Eating out in Italy: Cestino del Pane - Bread basket

Eating Out In Italy: How to Read and Understand Italian Menu

Eating out in Italy is an exciting part of any travel adventure, as it allows you to immerse yourself in the vibrant culture and indulge in delectable local dishes.
A trip to Italy would be incomplete without savouring its delicious food.

However, if you’re not familiar with the local language, navigating an Italian menu might seem a bit intimidating.

But don’t worry!

To help make your dining experience in Italy more enjoyable, here’s my handy guide to some common Italian menu terminology for tourists.

Types of Restaurants in Italy

Italy boasts an array of restaurants, each offering a distinct ambiance and menu.

Here are some popular restaurant types you’ll encounter in Italy:

  • Trattoria or Trattorie (plural) are casual, family-owned restaurants serving traditional Italian dishes at wallet-friendly prices.
  • Osteria resembles Trattoria, a quaint, family-run spot, but mainly focuses on rustic meals and wine.
  • Ristorante features a more upscale atmosphere, presenting high-end Italian gastronomy, a spacious dining area, and an extensive menu.
  • Pizzeria is the go-to spot for pizza lovers, specialising in everyone’s favourite casual dish: pizza!

Eating out in Italy: Navigating Italian Menus

Italian cuisine embraces a deeply rooted sequence of courses, entrenched not only in restaurants but also in Italian households. Traditionally, Italian meals comprise several distinct courses and dishes. Don’t fret, though! Ordering every course isn’t obligatory; think of the menu as a guide and select what entices you.

The following are the most common courses on an Italian menu:

Eating out in Italy: Antipasto - Starter / Appetizer


The appetisers or starters served before the main course are known as antipasti. 

They can be served hot or cold and frequently contain a variety of cured meats, cheeses, olives, and vegetables.

Antipasti meals that are popular include bruschetta, Italian cheese platters, prosciutto, and mozzarella.

Eating out in Italy: Primi piatti - First Course Gricia and Cacio e pepe pasta dishes
Primo piatto – First course (Gricia and Cacio e Pepe in Rome)

Primi (piatti)

Primi are the first courses of a meal, which are usually pasta, risotto, or soup dishes. This is where the delicious carbs make their appearance. Primi are typically smaller portions than the main course, but they are still very filling.

Eating out in Italy: Secondo - Main course
Secondo – Main course

Secondi (Piatti)

Secondi are the main courses of a meal, which are usually meat or fish dishes.

Unlike dining in the US, in Italy, secondi will come as a standalone dish, typically served with a side dish such as vegetables or potatoes.

Some popular secondi dishes include bistecca alla fiorentina and pesce alla griglia (grilled fish).


Contorni are the side dishes that are served with the main course and are roasted, grilled, or steamed vegetables, potatoes, or salads.

Eating out in Italy: Dolci – dessert (Maritozzi in Rome)


Dolci are the desserts that are served at the end of a meal, featuring a selection of cakes, pies, tarts, and spoon desserts like tiramisu and panna cotta.

Don’t forget to try Italy’s favourite ice cream, Gelati, or the partially frozen, creamy semifreddi desserts drizzled with fruit or chocolate sauce.


Bevande is the beverage that is served with a meal.

They can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic, and they include wine, beer, soda, and water, which can be “naturale (still water) or Gassata (sparkling water.)” 

Some popular Italian wines include Chianti, Barolo, and Prosecco, but you can always ask for suggestions.

Che vino mi consiglia? (What wine do you recommend?)


We usually end a meal with un caffè, the Italian word for coffee, which is a strong, concentrated espresso served in a small cup.

In Italy, coffee is served after dessert, not with it.

Also, we believe that milk interferes with digestion; this is the main reason why we drink cappuccino or caffé latte only in the morning, opting for a macchiato later in the day after midday or to end evening meals.


Digestivi are after-dinner drinks that are meant to aid digestion. They are usually alcoholic, and they include liqueurs, grappa, and amaro.

Some popular digestivi drinks include limoncello or amari, a grape brandy infused with botanicals or spices and sweetened with sugar syrup.

Making a Table Reservation in Italian

If you’re willing to dine at a specific restaurant in Italy, I highly recommend that you make a reservation in advance. 

Here are some phrases you can use to make a table reservation in Italian:

Buongiorno, vorrei prenotare un tavolo per due persone alle 8.

(Good morning, I would like to reserve a table for two people at 8 o’clock.)

Possible answers would be:

Non abbiamo più tavoli. (We have no tables.)

Siamo al completo. (We are fully booked.)

Or if they have tables, they will ask you for your name:

A nome di chi è la prenotazione? (The reservation is in whose name?)

Or they’ll simply say: Si, qual’è il suo nome? (Sure, what is your name?)

When you get there, you say:

Buona sera, ho prenotato un tavolo per due alle 8. Sono … and your name.

(Good evening, I’ve reserved a table for two at 8 o’clock. My name is (your name).)

If you haven’t reserved a table, you can ask them:

Avete un tavolo per due persone?

(Do you have a table for … (number)?) 

They may tell you that you have to wait: 

Deve aspettare che si liberi. (You must wait for the table to become available.)

So you may ask:

Quanto dura l’attesa? (How long is the wait?)

Once you’re seated, you’re sure to be given a menu, but just in case you have to ask, say:

Possiamo vedere il menu, per favore? (May we see the menu, please?)

You may want to ask if they have it in English, you say:

Avete un menu in inglese? (Do you have a menu in English?)

Ordering Food in Italian

When ordering food in Italy, knowing some basic Italian phrases can come in handy. 

Here are some phrases you can use to order food in Italian:

Cosa ci consiglia? – What do you recommend? 

Sono allergica / o a … – I’m allergic (f/m) to … 

Vorrei ordinare il piatto del giorno, per favore. (I would like to order the dish of the day, please.)

Prendo un’insalata mista, per favore. (I would like a mixed salad, please.)

Vorrei una pizza margherita, per favore. (I would like a margherita pizza, please.)

Were you able to grasp the sentence structure from the examples given above?

It’s as simple as saying:

Vorrei… or Prendo … followed by any item on the menu.

Let’s look at some of the items you might find on a menu:

Il piatto del giorno – the dish of the day

La pizza – pizza

Il manzo – beef

Il pollo – chicken

Il tacchino – turkey

Le polpette – meatballs

La bistecca – steak

La cotoletta – breaded cutlet

La cotoletta alla bolognese – Bolognese-style cutlet

La cotoletta alla milanese – Milanese-style cutlet

Il pesce – fish

Il baccalà – cod (dried)

La spigola – sea bass

Il pesce spada – swordfish

I gamberi – prawns

Le acciughe / alici – anchovies

Le scaloppine – scallops

I calamari – squid

Le cozze – mussels

Il polpo – octopus

L’aragosta – lobster

Il granchio – crab

I gamberi – prawn

I gamberetti – shrimp

Il riso – rice

La pasta – pasta

La verdura – vegetables

Le patate – potatoes

Un insalata – salad

La zuppa – soup

Sale e pepe – salt and pepper

Le bevande – drinks / beverages

Un bicchiere / una bottiglia – Glass / Bottle 

Cucchiaio / Forchetta / Coltello – Spoon / Fork / Knife

Tovagliolo – Napkin

Il vino bianco / rosso – White / red wine

Il vino della casa – House wine 

L’acqua frizzante/naturale – sparkling/still water 

L’acqua leggermente gassata –slightly sparkling water

La birra – beer

Il succo – juice

Il succo di frutta – fruit juice

It’s decision time, but you have some questions:

Potremmo avere ancora qualche minuto? – May we have a few more minutes? 

Qual è la specialità della casa? – What is the house’s speciality?

Cosa ha preso quella persona? – What is that person having?

Qual’è il piatto del giorno? – What is the day’s special? 

Cosa mi / ci (plural) consiglia? – What do you recommend?

Avete le porzioni per bambini? – Do you have children’s portions?

Potremmo avere altro pane, per favore? – May we have some more bread, please?

Asking for the Bill in Italian

When you are ready to pay for your meal, you can ask for the bill in Italian using these phrases:

Il conto, per favore. – The bill, please.

Posso avere il conto, per favore? – Can I have the bill, please?

Posso pagare con carta di credito? – Can I pay with a credit card?

In Italy, a tip is not mandatory but pretty much appreciated; however, there’s no need to pay 20 percent or even more than 20 percent extra.

We usually round up to the nearest euro; for example, if a restaurant bill is 46 euro, it is customary to leave 50 euro without asking for change.

However, on a 100-euro bill, it’s more fair to leave a 10-euro tip, which is 10%.

If you’re paying in cash and want to leave a tip, say:

Tenga il resto – Keep the change.

If you’re paying with a credit card, you can leave the tip (in money) on the table under a glass or in the bill holder along with the signed credit card receipt.

I’ve written a complete guide on tipping in Italy, you find it here!

In conclusion, Italian cuisine is a must-try for any food lover.

By understanding Italian menu terminology and basic phrases, you can fully immerse yourself in the culinary experience.

No matter if you’re dining at a cosy trattoria or a more formal ristorante, reserving a table, placing your order, and requesting the bill in Italian can truly enhance your dining experience, making it more enjoyable and authentic.

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to leave a comment or DM me, I’ll be happy to help.

Ciao e Buon viaggio!

I'm a freelance travel designer and writer, and I absolutely love what I do. Writing has always been a passion of mine, and traveling is the ultimate source of inspiration for me. In fact, I became particularly drawn to planning travel experiences in Italy back in 2015, and I've been hooked ever since! I'm what you might call a "slow traveler" - someone who likes to take their time exploring new places and soaking up different cultures. And when I started writing about my travels a few years ago, I was blown away by the incredible opportunity it gave me to share my experiences with others and learn from them in turn. It's truly an amazing thing!