It is hard to find a bad meal in Italy. In a country where eating is an art form it pays to take a minute and learn about the different types of restaurants you will find on your next trip.
- Autogrill (OWtogreel) – These are the markets and restaurants that are found in the rest areas off the expressways. Don’t be fooled, I have bought some of my best meals in the Autogrill’s. The larger Autogrill’s have food that you can buy to take on a picnic.
- Bar (bar) – Bars are on every street corner in Italy. Coffee and a wide variety of other drinks are served in bars. In most bars you go to the cashier first and place your order, then you take your ticket to the counter and order what you paid for.
- Caffè (kaffEH) – A caffè is a coffee shop that may offer breakfast or a panini but generally does not serve much food.
- Osteria (ostayREEa) – These are small restaurants that offer simple fare. Check the menu first though, simple does not always mean inexpensive.
- Paninoteca (paneenoTAYka) – Panini are grilled sandwiches and are available both hot and cold in a paninoteca. The Italian panini are so much better than what you find in the States that it is hard to compare the two.
- Ristorante (reestoRANtay) – As in most countries restaurants come in every price range and offer a wide variety of food. Be sure to check the menu posted outside or in the window to make sure it is within your price range and is offering a meal that will suit your mood at that moment. If not move down the street a few feet. The one thing you will always be able to find in Italy is a good restaurant.
- Trattoria (trattorEEa) – These are usually medium priced restaurants that serve meals and drinks.
In larger cities or cities that cater to tourists many eating establishments offer a tourist menu (menù turistico) which is a fixed price meal that is made up of 3 or more courses. You have limited choices with a tourist menu. I generally stay away from the tourists menus as they often have food that will appeal to the largest number of people which is not always the best food. On top of that I often think they are offering food in quantities that they think will appeal to Americans – meaning the portions can be too big.
I don’t feel the same way about the specialty of the day or piatto del giorno which is often a meal made with food that the restaurant has purchased fresh from the market that day.
Most restaurants in Italy include the cover (il coperto) and service (il servizio) on the bill. So check your bill before you leave to make sure it is covered. If not, it is customary to leave a tip, though not as large as at American restaurants.
And when you are ready to leave, hail the waiter and ask for “il conto, per favore!”