7 Faux Pas to Avoid in Italy’s Restaurants

Let’s be honest, when we travel as tourists, we often fell into the trap of judging how locals and tourism operators behave with us, forgetting to carry out the same type of analysis to ourselves: are we trying to merge and follow the local rules or are we merely applying our own standards?

Mind you, there’s a difference: there are tourists who have a sense of superiority and deliberately force their customs to the visited countries, but the majority is represented by well-meaning people who are just so used to their own country’s rules of conduct that they suppose they’re simply the same everywhere.

For example when in restaurants while abroad (especially in touristic areas), we are so focused on trying to detect if the staff is somehow scamming us (you’re right to always be aware of that!) that we forget to ask ourselves: “Am I behaving according to the situation?”, “Is my conduct somehow offending the employees or the other customers?”

Today I’m here to help you out and list for you some common faux pas tourists do while in restaurants in Italy, so that you can recognize and avoid them.

1) SIT AT A TABLE WITHOUT ASKING IF IT’S FREE

Unlike, for example, some areas of Germany, in Italy it’s common practice to ask the waiter where you can sit, even if there are plenty of free tables. The best way to act is to ask: “C’è posto per noi? Siamo in X persone” or “C’è posto per X persone?” (Is there place for X people?) and to let the waiter guide you to a suitable table. In this way you won’t sit at a reserved table nor occupy one which is set for more people. It’s a way to make the work easier for the restaurant. Obviously, if the place the waiter suggests doesn’t suit you, you can ask for an alternative.

2) MOVE TABLES

I’ve learned that in some countries it’s quite normal to move tables according to one’s preference or to put different tables together to accommodate a large party of people. Just as stated in the previous point, ask the waiters before taking such initiatives. They might have different plans and consider it might be deemed as rude as you’re basically moving someone else’s furniture, after all.

3) PICK A MENU FROM THE WAITERS’S COUNTER

You will notice that informal restaurants might have menus written on a board or already set on the table, whereas some others (more or less refined) will have them collected on a counter. Don’t pick a menu by yourself. Some people think that, by doing that, the whole process of ordering will be quicker, but this is actually something which could irk waiters. Sometimes food options come in different lists, so just let the waiter manage the procedure.

4) COMPLAIN ABOUT OPENING HOURS

Please guys, understand that, especially in areas where there’s no mass-tourism, it’s not possible to find restaurants working all day long. It’s not economically viable for small- or medium-sized businesses to have shift workers in the kitchen. There’s often only one cook, who has to cover both lunch and dinner. Also, it takes time to prepare food and sort out supplies, it’s not like people stop working when the restaurants close to the public.

As a consequence, please don’t complain with the staff about the opening hours and don’t assume they close in the afternoon to make the infamous “siesta” (which doesn’t even exist as a word in Italian, by the way). As an alternative, check bars since they are often open all day long and frequently offer panini(s), pizzette, bruschette, salads, desserts.

5) WALK BAREFOOT AND/OR DRESSED INAPPROPRIATELY

Especially at the seaside or in a mountain environment, some tourists tend to enter restaurants dressed scantily or to take off their shoes and roam around barefoot. Restaurant owners are usually understanding in certain situations, aware that people might be back from a hiking or from the seaside, however there are limits which should not be crossed. Going to eat something in a bikini and sarong is ok only if you’re in a kiosk at the beach; heading to town, even if close to the strand, requires people to have, at least, a tank top or a t-shirt.

As someone who has worked as a tourism operator up in the mountains, I can testify that several foreign tourists take off their hiking shoes and walk around barefoot in hotels and restaurants. Walking barefoot in a public space is not something considered hygienic nor respectful. Also remember that in Italy we grow up with mothers who don’t even allow us to walk barefoot at home, so don’t be surprised if local people seem shocked or look at you sideways. It’s better to change your hiking boots with more comfortable shoes, leaving the formers in the car or putting them in your rucksack.

6) CHEW WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN/MAKE NOISE WHILE EATING

In some Asian cultures, making noise while eating is a sign that shows you are enjoying your meal. In Italian and in the Western culture in general, this is not the case: chewing with one’s mouth open or noisily sucking the spaghetti are considered impolite behaviours.

If you want to show your host your appreciation, eat all you have on your plate and consider to make the so-called “scarpetta”.

7) EXPECT TO BE GIVEN THE BILL WITHOUT HAVING TO ASK FOR IT

This is a trap several Americans fall into. In Italy waiters are taught never to hand the bill before the customer is finished, as it’s considered extremely rude. You don’t want to give the customers the impression you want to rush them whatsoever. Restaurants are not supposed to just amass as many people as possible, they are also supposed to provide an environment where patrons can relax and enjoy themselves. Waiters will give customers a time limit only if the table they’re sitting at is reserved afterwards. Just enjoy your meal and ask for “Il conto perfavore” when you want to leave the restaurant.


I hope this small guide will be helpful and that you don’t take some observations the wrong way. Customs and circumstances are different according to the country and culture and it’s good to be aware of them in order not to offend nor misjudge people.

Were you aware of some of these unwritten rules? Let me know in a comment!

Advertisement

5 thoughts on “7 Faux Pas to Avoid in Italy’s Restaurants

  1. A fine job, Sara! I find that Italy indeed has many non-negotiable rules about dining and eating. You round them up well. The part when you have to ask for the bill is tricky for many foreigners, I’m sure. My last American visitors (when alone out) often felt that waiters were giving them no attention and waited a long time before making a move for the bill. As for the split working hours, nobody should complain about that! It’s just how it is!

    But I have noticed a huge discrepancy in how waiters treat their guests too. We are always polite, amore knows how to talk to the staff, and yet we don’t always get the polite treatment back.

    And finally, I wonder if people know that scarpetta means… 😉 I do! But I can’t imagine doing it in a restaurant. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ciao Manja!! I hope you’re well! It was a crazy summer for me 😅

      Thank you, glad you enjoy it! In Italian culture, giving the bill in advance would be super impolite! It’s the same reason why in many restaurants they don’t collect empty dishes before all people at the table are finished. It truly represents the biggest difference between American and Italian view on free time: rush/efficiency vs relaxed attitude when enjoying a meal. As an Italian I would feel pressured if I waiter kept hanging around my table. Every country has its customs, I guess.

      Ah, there could be millions reasons why service in Italy is not often “top”. Several waiters take the job just for the money and don’t like it; many are underpayed and overworked; some others are not motivated because the tip is not customary in Italy; others are mistreated by many entitled patrons and end up hating the whole humanity. Once you see the behind the scenes, you realize many things about that environment…

      But why? Many Italians make the scarpetta all the time, even in posh restaurants 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice blog. You mentioned all the important points. To me, the most important rule is just to remember that in Italy, you are the guest! Everywhere you go. Just treat the restaurant like someone else’s home (not yours) and you will do fine!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.