Uno Minuto - Italian Dining Tips
Above all, plan to eat like an Italian. You may find that there are some differences in the way Italians eat, but this is part of your cultural experience in a country legendary for the quality of its gastronomic traditions.
Italians eat discrete meals at regular times and generally do not snack. For this reason, restaurants are not typically open continuously throughout the day, and hotel restaurants do not offer meals all day long. Italians will eat a simple breakfast of coffee and a pastry with perhaps fresh-squeezed juice. They will eat a proper lunch around midday of a plate of pasta or risotto or soup with a salad or vegetable, and restaurants typically serve lunch from around 12-2:30 and then close until they reopen for dinner. Italians will eat a larger lunch with family on Sundays or holidays, in which case dinner that evening will be very light.
In Italy, dinner is prepared and served in courses: Antipasto, primo piatto, secondo, verdure, dolci, café. Dinner is not just about eating, it is a time for social conviviality with friends and family—that is the primary purpose. It is very rude for waiters to rush you while dining out. The kitchen is preparing the courses in this order as this is customary in Italy, so if you would like to start with a salad, and then have some chicken, followed by risotto, this is the opposite of how the kitchen prepares food--requests to eat your courses out of order may take longer to prepare, and certainly may get lost in translation between the waiter and the kitchen. Being served your dinner at a slower pace than we are accustomed to with freshly prepared dishes coming out as they are ready is not “bad service,” it is a local dining cultural tradition to be enjoyed.
Finally, for aperitivo hour or cocktail events, Italians feel it is most healthful to have some food to nibble on while you are drinking alcohol, so expect to be served peanuts, olives, or potato chips when heading out for a drink.
My amica, Lora of the culinary travel blog Savoring Italy, remarks that “Eating in Italy is never rushed. The meals are to be savored and enjoyed. The conversation and company is just as important as the food!!”