Florence, Italy - About the City - Eating Out
The menu at restaurants in Italy, as well as in Italian homes, follows a typical series of courses. Which courses you eat can depend on the type of restaurant you choose. Which courses you eat can depend on the type of restaurant you choose. You can order all courses at once or wait to see how hungry you are before ordering additional courses.
Menus are displayed outside most restaurants, trattorias and pizzerias for you to consider before entering and ordering. Some places offer a fixed-price menu, called a Menu Turistico, which consists of various choices of courses. A fixed menu is a great way to try new foods without spending a lot of money.
Most menus will have the following:
- Antipasto: Appetizer Course. The word antipasto means "before the meal." Antipasti are much smaller portions than most American appetizers. In Tuscany, you will be served bruschetta (sliced bread with tomatoes), crostini (chicken-liver patè) and affettati misti toscani (sliced cold cuts).
- Primo Piatto: First Course. The first course consists of a pasta, rice, or soup. The primi piatti are usually small portions (usually 100 grams of pasta) unlike the large bowls of pasta you may be accustomed to in Italian restaurants in the U.S.
- Secondo Piatto: Main Course. The second course: meat, chicken, or fish. These are served alone, or with side dishes, but not with pasta or rice.
- Contorno: Side Dish Course. Contorni are to accompany the meat dish but can be ordered alone.
- Fromaggio: Cheese. Rich cheeses are served upon request, after the meal. The cheese course is less common in central Italy.
- Dolce: Dessert. In Italian homes, usually a piece of fruit finishes off a meal, but in restaurants you can order cakes, biscotti (cookies), gelato (ice cream), or other dolci della casa (homemade desserts).
- Caffè: Coffee. Italians order an espresso after the meal. Americans, when visiting Italy, like to order a cappuccino, however, in Italy, a cappuccino is considered a breakfast beverage and many restaurants do not serve it.
There are a number of different types of eating establishments in Italy. They vary in price, menu, size, and quality, and fall into the following categories:
- Ristorante: A ristorante is a restaurant that serves full meals where you are expected to eat multiple courses. (Courses include: antipasto, primo piatto, secondo piatto, contorno, dolce, and caffè.) They are often expensive, well appointed, and complete with good service. See our guide to Florentine ristoranti.
- Trattoria: A trattoria has a more familiar quality to it than a ristorante. Generally, a trattoria is smaller and more informal so you can order fewer courses.
- Pizzeria: A pizzeria serves pizza, usually cooked in a wood-burning oven. Other antipasti, contorni, and primi piatti are available. Pizzerie are fairly inexpensive and informal. Florence has a few hotline numbers for Pizza a domicilio (pizza delivery). Just ask the Resident Director for pizzarie that deliver. See our guide to Florentine pizzerie.
- Tavola Calda and Self-Service Eateries: These are the Italian equivalent to "fast-food" places. They offer more mass-produced food. Some menus at tavole calde are simple, and self-service eateries have food that is prepared ahead of time. You can pick and choose what you would like to eat and seat yourself for no extra charge.
- Rosticceria: A rosticceria is Italy's equivalent to "take-out" food. All the food from pasta to chicken is prepared ahead of time and ready for you to eat there or take home. Though the atmosphere is very informal, prices can be high because the food is ready "da portare via" (to go).
- Birreria: A bierreria, more than a place to have a beer, serves light meals, sandwiches, and other appetizers.
- Paninoteca: A paninoteca is usually a fast-food sandwich shop that has hamburgers and salads as well. They are sometimes a bit over-priced and lack quality. See our guide to Florentine paninoteche.
Italians do not tip as we do in the United States. Tips are usually included int he bill for the service that is provided. This includes hotel porters, taxis, bars, almost all restaurants, and pubs. In restaurants, the service charge is included in the bill which is equivalent to a "tip," and is usually 10-15%.
If however, you have exceptional service and would like to leave a little something extra, leaving one or two euros is considered generous!
The word "bar," though obviously an English word, has a much different meaning in Italy than in the United States. Besides drinks from cappuccino to whiskey, you can find pastries for breakfast, or sandwiches, pasta, and pizza for lunch. Bars that display the black or white "T" on the outside often have cigarettes, bus and lottery tickets, stamps, and phone cards.
Italians go to the "bar" also to meet up with friends or colleagues daily to discuss everything from politics to the latest soccer matches. The offerings at each bar vary, and you will know quickly which ones you prefer. You may also establish a relationship with the bar staff and become a regular yourself!
Bar Charges: Standing vs. Sitting
In Italy, and especially in important tourist cities like Florence, there are two different prices for items consumed standing al banco (at the bar) and a tavola (seated at a table). An espresso served by a waiter at a table can be trip the price of one consumed while standing at the bar. When you are seated at a table, you are paying not only for your coffee, but you are also "renting" the table.
If you choose to eat or drink at the bar, decide first what you would like and pay at the cassa (cash register). The cashier will give you a scontrino (receipt) which you will then present to the bartender when you order.
You should never order a drink at the bar and then sit at a table unless it is a very small, informal bar, and you have first asked permission.