Although some of you may be accustomed to ordering meals in Italy, I’m going to share some tips for those of you who are dining in Italia for the first time.
One major difference from restaurants in Italy vs the States is that tipping is not widely done. If service was exceptional, some may be compelled to leave a few euros tip but in general it is not done. Most restaurants charge a “coperto”, which is essentially a fee paid for table service.
My having worked in the service industry made not tipping a little uncomfortable but its the norm considering servers get paid livable wages in Italy. There are some fancy establishment that patrons tend to tip but if you look at the bill, most already add gratuity.
Another useful tip is to prepare yourself for tuscan bread and its lack of salt. Unlike many breads, the tuscan variety has absolutely no salt and can taste very flavorless to different palettes. Bread is used more for soaking up sauces and juices rather than being an appetizer or eaten on its own. When it comes to water, Italians love their sparkling water so specify if you prefer still water, also don’t expect ice.
There are many restaurants throughout Italy that cater to tourist and will speak english but the effort to order in Italian will be greatly appreciated by the staff. It doesn’t take much to order in Italian. The word “Vorrei” basically means “I would like” and “Prendo” means “i will take”,Between these two words ordering in Italian is cinch.
The wine in Italy is wonderful, order according to the region. In Tuscany, Chianti reigns supreme and is not to be missed. Many of the house wines are very well balanced and very economical. Most restaurants will let you sample the house wine (posso provare il vino della casa), which can be as cheap as 2 euro a glass. Remember that it is custom to make a toast before tasting the wine and to make eye contact with everyone present at the table.
If you are not accustomed to doing an appetizer followed by two courses, make sure to tell the waitstaff in what sequence you would like the food. If everyone gets a “primi” dish and you only order “secondi”, you may not get your meal until everyone finishes their first course.
Don’t let the fact that a pasta is labeled as a first course let you assume its a small portion. Many pastas that are on the Primi menu are large dishes.
The last tip I can offer and maybe the most important is that there are many stereotypes of Italian cuisine that are not true. Understand that food greatly differs from region to region so its best to order what is local. There is a great misconception that a very large amount of garlic is used in all Italian cuisine, for the most part this is false.
Italians rely on seasonal fresh flavors and a minimalistic approach. Italian are very much purist when it comes to their food. Fans of Italian American food may find some dishes slightly under salted or seasoned. Not to worry though, a simple extra pinch of salt can unlock amazing flavors.
In short, don’t let expectations or preconceived notions distract you from having a delicious unique food experience. I would advise against ordering pizza everywhere you go. Try to avoid ordering the same items you order at home, ask about local specialties and keep an open mind.
I almost forgot, fans of Alfredo sauce, it is an American creation that does not exist here. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but If a restaurant has alfredo on the menu, the restaurant is a tourist trap.