11 Things Restaurants in Italy Do Differently

My husband Peter and I own an Italian restaurant. And pardon my bluntness or lack of modesty, but it’s a pretty damn good Italian restaurant. We have spent many sleepless nights working on creating a memorable experience for our guests that focuses on reinventing traditional Italian dishes. This is why dining in Northern Italy was an uberly-anticipated experience and I couldn’t wait to see what restaurants in Italy did differently than our own, Sugo Trattoria.

1. Dining Late
The dinner bell doesn’t ring in Italy until about 9 or 10 o’clock in the evening. Apparently they don’t believe in the “don’t eat after 6PM rule”, but that’s okay because neither do I. Our peak dining hour is between 7 and 8 o’clock, though being the owner means that I usually eat after nine anyway. Perfect.
Restaurant in Italy

2. Frizzante Water
When in Italy, If you look around at the other diners, 75% will have a bottle of sparkling water at their table. Close to none will have soda and almost all will have wine. In the States 75% will have still water, soda or Iced tea. 25% will be drinking wine. Italy wins on this one.
frizzante italian water

3. Fill Glasses of Wine at the Table from the Bottle

This may not be quite as enthralling to you, but I can’t remember a dining experience in America where I ordered a glass of wine and the server just poured it into the glass, at the table, straight from the bottle. Most restaurants, including my own, are concerned with portion control and guests value perception. That’s why you sometimes get your glass in a little carafe or you will see a selection of water-filled wine glasses along the bar to be used as a portion guide. In Restaurants in Italy they just came by with the entire bottle. I was always hoping for an over-pour. Sometimes I won.
wine glasses in italy

4. Simple bread

In America, Artisan breads are all the rage. And, I have to admit, there is nothing like a fresh, warm loaf of crunchy olive, rosemary bread at my table. In Italy we were delivered a simple, crumbly sliced baguette. Though it was dry without a distinctive flavor profile, we were always served the most delectable olive oil to dip it in.
restaurants in italy bread

5. Menus Focus on Tradition and Simplicity
America is more progressive when it comes to ingredients and presentation, whereas restaurants in Italy concentrate on the simplicity of tradition. Many restaurants here focus on taking a traditional meal and cranking it up a few notches with either a unique technique or ingredients. Italy is the perfect place to get back to the basics of fresh ingredients cooked simply.
simple italian pasta

6. Fancy Paper Napkins
was disturbingly fascinated with the extra thick, colorful paper napkins in Italy’s restaurants. So much so, that I stuck my used ones in my purse as a souvenir. Hey, they were going to throw them away anyway. And I am not weird. Just unique.
colorful napkins at restaurants in italy

7. Serve Salad Last

After years of owning our Italian restaurant, I have only had two customers ever ask for their “appetizer” salad after their entree. But, this is customary in Italy.
simple salad in italy

8. Limited Garnishes

We are big on garnishes, sprinkling dishes with parsley or basil, whereas most dishes we ate at restaurants in Italy were sans any sort of green toppings. Again, simplicity.
no garnish on italian dishes

9. You must ask for your check
If you don’t ask for the server to bring your check, you will be sitting there until closing. It DOES NOT matter that your plates have been cleared and you have finished all of your wine. You will sit. Until you ask. Dining in Italy is an experience meant to take time and enjoy, it is considered inappropriate for the waitstaff to bring the bill prior to it being requested.

10. Coperto/Servizio is included on Bills
Coperto and servizio is usually charged on your bill. Coperto, is to cover the cost for those fancy napkins previously mentioned, also for bread and water. Servizio is applied towards the service. This fee is usually between 1 to 3 euros.

11. Server Waits and Watches as you Sign the Credit Card Slip
This custom would be considered rude in America. But, not so in restaurants in Italy because the tip is usually already included in your bill.

Have you noticed any dining differences in another country?

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2018-12-21T13:11:20+00:00October 12th, 2011|Categories: Europe, FOOD, Italy, TRAVEL|Tags: |


  1. Italian Notes October 13, 2011 at 12:01 am - Reply

    Interesting observations – even if I'm only familiar with the Italian dining culture.

  2. Carola October 13, 2011 at 8:36 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing; your notes are very interesting.  I'm curious to know if you plan to adopt any of the Italian Restaurants costumes at your own Italina Restaurant?

    • Annette Renee White October 13, 2011 at 8:40 am - Reply

      What we have adopted most is incorporating some of the traditional products that were popular in Italy; pistachios, wild boar,hazelnuts, etc. We definitely have started using more of those ingredients in our dishes.

  3. Danielle October 13, 2011 at 8:45 am - Reply

    I always find it so interesting- how each culture has different dining customs/etiquette. 

    • Annette Renee White October 13, 2011 at 9:23 am - Reply

      It is fascinating. I can’t wait to travel RTW to see what other restaurant customs are out there!

  4. Jared Romey October 16, 2011 at 4:10 am - Reply

    I'd like to add an extremely important one for the list:  primi and secondi!!  It's like two main dishes, although most of the time I can't eat that much.  It's still nice to have the option.

    • Annette Renee White October 16, 2011 at 7:10 am - Reply

      Yes! That’s a good one!

  5. michele October 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    Great comparisons, totally agree.  i'll have to drive out to try your restaurant sometime, i'm only about an 1 1/2 drive away in Sacramento

    • Annette Renee White October 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm - Reply

      I do hope you can stop by one day!

  6. Uttoran Sen @ Travel Tamed October 28, 2011 at 7:31 am - Reply

    I like the idea of portion control with the wine, and i do hate when things are served without permission… sometimes the wine is just fine in the bottle and it should be left to the drinker to take as much or as when he likes, pouring it all on a huge glass sort of kills the entire portion control concept.

    About the paper napkin, sometimes we all do that, nothing weird about it… however, your habits of collecting souvenir is certainly unique… in a good way, ofcourse 🙂

    Interesting fact about the check though, here in India in most reastaurents if you eat slowly, you will see an angry waiter asking every five seconds, what more you need? (however, this is mostly for some kind of people that sits there and keep drinking tea for hours… )

    Though i will, perhaps. consider it rude too, if the waiter watches me sign or pay the bill. Good thing that his tip is included in the bill, but no point watching…

    • Annette Renee White October 30, 2011 at 6:49 am - Reply

      In America too, most restaurants want to “turn over” the table, so they can serve as many guests as possible.

  7. Holly November 1, 2012 at 8:26 am - Reply

    OMG, I also went crazy for the plush paper table cloths and napkins (and yes, I stuck one in my purse as well).  Any idea where to find them in the US, or where to order online?

    • Annette | Bucket List Journey November 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      Unfortunately, I have no idea where you can get those Italian napkins in the US. The ones are party stores are just not the same 🙁

  8. Yussi January 9, 2019 at 9:19 am - Reply

    Thank you . It was realy hard to find about italian food and… For my lecture. Im realy thankful

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