Eating in Italy

See what it's like to eat in Italy! Tips & Informations: Italian meal courses, ordering, tipping, coperto, pronunciation plus dos and don't of eating in Italy.

Eating in Italy

Just after settling into a cozy trattoria in Siracusa, Sicily Paolo and I were shocked to hear angry voices. “We no order bread! No eat, no pay!” a tourist was arguing with the owner in broken English. Voices grew louder and it soon became apparent the customer was livid because he had “no order coperto!” Cue laughter. Coperto is not something you order in Italy, it’s an automatic charge added to almost all bills in restaurants across Italy.

That day in Sicily, I realized many tourists are unprepared when visiting Italy for the first time, and thus, the inspiration for this page. As a dual American Italian citizen living in Italy, I’ve eatten in Italy’s finest restaurants and at the warmest family tables. Get answers to the most common questions tourists have about eating in Italy. From how much to tip in Italy to what coperto is, get all the information you’ll need to mangia like an Italian!

Planning your first trip to Italy? Here are a few of our most popular resource articles with tips on navigating some of Italy’s unique cultural quirks.

Tipping in Italy | How to Use a Bidet | Coperto in Italy | Are Italians Rude? | Pizza in Italy vs America | Driving in Italy

Italian food really reflects the people. It reflects like a prism that fragments into regions. Italian food is seasonal. It is simple. It is nutritionally sound. It is flavorful. It is colorful. It’s all the things that make for a good eating experience, and it’s good for you.

— Lidia Bastianich, Italian-American chef, television host, author, and restaurateur

What Tourists Should Know About Eating in Italy

Even if the menus in Italy are in Italian, it’s almost impossible to order wrong in Italy. Italian food at its core is about local, fresh ingredients prepared simply. So the truth is, it’s easy to eat well in Italy. There are, however, some cultural quirks to eating in Italy that can surprise tourists.

Tipping in Italy

Euro tipping in italy
Euro in Hand for tipping

The very fact that there is a word for “tip” in Italian (una mancia) means that yes, tipping is a thing in Italy. Unlike in America however, tipping in Italy is like paying a good compliment. Always appreciated, never anticipated. Most of the time simply leaving the change, a Euro or saying “grazie” will suffice. Observations on where, when, and how Italians tip in Italy. Tipping in Italy

Italian Meal Courses

Eating in Italy Meal Courses
Menu of Italian Meal Courses

On an Italian menu in Italy one will often find Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Contorni, and Dolci listed. These are just a few of the courses in a traditional Italian meal. Just because each course is listed does not mean you have to order from it. Dinners are almost always free to choose between the courses. Get information about the types of dishes in each course plus tips on ordering in our Italian Meal Course List.

Coperto in Italy

Coperto on Receipt in Italy
Coperto on Receipt in Italy

In Italian “coperto” means “covered”. In restaurants across Italy, coperto is a mandatory cover charge typically between 1€ to 3€ per person. Coperto has a long history as part of eating in a restaurant in Italy that dates back to the middle ages. Learning the history behind Coperto in Italy often helps tourists understand why it’s not. a scam.

Pizza in Italy vs America

While Italian pizza and American pizza both have dough, sauce, and cheese there is a world of difference between eating pizza in Italy and eating pizza in America. 11 ways eating pizza is different in Italy.

Italians Eat Late

Italians typically sit down for dinner between 8pm – 9pm. Most restaurants in Italy don’t open for dinner until 7pm and in fact, it’s not uncommon for restaurants to serve dinner until 10:30pm.

Breakfast & Coffee

A typical Italian breakfast is little more than a cookie or small pastry with a cappuccino or an espresso. Italians also don’t take their coffee to go but rather enjoy it quickly, standing at the counter of a local bar.

Only 34% of Italians speak English making Italy one of the countries with the lowest percentage of English speakers in Europe. So while no tourist really wants to hear it, learning some Italian before visiting Italy is advisable. Especially when traveling without a guide or into small villages.

While you can get away with English in main tourist cities like Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan learning a few key phrases specific to eating in Italy makes for a more relaxing and enjoyable experience. Plus, attempting Italian earns more patience and respect. The following curated video reviews key Italian phrases for restaurants.

Video: Italian Vocabulary & Phrases for Eating in Italy

How to Find the Best Authentic Italian Food

Speaking a little bit of Italian can truly open up the world of authentic Itailan cuisine for tourists. Eating in Italy is defined by regional cuisine. An approach referred to as “zero kilometer.” Meaning foods that have not traveled far after production. A principle rooted in Italy’s dedication to local and regional specialties.

Want to experience the best meal of your life in Italy? Download the Slow Food App! Slow Food is a non-profit association started in Italy committed to restoring the right value to food. Focused on respecting local, sustainable producers as custodians of Italy’s culinary traditions and heritage, you simply can not go wrong with anything Slow Food recommends. This is how to find restaurants known as Agriturismo (Agricultural Tourism) where zero-kilometer foods shine. If you find an Agriturismo anywhere near you on the Slow Food App, GO! Just plan on it being your only meal for the day, maybe two.

Lastly when researching where to eat in Italy, be sure to check bloggers twice. Look for those who live in Italy and focus on regional cuisine like Monica Cesarato in Venice. These are the people who are so passionate about local Italian cuisines that they cannot help but share it. Plus, they have dedicated their time and expertise to learning as much as they can about it.

Restaurants in Italy Charge for Water

The majority of restaurants in America automatically provide tap water free of charge. Don’t be surprised this is not the case in Italy. Italian restaurants do not offer tap water unless you specifically request it by saying “acqua di rubinetto.” Fair warning, since culturally Italians do not ask for tap water, you might be met with some pause. Italians do drink tap water, but mostly at home or from public fountains, rarely in restaurants due to taste.

“Visitors arriving in cities or coastal regions will no doubt find the taste of the water a lot less pleasant. Hence waiters’ concerned expressions, warnings, and insistance on bringing bottled water in many areas of the country. Even at the simplest cafe or motorway service station, if you ask for a glass of water (which is common, and should be free) with your coffee, they’ll pour it from a bottle and not the tap. Usually into a plastic cup.”


In Italy waiters will offer the option of “l’aqua naturale or gassata/frizzante” still or sparkling water. In both cases, the restaurant will charge for the bottle of water. Typically the cost of a bottle of water in a restaurant is similar to what you would pay in a supermarket (1.50€ to 3.00€). All of that to say, bottled water is not a scam in Italian restaurants unless you’re being overcharged. It’s simply culture.

Do’s & Don’ts of Eating in Italy

The follow list of do’s and don’t of eating in Italy is like pizza dough, meant to be tossed around a little. If you disagree or have more questions, leave them in the comments below!

Don’t Haggle Over Coperto in Italy

Here are three reasons why you should not haggle over coperto in Italy. 1. Locals and tourists alike pay the same amount. So unlike what the tourist mentioned in the above story was ranting about, coperto is not a way to upcharge tourists or scam them out of money because… 2. Coperto is not a scam. It’s legal in Italy because restaurants list it either on the menu or in the restaurant to notify patrons ahead of time. 3. Coperto is a part of a deep cultural tradition that goes back to the middle ages. Learn more about the history of Coperto in Italy.

Don’t Tip Like an American in Italy

Tipping in Italy is like paying a good compliment. Always appreciated, never anticipated. Italians do tip but most often simply leave the change from the bill (usually a euro or two). Fun fact. Americans might be surprised to note how many waiters in Italy are adults and how few are teenagers. While many Americans see being a waiter as a job to pay the way through college, Italians respect the trade as many restaurants in Italy are still family-run. Plus, waiters in Italy are paid living wages unlike in America where tips are expected to make part of their wage. This is why the experience of eating in Italy is often more relaxing than in America, there’s no pressure! Tips on how much is appropriate to tip in Italy.

Do Ask for Recommendations

Since tipping is not part of the food culture in Italy, an Italian waiter’s salary does not depend on the size of your bill. This means a waiter’s recommendation is just that, a recommendation. Not an attempt to grow their tip by fattening up the bill. Asking for recommendations on what to order from your waiter is the quickest way to find out what dishes best represent the local cuisine.

Do Drink the Water

Tap water in Italy is indeed safe to drink. Unless you see a sign that reads ‘acqua non potabile’ so don’t be afraid to sip from fountains.

Don’t Drink from the Bottle

In a polite public setting, it’s considered rude to drink directly from a bottle of water in Italy. Be it on the train or in a restaurant, in Italy bottles of water are offered with a glass or a cup that should be accepted. Out and about in the city it’s fine but in a polite setting use the glass that’s offered.

Don’t Focus on Price When Ordering Wine

In American restaurants bottles are marked up 3 to 4 times their value. In Italy, restaurants do not focus on making money on wine. It’s seen more as a service. It is not uncommon to see bottles on the menu at cost. So don’t focus on price, focus on region and varietal and have fun exploring Italy through local wines.

Don’t Wait for the Check, Ask for It

Lingering over a meal to chat with family and friends is part of la dolce vita. Plates generally are not cleared quickly. Waiters typically ask if they may take your plate only if multiple courses are ordered or all plates on the table are clear. There is not a rush to turn the table.

Frequently when you ask for “il conto” the check, you’ll hear “paga alla cassa” pay the cashier. Many less formal restaurants across Italy ask their customers to pay at the cashier. Fair warning during lunch hour in bigger cities like Milan, Rome, and even Torino, the cashier line can get long! Just something to keep in mind when in a hurry.

When you’re ready to head out, the international hand signal of a checkmark in the air after making eye contact with the waiter (with a smile) will work. Those brave enough to learn a little Italian can simply say “Posso avere il conto per favore” (may I have the check please) or simply “il conto per favore” (check please).

Don’t Leave a Cash on the Table

In America, it’s not uncommon or rude to leave cash for the bill and tip on the table and leave. While cash is king in Italy (always carry Euros) polite Italians never leave cash on the table out of respect. Always hand cash to the waiter directly including tips with a simple “grazie” (thank you.) Speaking of speaking Italian.

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