italy and the bill would just
not come. I had finished eating. Chairs were going on tables. The chef was
going home. However the waiter never
seemed in a hurry to give me the check. Many first timers to Italy come with
the idea that once their meal is finished, the waiter will bring the bill. I
have never had this happen to me in Italy. While you might think the service is
being slow, this is just the custom. You must ask for the check (ilconto in Italian) if you want it.
Oddly enough, if the waiter brings your bill once your fork hits the empty
plate, this could be a sign of bad service. The idea is to enjoy the meal and
the table as long as you like.
Is this whole pizza
just for me?: In most countries, when you order a pizza, it comes in slices
to split between several people. However in Italy, if you order a pizza, it is
often a personal pie. It might look like a lot of ground to cover, but a pizza
the size of a dinner plate is the standard meal for one person in Italy.
What is the coperto charge?: You might have
worked out the cost of dinner in your head based on menu prizes. However when
the bill does arrive, you will notice a charge at most eateries and restaurants
in Italy labeled coperto. This is the
cover charge. It is usually calculated based on the number of diners at the
table multiplied a certain set amount. It is essentially the charge for just
sitting at the table. If you want to avoid this charge at a café, just stand at
the bar and sip your espresso or take it to go. Sitting down will most always
incur a coperto charge.
What is the servizio charge?: First time diners
in Italy might think they are being had. Not only is there a cover charge at
most restaurants, but there is usually a servizio
charge worked into the bill. This is a service charge, or in essence, the
waiter’s tip. As there is a service charge almost always included at the
Italian table, you don’t have to add extra money for a tip. Sometimes a few
coins are appreciated, but it is not expected at the Italian ristorante.
Where is everyone?:
If you arrive to a restaurant in Italy at 6PM, you will most likely be dining
with next to no one or a handful of fellow travelers. Italians eat late,
especially the further south you go in the country. In Sicily, my favorite
pizzeria often didn’t open its doors until 8:30PM. No one would show up until
well past 9:30PM. If you want to dine with the locals and have a lively
atmosphere, postpone your dinners toward the latter half of the evening.
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