Yum, la gastronomia italiana (Italian cuisine)–the heartbeat of Italian life occurs around the dinner table, and you won’t want to miss out on all of the delicious foods and wines when visiting Italy.
Keep reading to discover some useful Italian phrases for going out to eat. Learning how to order and converse with your waiter in Italian will allow you to enjoy your meal to the fullest and practice your Italian pronunciation at the same time.
But before we dive into these useful Italian phrases, there are some important dining etiquette rules one must remember when traveling to Italy.
Italian Etiquette for Dining
In the Italian culture, eating is a way of life. Family and friend gatherings are often centered around food. Here are some major do’s and don’ts when eating in Italy.
- Don’t expect the waiter to bring you the bill. Until you ask for il conto (the bill), the waiter will not bring it to your table. Also, don’t be shocked when the bill includes a small bread fee.
- Do enjoy your meal slowly. Italians consider dinner to be a time when you relax with family and friends. There is no such thing as get a quick bite to eat.
- Don’t cut your spaghetti. Whatever you do, never cut your spaghetti; rather learn how to gracefully twirl it onto your fork or go old school with a spoon.
- Do arrive late. Whereas showing up late for dinner in the U.S. is considered rude, Italians are rarely ever on time. Therefore, it’s okay to arrive a few minutes after the appointed time.
- Don’t expect breakfast. Unless you’re staying at a hotel that caters to Americans, don’t expect to eat a breakfast filled with eggs, bacon, and toast. Italians typically start their day with a cappuccino.
- Do go where the locals go: Italy is home to some of the most delicious foods in the world. Don’t hunt down the one restaurant that serves an American cheeseburger—eat where the locals dine!
Useful Italian Phrases for Going Out to Eat
The first thing to learn are common Italian phrases your waiter (il cameriere / la cameriera) may use. For example, the waiter may say the following:
- Cosa prende Lei? (What will you have?)
- Cosa desidera Lei? (What would you like?)
If you are eating with one or more people, your waiter may phrase these questions in the plural to address all parties:
Cosa prendete voi? (What will you all have?)
Cosa desiderate voi? (What would you all like?)
In response, you can simply state the item(s) you want, or you can use a whole sentence:
Un piatto di ravioli con un bicchiere di vino rosso, per favore. (A plate of ravioli with a glass of red wine, please.)
Prendo il risotto ai funghi. (I’ll have the mushroom risotto.)
If you have specific dietary restrictions, the following phrases may come in handy:
Non mangio… (I don’t eat…)
…la carne (meat)
…il pesce (fish)
…le uova (eggs)
In looking at the menu and specifying what you would like for each course, familiarize yourself with the following words:
la colazione (breakfast)
il pranzo (lunch)
la cena (dinner)
il primo piatto (first course)
il secondo piatto (second course) or piatto principale (main course)
la pasta (pasta; you will see different types such as le lasagne, i ravioli, gli spaghetti)
il contorno (side dish)
il formaggio (cheese)
il dolce (dessert)
le bevande (beverages)
When ordering your meal, your waiter may inquire whether you would like:
acqua gassata (sparkling water)
acqua minerale (still water).
In addition to water, you may want to order:
un bicchiere di vino rosso/bianco (a glass of red/white wine),
una birra (a beer)
un espresso (an espresso). *Keep in mind that, in Italian culture, un cappuccino is reserved only for breakfast time; it is not served after lunch or dinner.
When it comes time to pay, if you’re dining with your Italian hosts or friends and would like to treat them, you can say:
“Offro io!” (It’s my treat).
To ask the waiter for the bill, you can say:
“Il conto, per favore” (The bill, please). * In Italy, tipping is not expected since the charge for service, called il coperto, is usually included in the bill.
If you’d like to use the bathroom before leaving, you can ask:
“Dov’è il bagno?” (Where is the bathroom?).
Becoming familiar with these common Italian phrases for going out to eat will serve you well. You’ll be able to communicate with the wait staff, order your meal to your liking, and participate fully in this quintessentially Italian activity: enjoying your food.
If you want to learn more Italian words and phrases, you might want to consider taking an Italian lesson before your trip!