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We are well-versed with “when in Rome do as the Romans do” so if you are stopping by an Italian restaurant make sure you are aware of the Dos and Don’ts of eating there such as whether is it rude to leave food on your plate in Italy if you are full or does wine or water goes with lunch?
Italy might be a foreign land to you but we can quickly fill you in via this article on the proper etiquette of Italian restaurants, the food rules, table manners, and Italian phrases helping you blend in like a local.
Is It Rude To Leave Food On Your Plate In Italy?
Yes. It is considered rude to not finish your food in Italy. Food is considered sacred because Italy in the past has faced food scarcity and poverty leading them to realize the severe importance of food and the helplessness of people who can not afford it.
Is It Offensive To The Chef/Host To Finish All The Food On Your Plate In Italy?
Absolutely not. Chefs/Hosts are pleased to see that food is finished as it gives off an impression that guests loved the food. Empty plates are the highest compliment to the chefs.
What Is La Scarpetta?
“Fare la Scarpetta” is a phrase used to describe when even the last drop of pasta sauce is swept and wiped clean from the plate by the bread served, indicating that it was very delicious to eat.
Where Does La Scarpetta Come From?
“Fare la Scarpetta” literally translates to “make a little show” as a visual simile. The fingers are the legs and bread is a shoe on a foot that scrapes all the sauce away till there is nothing left to eat.
A Guide To Consuming Italian Cuisine – Dos and Don’ts
Knowing how to consume Italian cuisine is consumed is equally important as cutlery manners and ordering etiquette. Let’s go over the Dos and Don’ts:
Dos of Eating in Italy
No need to be overwhelmed with the Dos of eating in Italy. You just need to remember the following to make it a pleasant experience for yourself and the restaurant staff.
Consume A Heavy Meal For Lunch
Italians give proper time to their midday meal. It is advised to not rush through or grab a quick bite but have a full 3-course meal, add on more courses if you please, and a glass of wine.
Eat bread with the meal
Bread is served with pasta dishes so do not eat bread before you start eating your pasta as a snack. Save it for the last bits when you want to clean the leftover sauce.
Although performing many Italians have remarked to not perform fare la Scarpetta in front of a formal guest or some they want to impress.
Skipping Dessert Is Fine
Italians have mastered the main course but dessert is not their strongest suit. It is suggested that you fill up via main course pasta and if you do have a sweet tooth then get a gelato on your way back although technically gelato is not a dessert.
Put cheese on a plate when it’s explicitly offered
Do not put cheese on your food if the chef has not offered some himself. It is more than likely that Italians do not want you to have cheese with it like adding parmesan to pizza is a big no-no.
Only order coffee after a meal
We suggest taking coffee after you are finished with your meal not with it unless it is breakfast. Coffee in Italy is seen as a drink that washes food down and digests it.
If it’s afternoon, that can’t be a cappuccino that you’re ordering
It is a custom in Italy to avoid milk after you have eaten a meal. Cappuccino is milky coffee so it counts.
Do enjoy a glass of wine with dinner (or lunch)
Wine just tops off and enhances the Italian food so do order it with your meal. It is as per your preference but it is noted in Italian culture to drink with red meat and white with seafood and such.
Only drink wine or water with an Italian meal
Italians believe in savoring each bite and enjoying the taste to its depth. Having a strong-tasting drink can divert the taste buds so cocktails, liquors, and coffee are either drank later or before dinner. Water and Wine are allowed with food.
Do try the typical Italian dishes
The best way to discover Italy is through Italian food and Italian food culture. Italy has gifted the world with scrumptious dishes and experiencing the most authentic ones by the maestros themselves is the best way to enjoy the visit.
Do eat pizza with your hands
Other than the high-end restaurants, pizza is eaten by hand, folded from the center. You can pick up cutlery in high-end restaurants but we recommend to go eat the restaurant’s specialty and not just a pizza there.
Peel your fruits and vegetables
Italians peel their fruits even the ones that are typically eaten with the skin. The reason is skin is exposed to pesticides and can be dirty so if your dining companion is an older Italian ask for a peeler.
Use condiments sparingly with Italian food
Italians want you to purely enjoy the food itself and not have any items that can overpower or alternate the flavor. The only condiment they use is Olive oil but in a moderately low quantity.
Do order coffee at the counter if you’re on a budget
This is more of a tip than etiquette. Get a coffee from the bar rather than getting a table to save up. Getting a table and sitting down could be a little expensive, especially in a tourist spot.
Do get ready to spend a little more time when eating in Italy
Italians like to really take their time when it comes to meals. Dinners would start at 9 p.m. and last 3 hours. At events and weddings, there are many courses, side dishes, and desserts so are prepared for gulping down a lot of food and make time for it.
Do ask locals for recommendations of an Italian restaurant
It’s possible that the experience of eating Italian food could be better by eating at local and small businesses in Italy. Small restaurants that are run by families who are Italian natives typically cook with the freshest ingredients enhancing the taste and giving that elite authenticity to it.
So go ahead and ask locals about which small cafe or bar to visit.
Don’ts of Eating in Italy
Let’s go over the Don’ts while at an Italian restaurant and other table rules in Italian etiquette.
Do not expect (US-style) breakfast
If you seek a US-style breakfast you will have to really stretch your limbs as it is not easily available unless you thoroughly look for an American restaurant which are rare.
Italians have coffee and pastry or cornetto as their breakfast hence the fancy long lunch.
Do Not Put Cheese Everywhere
If the cheese is not provided with the dish it means the dish does not need cheese on it. Italians also do not put parmesan on pizza, salads, or anything that has fish in it so challenge your taste buds and let them try a little change.
Do Not Look For Butter
Butter does not go with Italian food so better not to ask for it. Do not eat the bread with butter eat it on its own.
Do Not Use A Spoon When Eating Spaghetti
Local customs deny using spoons when eating pasta. A fork should be your utensil of choice. Try encouraging the kids to do so too. Insert fork’s teeth, spin it in the spaghetti and take full flavor bite.
In A Normal Italian Tavern, Do Not Sit Down
It’s not a custom but a tourist trap to charge people extra who take the table so unless your feet hurt, consume standing coffee and meal. It is the practice of the vast majority of Italians as well.
If olive oil (or olive oil and vinegar) didn’t come with your bread, don’t ask for it
Bread is eaten with the main course. If you are asking for olive oil and vinegar to eat bread before it you’re in the wrong.
Don’t ask for parmesan for your pizza
Italians are serious about not putting parmesan on Pizza or any food for that matter such as fish, shellfish, and salad dressing. Parmesan on Pizza is like insulting Italian ancestors so do not do it.
Do choose the right gelato
Do not eat a faux gelato but an actual one. The real Gelatos do not come in fancy, loud colors such as blue and aubergine purple. Look for a shop that is temperature maintained and sells non-fluffy faded brown gelatos.
Don’t be afraid to order a dish that looks strange or unfamiliar
Do not restrict yourself and stick to the same dish you eat back home. Italian culture has much to offer when it comes to food and an unfamiliar dish might just become the best you have had in your life.
Don’t leave any food on your plate
Leaving food on your plate in Italy would translate to “I did not like the dish.” so unless you want to come off rude to the staff finish your food.
Don’t clean your plate
This is tricky.
If you are at a friend’s house it is perfectly acceptable to take the bread and wipe away all the sauce and bits left on the plate. In fact, the hosts are pleased and get a chuckle out of it.
Although at a classy, high-end eatery with a sophisticated guest that you want to impress do avoid this.
Don’t order food from the Calabria region before asking
The Calabrian region has the spiciest food in Italy which might upset the stomach and not be suitable for many people so be cautious and do ask waiters and waitresses to help you with the menu.
Don’t be surprised if your pasta arrives with the sauce
Pasta can turn sticky and clump really quickly so it is typically served with sauce on the command of the chef to ensure you get firm Pasta.
Don’t hesitate to ask the waiter what ingredient to add or remove from your or your child’s dish
You can reach out to waiters and ask for help regarding the ingredients. They will happily accommodate especially if it’s the concern of health and a child’s health.
Don’t order the same food everyday
Do not stick with the same thing. Try new dishes by each chance you get even if they seem unfamiliar. When in Italy you would want to cover as much ground as possible when it comes to food so do not keep yourself limited.
Don’t order a cappuccino with food – it’s not common in Italy
Only take Cappuccino at breakfast. Do not drink coffee with lunch. No milky coffee after lunch or dinner. It’s the Italian way!
If you are a rule breaker then sure get one at a cafe in the evening before dinner although you might receive some frowns from the locals.
Don’t drink red wine with seafood or white wine with meat
Not very strict on this but if you want to mix in like a local take red wine with Meat/Steak is the way to go while white is typically served with seafood and lighter white meats.
Don’t put drinks in the glass with the left hand – some Italians might find it disrespectful
This rule is followed in most of Europe so try to avoid pouring drinks in a glass with your left hand. This is to be followed when eating at Italian friends’ places rather than a restaurant but just to be safe use your right at a restaurant too.
Don’t eat in crowded touristy restaurants
Avoid the hyped, touristy places rather pay your visits to indie, small eateries. Touristy places are overpriced so save up and support a smaller business that will welcome you with bigger enthusiasm and provide you with the traditional Italian cuisine experience to the fullest.
In Italy, Bread Is Typically Not Served Alongside Spaghetti
Bread is meant to be eaten with meals that are other than pasta such as meat and steak. It can be served alongside if you have other dishes so use the bread with other dishes, not pasta and bread in the same bite. Clean up the sauce on your plate with bread after you are finished.
Don’t Combine Your Courses
Italian chefs want you to enjoy each dish’s main ingredient so the meat course, salads, and pasta are served separately.
Italian Eating Habits, Foods, and Custom
Let’s go over what are the eating habits of most Italians, how are they different from other countries when it comes to consuming food, and is the tipping culture same as North America.
Italian phrases about food
Learning basic lingo is as important as food etiquette when eating in Italy. Here are some phrases:
Before starting your meal say “Buon appetito!” to your guests which means “enjoy your meal”.
Answer with “Grazie altrettanto!” if someone greets you with “Buon appetito!” which means “thanks, you too”.
To ask for a menu say, ““Posso avere il menu, per favore?”
“Posso avere il conto?” is said when asking for the bill.
What do Italians eat for breakfast?
Italians take coffee and pastry for breakfast. Pastry can be subbed by a cornetto. Breakfast also includes bread and milk. Fruits and yogurt are enjoyed too.
On the weekend breakfast can be fancier than the usual weekday ones. It would involve porridge, jam, croissants, and cakes.
It can also differ a little depending on the region.
Eat in Italian. Don’t ask for “fettuccine alfredo” or “spaghetti with meatballs”
It might sound crazy to you but Fettuccine plus Alfredo is not an Italian invention. They are confused by Fettuccine and a white creamy sauce combination. Ask the waiters about which pastas are served with cream sauce.
Meatballs are not included in pasta instead eaten as a separate course. Do not commit the crime of mixing those meats with pasta.
Don’t eat eggs in the morning
Scrambled eggs in breakfast will get you judgy reactions from your Italian friends. Eggs are eaten at dinner as open-faced omelets or hard-boiled and placed between sandwich slices. No eggs in the morning though.
Don’t ask for salad dressing
You won’t find salad dressing when shopping or eating in Italy. They don’t have salad dressing there. If a restaurant’s menu does have a french or ranch dressing it will most likely be really bad and what it’s supposed to taste like.
We were not kidding when we said Olive Oil and Vinegar are the only condiments there. These two you will get in massive variety.
What Is The Culture In Italian Restaurants?
Now that you know the Italian food rules let’s prepare you for the restaurant’s etiquette unique to Italy because you might be given a margin with food etiquette, correct interaction with the restaurant’s staff is a sensitive issue.
Ask the person who brought your food — not who took your order — when you want more water, wine, etc
Be careful when calling the ‘server’, not the ‘order-taker’ when asking for water or wine because it might seem like a small thing and can slip your mind Italians would think otherwise.
Ordering acqua del rubinetto at anything but a bar
Tap water(acqua del rubinetto) has a bit of controversy in Italy. Although it is clean it is said that it has an amount of calcium in it so bottled water is better to drink when eating out. Even most restaurants do not offer it.
If you want the bill, you have to ask for it
It’s not only a habit of many Italians but a dining etiquette in Italy to sit, chat, and have coffee after having your meal, and not immediately leave the table, be on your way.
Italians sit back and immerse themselves in conversations so when you are ready to leave you to have to ask for the bill.
Do ask the waiter for recommendations if you’re not sure what to order
It’s understandable to be confused. Italy is a foreign land for you and not knowing is okay instead of feeling embarrassed approach the waiters and trust their recommendation. The waiters are happy to oblige and set you up for a great full meal.
Do let the waiter know if you have any dietary restrictions
Italian food has many ingredients that many people have an intolerance to or are allergic to such as dairy, gluten, and even meat so converse with the person taking your order and they will remove certain ingredients to accommodate you.
Do tip the waiter when eating in Italy – Not an Italian dining custom but appreciated
Tipping culture is different in Italy. Like many other countries in Italy, you are not required to tip especially because there is a service charge. We do recommend leaving a tip if you have received exceptional service, good food, and a pleasant environment. It deserves a reward.
How Does The Tipping Culture Differ In Italy?
In Italy, if you are taking a table your bill will mostly include the table fee which will cover the silverware, tablecloth, and other essentials on the table as well as the service charge. This is why tipping is not necessary.
If your bill does not include the charges you should tip them to appreciate their efforts. It does not have to be 20-25%. You can add in a few euros to your bill to round it up.
Toasting Requires Maintaining Eye Contact With The Recipient
It is considered rude to not make eye contact when toasting and addressing someone especially because your special words are for them.
If you’re eating, you’re sitting down
Italians are fans of people who are eating “on the go” on the streets or on buses. While strolling with a Gelato in hand is acceptable, a sandwich or any solid is seen as terrible manners, especially because in Italy people are given ample time in restaurants to sit and eat their food.
What do Italians eat for lunch?
Lunch is a fancy affair for Italians the most important meal of the day. You should loosen your belts for this one and get ready for a multicourse meal with wine and dessert. Lunch is often at a restaurant because a feast can’t be prepared at home every day.
Lunch can have meat, chicken, and exotic seafood. It can also have a certain pasta. Salads and Starters are also part of the meal. Use some Olive oil with dishes and you have yourself delightful meal.
What do Italians eat for dinner?
Italians eat dinner much closer to bedtime so it is usually light. It can vary on region and the season however the common items include chicken or fish, salads, and vegetables. It could also include a rice dish.
What time do Italians eat dinner?
Italy’s dinner time varies by region and the stereotype that Italians eat dinner late is somewhat true. In northern Italy, dinnertime can be 7-9 p.m. In southern Italy, it is later than this time.
The difference is because of daylight saving and sundown time. Sunsets earlier in the north.
Italian eating etiquette
Some things to keep in mind while eating Italian meal are also universal such as not using your phone while at the table, not smoking inside the restaurant, and keeping a napkin in your lap, folded.
How many courses of dishes do Italian order?
Typical Italian lunch consists of 5 courses: an appetizer, a first course, the main course, a side dish, and a dessert but this rule can be bent because one might not always have the capacity to eat this amount and all the food.
You can order the first course and a side dish and complete it with a dessert or take a black coffee afterward. If want to rearrange the set it is allowed to.
How to order food like an Italian?
To really feel like a local and familiarize yourself with Italian culture you need to order as an Italian would.
Once you enter a restaurant your waiter will usher you to your table. You will be provided with a menu and asked for water. Giving the option of sparkling and still. If tap water is provided then you can drink it as it is on the menu it’s clean.
Wine and beer have options of glass, half a liter, full liter, and quarter liter.
If you believe half of the portion is enough food for you it can be divided and shared with your dining partner.
Lastly read through your menu, be open to trying new things, and ask for recommendations from your waiters.
How to find the best places to eat in Italy?
With so many places for an Italian meal in the country, your rule of thumb should be to look for non-tourist spots and serving authentic food places.
Pizzarium is a favorite when it comes to Pizza.
We recommend Tempio di Iside if you are craving a fish Italian dish.
Do try the traditional Italian cuisine offerings such as Rigatoni Alla carabonara, Sugo all’amatriciana at Felice a Testaccio
Where to shop for food in Italy?
Food shops in Italy have 3 levels: Local markets, supermarkets, and specialized markets.
The local markets and small grocery stores have the freshest produce so buying from them will not only support these vendors but dishes cooked with these will turn out healthy and tasty.
The Supermarkets have a huge variety of ingredients so make your way when needing packed groceries, olive oil, vinegar, pasta whether national or international, and more.
Specialized stores are present If you need a very specific type of ingredient such as rare cheese. It is also a great place to buy gifts or souvenirs as this store has rare items which could be precious and only found here.
Street food vs restaurants in Italy
There is a variety of Street food present in Italy. It is made and served by a person with a cart. It does not, however, be the best experience because it is cheaper than a restaurant and the vendors are trying to make a quick buck, of course with few exceptions.
Food on foot is not appreciated in Italy so it’s a better option than a street
If you need fully authentic Italian cuisine make your way to a restaurant and eat the 5-course meal while sitting. Restaurants do not have to be expensive but family-run and have traditional Italian cuisine.
Do Italians eat pizza?
Italians love eating Pizza. Marinara and Margherita are my favorite toppings. They just do not have grated cheese Parmesan on them.
Italians love Pizza so much they can have it as an appetizer, main course, second course, and surprisingly even dessert because of the many variations it has.
Of course, not every Italian is a fan but most you will bump into are.
Understanding Italian Table Manners While Dine-In
You now know everything about eating Italian food except the cutlery and manners so on to that:
The placement of the utensils is that fork is on the left while the knife is on the right both adjacent to the place that is in the center. Place these utensils in the same positions after finishing eating your first course.
Place the utensils on the plate to let the waiter know to clear the plates.
The dessert cutlery is a fork and spoon placed perpendicular to yourself adjacent to the plate.
The Usage Of A Knife And Fork
Use your right hand to hold the knife and your left for the Fork as the majority are right-handed people and the knife requires more force to slice through firm food.
Wait For Everyone To Sit Comfortably Before You Start Eating
Make sure you are on your best behavior when sharing a meal in Italy. Wait for everyone to be seated and served before proceeding to eat. Greet them “Buon appetito!” before the first bite.
Place the napkin on your lap. Make sure the hands are visible while eating but do not place your elbows on the table.
Do Not Make Noises While Eating
Although Italians are chatty when eating you should avoid making chewing sounds, slurping, or cracking utensils on the plate.
Dining Etiquette For Seating
Seating is similar to what you must be accustomed to. The prestigious and chief guests sit at the two center seat at each side of the table. The chief guest is at the immediate right of the host.
Do not remove the glasses until everyone is finished drinking. Do not reach out for the glass when it is being refilled in fact the host should remove the used glass and replace it with a new one with refilled wine or water.
There you have it! Everything from Dos and Don’ts while consuming food, the Italian food etiquette guide, the best place to eat, and table manners.
Now you can safely go to any Italian restaurant and know that you are doing everything right. Tell us in the comments what you find fascinating about Italian food culture? What stood out to you in the land of pastas?