You have made one of the best decisions ever: you are going to Italy or should I say Eat-a-ly.. Too soon for a food pun? Okay, okay, so you are planning your trip to a country that gives off all of the romantic vibes, but now you have questions about the restaurants. Of course, you are wanting to tempt your taste buds and fire up your palate with those amazing flavors of Italy. Here are the best restaurant tips in Italy to help you plan an amazing journey and make sure you do not miss out. I mean who does not go to Italy to eat the local cuisine?
Also, make sure to read until the end because we learned a huge lesson from a local born/raised in Italy who had spent some time working in the US restaurant industry and was back in Italy. All I can say is: mind blown!
1. If you want to go to a popular restaurant that you have seen on a blog/instagram/tiktok, call a few months ahead to get reservations. There are some cell phone plans that will not dial out of the country. Also, some restaurants in Italy only take phone reservations. Venice has a highly sought after restaurant called “La Zucca” which is literally the pumpkin. They have many wonderful pumpkin and vegetarian dishes.
I wanted to go there and my phone would not dial the international number. I contacted the hotel we had booked in Venice by email and explained the situation. They were happy to make our reservations for us and emailed a confirmation for the date/time of our reservation! If you have a travel agent, of course, let them do this for you!
2. Authentic Italian restaurants and smaller restaurants off the main streets will often only have a menu in Italian. This was the case with “La Zucca” in Venice. You can download an app on your phone to be prepared and take a photo of the menu. The app will translate the menu from Italian to English to help you order. If a dish name is only a word in Italian, you will have to do an online search.
This happened at a few restaurants where there was no direct English translation. In order to assist with this, we used Translate Now. The Translate Now app did charge us after a few days and we had to cancel it after the trip to stop additional charges. Google Translate also has an app that you can try for this as well.
3. Do not eat at restaurants that have pictures of the food on the window or door. There are very few exceptions to this. These are usually tourist traps right on the main street. If you walk one or two streets over from the main street, you will find much more authentic Italian food that you may actually want to “write home” about.
4. You will be charged a sitting fee at sit down restaurants called “coperto.” The fee is around 2-4 euros per person. Unfortunately, there is no way around this fee if you dine in. You can avoid a “coperto” charge by using counter service. You can get deli sandwiches, flatbread, arancini, and other quick bites with counter service. To save money on the “coperto” fees, we usually had to go lunches.
5. There is no such thing as free water at a restaurant in Italy. You have to purchase a bottle of water to have water with your meal. They have either naturale/still or frizzante/sparkling water to purchase. There are some places around Italy where you can still fill up a bottle of water.
Venice and Rome had public fountains to fill up your water bottle. It makes it more difficult to get your 80 ounces in a day when you are paying for all of the water and sharing it with the table.
6. Make a list of food dishes you want to try for each city you journey to in Italy. There are must try foods for each region and big city. You can find my suggestions in my Best Cities in Italy for Foodies post. As always, try pasta, gelato, cannolis, and wine as many places as you can!
7. Do not expect a line for a tip on your credit card receipt. Also, do not expect the ipad screen to automatically ask you about a tip.
8. The tip of the iceberg… on tipping. So, you will read many different things on tipping in Italy. You will read that a tip is appreciated, but never expected. Also, tip your spare change or up to 10%. Before our journey, we read that a tip was never expected in Italy.
Then, we had a driver from Naples to Positano who had worked in a restaurant in Florida for several years and he moved back to Italy. The way he explained it to us changed our perspective. He explained it like this. When he worked in Florida, he made a very low wage as a waiter and most of his income came from tips. If Americans had not tipped 15-20%, he would never have made a living wage.
In Italy, restaurants do not pay wait staff below minimum wage like in the US. They are paid a “supposed living wage.” Furthermore, he explained that this is not always a living wage for everyone though from his experience so when they say tipping is appreciated, we should consider tipping the 10%.
Of course, we asked about the “coperto” thinking that went to the waiter and he kindly told us the sitting fee goes to the restaurant owner in Italy not to the waiter. We had no idea and wished we could go back and redo all of our past dining experiences during our journey through Italy. And not just to eat everything again (that would just be a bonus), but to change the way we tipped. You live and you learn. That was a valuable lesson to hear it from someone who had worked in the industry.
9. Whatever you choose to do, please just try something different. Whether you try a different restaurant, different dish, different drink, or different dessert. Italy has so many diverse food choices across all the regions. If it is not your cup of tea (no pun intended), just try something else!