I quite dislike “do and don’ts” and “eating rules” articles that are so commonly found on the internet and guidebooks… First of all because there are no Italian eating rules, but only Italian eating habits so, basically what I’m trying to do is not giving you a list of things that you should or should not do, but answering questions that I’m often asked and trying to help you clarify doubts that my guests at Valle Nuova often have.
My suggestions should be taken as an explanations of how things normally work in Italy, rather than rules.
The other reason why I do not like the “do and don’ts lists” is that, as an Italian, I do not respect some of them and nobody at a restaurant ever told me off because of it and I feel that, if you know why you should avoid a certain behaviour you will be able to behave properly even when “breaking the rules”.
1. BYO or not BYO?
Italians do not bring their own wine at restaurants, it’s just simply something that we do not do.
For this reason doing so is regarded to as a sign of mistrust towards the restaurant (either I think that your wine is not good or I think that you’ll charge too much for the wine… if you think either of these things of a restaurant, just do not eat there!).
What we do sometimes is “Bring your Own cake.”.. for birthday parties it is accepted that someone brings a cake (maybe home-made) to celebrate, but this has to be agreed upon with the restaurant.
p.s. (for British readers) Italian restaurants are always “licenced”… wherever you can find food you can also find alcoholic beverages.
2. Cappuccino anyone?
One of the “don’ts” I partially disagree with is the “no cappuccino after 10 a.m.(or 11 a.m. or whatever time during the morning)” concept.
First of all it’s perfectly ok to have a cappuccino in the afternoon! Instead of a cup of tea or a hot chocolate in a chilly Winter afternoon, I really enjoy my frothy cappuccino and I never received a disapproving look.
Italians do not normally have cappuccino at the end of a meal simply because we consider that it’s something of a small meal by itself: a big cup of hot milk is enough nourishment for a some hours.
This said, I normally have my after meal coffee very long (Americano) possibly with an unusual amount of cold milk in it… this is definitely something very un-Italian, and so what?
By the way… talking about coffee with milk… in Italy if you ask for a “latte” you’re actually asking for a “milk”, just that, as any dictionary can easily prove.
3. Antipasto, primo, secondo e dessert
“Normally Italians have multi course meals”… this is another half-truth.
Any restaurant menu will divide the dishes available into these categories (and more), but you’re definitely not obliged nor supposed to have them all! I rarely have the whole meal when I’m out for dinner and you can do the same.
Some places are famous for some dishes or you just may prefer to have a lighter meal and it’s perfectly ok to just have a first course or an appetizer and a second course or whichever combination you fancy. If there’s more than one person at a table and each one is having a different combination, you can tell the waiter what you prefer to be brought together.
Moreover… if you’re not sure if the portions will be big or small, it’s not necessary to order your whole meal at the beginning, you can as well order one or two things and order more if needed.
Sharing a dish with someone is also perfectly fine (it’s quite common infact having 2 different pizzas and swapping half of it or sharing a dessert because you fancy something sweet but you can’t eat a whole one, sometimes the waiter will bring extra spoons even if not asked).
I’m famous at a local restaurant because years ago with 2 friends we shared 2 first courses, a huge steak and 5 desserts!
Ah, vegetables are not included in the second course… you have to ask for them separately (contorni).
4. Wine glasses
I’m quite often asked for a wine glass by my guests even if there’s already one in front of them… no, I don’t have an unusually high number of blind guests, it’s just a small cultural misunderstanding that is worth clarifying.
Depending on wherther you are eating at home or out and on the “level” of the restaurant (and thus of the wines served), wine is not necessarily served in long stem glasses. The traditional wine glass is small and thick rimmed (definitely not a fancy high stemmed glass), at home (outside everyday meals when you have both wine and water in the same glass) it’s common to find two similar glasses, one slightly smaller than the other (that is the wine glass), nowadays every restaurant has it’s own theory regarding glasses… high or low, round or square, transparent or any colour they like (usually colours only apply to water glasses… you want to see the colour of your wine).
You may think that this is weird, but it’s basically normal everywhere in Italy and well, you’ll have to cope with it :)
On the other side the cost of the personnel is payed by the restaurant and tipping is not a necessity. Apart from the “coperto” all you are charged is what you eat, no extras. Leaving a tip is surely appreciated and it’s ok to round up the bill and leave the change (a few euros) for the waiter. Anything more than that is usually done only as a special acknowledgement for a specially friendly and helpful service.
This said I’m quite sure that many Italians will disagree with most of what I wrote…
And this is the third reason why I do not like “Italy eating rules”!