12 tips for eating like a local in Italy

Italian cuisine is one of the main reasons to visit Italy. Damn, that was the whole “eating” part of Eat Pray Love. Master of None had a whole season in Italy, just so Aziz Ansari could eat Italian food. Iron chef Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis, originally from Rome, spent six weeks tasting everything from ice cream to pizza for their mouthwatering new show Discovery +, Bobby and Giada in Italy.

Eating out is a big part of anyone’s Italian vacation. Knowing how to eat like a local in Italy is important because no one wants to stand out like a sore thumb, or worse, inadvertently offend someone. We reached out to Steve Perillo, CEO, President and 3rd Generation Family Owner of Perillo tours, the leading US travel agency in Italy, for expert advice on how to eat like a local in Italy. Here are some tips he shared with us.

1. Sit in cafes and bars

Italian seating customs will be familiar to Americans. “When visiting a r Ristorante (restaurant) or pizzeria / trattoria, guests should wait for the host to seat you. In a cafe or bar, customers can sit, ”says Steve.

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2. Tips on tips

Steve’s tip for tipping: “You don’t have to tip restaurants in Italy, but it’s appreciated. If you are sitting or standing for coffee, you can leave one euro, which is more than enough. You can give as much or as little as you like, but tipping is nowhere near the 20 percent that has become the norm in the United States. A good rule of thumb in a restaurant is around one euro per person. Or you can round off the bill. For example, if the invoice is $ 91, you can leave $ 100. Read on for an explanation of the charges you may see on your bill.


Steve says to keep in mind that sometimes there is a load called a coperto. “This coperto must be clearly stated somewhere on the menu and can range from one to three euros per person. A coperto isn’t a tip, it’s a blanket to offset the cost of bread, oil, salt, and whatever else you might use.


Steve told us, “Another charge you may be charged is called the servizio. This should also be clearly stated on the menu and should be used for groups of eight or more. The service is a tip, so there is no need to leave anything extra if you were charged these fees.

A residential street in Rome, Italy where people dine outside in a small neighborhood restaurant on an old cobbled street at night.
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Steve recommends making reservations for dinner, especially in larger cities.

4. Dress for dinner

Italians are quite fashion conscious. While US dress standards are “no shirt, no shoes, no service,” Italians would expand that to say, “no tank tops, no shorts, no flip flops. ”

When we asked about dress codes, Steve replied, “Unless it’s a fancy restaurant that has a dress code, you can wear pants with a nice shirt or blouse. Jeans are also great, unless it’s a fancy restaurant.

Italian Bruschetta (Photo credit: Laura Ray)

5. Don’t butter your bread

In Italy, bread is served with the meal, not as an appetizer. Steve explains why: “A typical Italian meal consists of a first course, ‘il primo’ (pasta or soup); a second course, ‘il secondo’ (meat or fish), served with a side, ‘il contorno’ (vegetables or salad); dessert; and coffee. No pasta dish is complete without the act of “fare la scarpetta”, which literally means make a little shoe and sponge the remaining sauce on your plate. It is a very common ritual in Italy. This is why bread is usually left on restaurant tables. Butter and oil are not served with bread in Italy.

Friends having a pasta dinner at home or in a restaurant.
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6. Follow these dos and don’ts

Here are some more tips from our guide Steve that you may not know:

  • Don’t cut your pasta with a knife
  • Fill your neighbor’s glass before yours
  • Don’t ask for dressing – oil and vinegar are all you need.
  • Do not expect ice cream in your drinks! Italians don’t drink frozen drinks and normally don’t put more than one cube in a drink unless you ask for it.
  • Don’t put cheese on seafood pasta.
  • Don’t ask for a doggie bag at a restaurant.
May 23, 2015-rome-italy-Places to eat in Trastevere district, rome
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7. Don’t order cappuccino after mid-morning

Ordering a cappuccino after a certain time of day is a sure-fire way to squeeze yourself out as a tourist. According to Steve, “Cappuccino is considered breakfast coffee and is never drunk later than mid-morning.”

Cup of fresh espresso coffee in a cafe overlooking Mount Vesuvius in Naples, Campania, Southern Italy
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8. If you ask for a latte, you will get a glass of milk

Steve makes us clear when it comes to Italian coffee: “Classic Italian coffee is espresso, although the term Espresso is hardly ever used in Italy – it is simply called a cafe. Word latte means milk, so if you order a “latte” in an Italian bar, you will get a glass of cold milk. Ask for a coffee with milk if you want the Italian version.

9. At the Café, Pay Then Order

It might seem backward to Americans, but if you stop at a cafe for a quick coffee, pay at the cashier first, then take your receipt to the barista and give them your order.

Alessandro Perazzoli / Shutterstock.com

10. Don’t buy bottled water

Just bring your own reusable water bottle! As Steve says, “Italian fountains contain some of the coolest water in the country. Rather than buying several bottles of water, do like the locals and bring your own disposable bottle and fill it from these fountains. If you don’t have a water bottle handy, you can plug in the side faucet of most fountains with your thumb and the water will come out from a top faucet for you to drink.

In Italy, it is customary to bring dessert, wine or prosecco instead of gifts.
Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com

11. Bring something edible as a hostess gift

If you are going to have dinner at someone’s house, do not bring soap or candles as gifts. In Italy, it is customary to bring dessert, wine or prosecco instead.

12. Take The Passegiata After dinner

“The Passeggiata is a daily ritual that Italians really enjoy,” says Steve. “Take some time later in the day to stroll the streets, chat with friends or shop window.”

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