General Italian dining tips

  • "Pane e coperto" is not a scam: Nearly all Italian restaurants have an unavoidable pane e coperto ("bread and cover" charge) of anything from €1 ($1) to €15 ($17)—though most often €2 ($2) to €5 ($6)—per person that is automatically added on to your bill. This is perfectly normal, and perfectly legal (though a few, trendy restaurants make a big deal about not charging it).
  • The house wine is usually perfectly fine, if not excellent (plus, you can order quarter- and half-carafes rather than a full bottle), or let the waiter help pick out a wine to go with your meal.
  • Food is cheaper standing up. Order and eat standing at the bar and you will pay the lowest price; sit at a table and you will be charged a higher price for "table service." In some places, sitting at an outdoor costs even more.
  • At a cafe, you pay before you consume: At any Italian cafe, bar, or gelateria, you don't just saunter up to the bar and order your cappuccino, Campari, or two scoops of cioccolato. Go first to the cashier (sometimes at her or his own little counter in a corner) to order what you want and pay for it. Only then can you take the receipt back up to the counter, where you put the receipt down (traditionally along with a small coin as a tip) and repeat your order to the barrista. Silly? Yes, but that's how it's done.
  • Go with the flow. Order the local specialty—fish in Venice, steak in Florence, tortellini in Bologna.
  • Be nosy, ask lots of questions. Look around the room and politely point and ask what other people are eating if it looks good.
  • For culinary variety, ask if there's a bis dei primi or tris dei primi (sampler plate of two or three first courses) so you can try several at once.
  • Be adventurous. Have fun, sample the local chow. Don't go through Italy leaving a trail of just spaghetti pomodoro (tomato sauce) and pollo alle brace (grilled chicken) in your wake. Ask what the specialty of the house is. Try the tripe and sample the squid. Let the waiter suggest to you his favorite dish—or trust him to put together the whole meal and surprise you with each course.
  • Reservations are rarely necessary, but always wise. Save for a few higher end restaurants (and some in the countryside), you never need to make a reservation. However, I find Murphy's Law applies: if it's a restaurant you're dying to try and you don't call ahead, there will be no tables available when you show up at the door. If you do call ahead, you'll be one of only a handful of people in the place, making you feel slightly foolish for having phoned ahead. Of maybe that's just my luck. Either way, booking a table is the wiser choice.
  • Every restaurant is closed one day a week. By law, restaurants must take a giorno di riposo (sometimes the sign says "chiuso per turno"). This will be posted prominently on the door or on the wall above the cash register. The law exists to make sure the staff gets one day a week off. For most restaurants, the overwhelmingly popular choice of day to take off is Monday; second most popular is Sunday; many close after Sunday lunch and only reopen on Tuesday.
  • Don't over-tip by accident! Again, always glance at the bottom of the menu (including front and back covers) to see if there is a line about "servizio incluso." This means the service charge is included and you do not need to leave a tip (though for exceptional service in a fine restaurant, it is customary to leave an extra euro or so per person). If nothing of the sort is printed on the menu—or you are simply unsure——just ask: "É incluso il servizio?" (eh een-CLOO-soh eel sair-VEET-zeeo?) to find out where service is included. If it is not, leave an extra 10%.
  • Tourist menusThe concept of a bargain prix-fixe menu is not popular in Italy. Some restaurants do offer "tourist menus," which usually entails a choice from among two or three basic first courses (read: different pasta shapes, all in plain tomato sauce), a second course of roast chicken or a veal cutlet, and some water or wine and bread. With very few exceptions, tourist menus tend to live up to their name, appearing only at the sort of tourist-pandering restaurant that the locals wisely steer clear of. On the other hand, a pricier menu degustazione ("tasting menu") will offer the best dishes of which the chef is not proud—and is priced accordingly. » more 
 

Tips

About the restaurant star ratings (☆☆☆ to ★★★)

You will notice that all restaurants (and sights and hotels) on this site have a ReidsItaly.com star designation from ☆☆☆ to ★★★.

This merely indicates that I feel these eateries offer a little something that makes them special (or extra-special, or extra-extra special, etc.).

These star ratings are entirely based on personal opinion, and have nothing to do with any official local restaurant ratings or grades.

In general, a pricier restaurant has to impress me that it is worth the added expense.

This is why I give ★★★ to some inexpensive eateries or sandwich shops that happen provide amazing value for the money—and similarly have ranked a few fancy but notable restaurants just ★★☆.

About the restaurant price brackets (€–€€€)

Here at ReidsItaly.com we simply provide a general price range indicating the general amount you should expect to pay for a full meal in the eatery.

Each eatery is rated into a price category, which indicates—very roughly—what you could expect to pay, per person, for a standard full meal: Three courses—primo (first course), secondo (main course), and contorno (side) or dolce (dessert)—plus something to drink.

There are three price ranges, giving you a sense of which restaurants are budget, which are moderate, and which are splurges:

under €15
€€ under €40
€€€ over €40
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for dining

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a restaurant un ristorante oon rees toh-RAHN-tay
...a casual restaurant una trattoria
un'osteria
oo-nah trah-toar-RHEE-yah
oon ohst-air-EE-yah
I would like to reserve... Vorrei prenotare... voar-RAY pray-note-ARE-eh
a table for two una tavola per due oo-nah TAH-voal-lah pair DOO-way
...for 7pm per le sette pair lay SET-tay
...for 7:30pm per le sette e mezzo pair lay SET-tay eh MET-tzoh
...for 8pm per le otto pair lay OH-toh
     
I would like Vorrei... voar-RAY
...some (of) un pó (di) oon POH (dee)
...this questo KWAY-sto
...that quello KWEL-loh
chicken pollo POL-loh
steak bistecca bee-STEAK-ah
...rare al sangue ahl SAN-gway
...medium rosato ro-ZA-to
...well done ben cotto ben KO-to
veal vitello vee-TEL-oh
fish pesce PEH-shay
meat carne KAR-neh
I am vegetarian sono vegetariano SO-no veg-eh-tair-ee-YAH-no
side dish [veggies always come seperately] cotorno kon-TOR-no
dessert dolce DOAL-chay
and e ay
...a glass of un bicchiere di oon bee-key-YAIR-eh dee
...a bottle of una bottiglia di oo-na boh-TEEL-ya dee
...a half-liter of mezzo litro di MET-tzoh LEE-tro dee
...fizzy water acqua gassata AH-kwah gah-SAHT-tah
...still water acqua non gassata AH-kwah noan gah-SAHT-tah
...red wine vino rosso VEE-noh ROH-so
...white wine vino bianco VEE-noh bee-YAHN-koh
...beer birra BEER-a
Check, please Il conto, per favore eel COAN-toh pair fah-VOAR-eh
Is service included? É incluso il servizio? ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).

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