Eat your Heart Out in Italy. How to Order like a Local.

Let’s face it, many of us dream of traveling to Italy to eat.

We have all fallen in love with the classics – you know the ones. Chicken Parmesan, Fettuccini Alfredo, Italian Dressing, and breadsticks are all typical staples at neighborhood restaurants. However, in Italy you won’t find any of those items on a menu.  

Since eating is one of my favorite cultural experiences when I take a vacation, I wanted to share some tips on how to make the most of your dining experience abroad.

First things first? You need to understand how to order more like a local and less like a tourist.

That means no Chicken Parm.


Lunch is between 12pm-2pm
Dinner is between 7pm-10pm


There is no formal dress code. However, Italians are fashionable and eating is more of a formal occasion in Italy.


Da Bere? | What will you be drinking?

For water your options are Still (Aqua Naturale) or Sparkling (Aqua Frizzante). In Italy, all water served at a dining table comes with an additional cost.

Un bicchiere di vino rosato, per favore? 

WineA glass of rose please.

You can also order by the quarter, half, or full liter and costs are very reasonable. At nicer restaurants, your wine order might be taken following your meal order. If you prefer, a Sommelier (waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service: a wine steward) will look at your order and make the perfect pairing selections.

Not sure what to choose? Ask for a taste.  

This could be the perfect addition to a romantic escape.


Da Mangiare? | What will you be eating?

Italians take eating seriously, which means they enjoy their lunch and dinner and can take two to three hours to eat.

One of my favorite Italian traditions is the Aperitivo, an alcoholic beverage that is consumed prior to a meal with the intention of stimulating the appetite. Who doesn’t like a complimentary Prosecco, Spritz, or Negroni served with a delicious little snack? Each region features different variations.

Traditional Italian menus consist of five sections – appetizer (antipasto), first course (primo), and a second course (secondo), with a side dish (contorni), a salad (insalata), a dessert (il dolci), and coffee (café).

appetizer (antipasto): The small bites. Generally cured meats, olives, bruschetta, and cheeses that can be shared and passed around the table.

first course (primo): The carbs. Generally risotto, pasta, polenta, and/or gnocchi.

second course (secondo): The protein. Generally a meat, fish, or cheese focused dish that is unique to the region.

side dish (contorni): The vegetables. Generally grilled or fresh vegetables.

salad (insalata): The salad. Generally a Caprese or Misto green salad.

dessert (il dolci): The finale. Typically Italian desserts are less sweet than what we are used to.

coffee (café): The espresso. This is the traditional after dinner drink. Somehow most Italians are not affected by the caffeine intake! Guess it makes a good digestive system.

It’s not necessary to order from every course, but it is typical for people to order at least two or three. My perfect combination is the following: Aperitivo – Antipasto (to share) – Primo (to share) – Secondo – Insalata (to share) – Il dolci (to share).  Sharing items allows you to try more!

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Aperitivo, appetizer, first course, second course, side dish, salad, dessert, coffee


Don’t be surprised if you don’t receive service for a while – eating is a luxury in Italy and it is never rushed. Waiters will not typically check in except to re-plate and clear dishes.

When you’re ready to get back to exploring, all you have to do is say, “Il conto!” Bill please.

As you review the bill, don’t be shocked to see a coperto added, usually $2-4 Euro per person. The coperto is a charge just for sitting. It covers the management, lines, bread, and olive oil that come with the table. This is not a tip!

Tipping in Italy is different than we are used to. If service was good,  leaving a few Euros or rounding the bill up is sufficient. If you receive exceptional service, you can leave an additional 10%.  

Now let’s eat!

I hope these tips will help you enjoy the Italian dining experience a bit more.

Mangia bene!  | Who eats well, lives well!

Michelle is the Chief Escape Organizer of Just Escape Travel. When travelling, I am passionate about connecting and emerging into a destination. I saw the growing demand for others wanting similar experiences and as a result, Just Escape Travel was created inspiring travelers to escape the ordinary.