1. There is no such thing as free water. If you want water at a restaurant you’re going to have to pay up. Restaurants usually charge about 1.5 euros for a bottle of water, price depends on the size of the bottle and the location of the restaurant. The tap water in Italy is drinkable, and many restaurants will allow you to bring water from outside.
2. Restaurants charge you to sit down. Restaurants will charge you a “sitting fee” of about 2 euros to sit at one of their tables or counters. This is why many servers, especially in tourist areas, will try and aggressively sell you on why you should eat there.
3. Expect to pay for the “free” bread or chips at the table. Nothing is free at restaurants in Italy. Repeat. NOTHING is free. In America, we are used to indulging complimentary bread or breadsticks before our meal. But in Italy, they might bring it out without asking you, and expect to see it on your bill.
4. There will be smoking at outdoor restaurants. Having a relaxing glass of wine or cigarette during lunch or dinner is completely normal, so expect to be sitting next to tables of smokers. Many of the tables will already come with an ashtray, and several of the restaurants have cigarette vending machines.
5. Don’t eat Chinese food! As a spoiled SoCal gal, I had a major craving for some good ole’ dumplings, fried rice, and rice porridge. Yet what I got was the saltiest, strange food vaguely resembling “Chinese” food. Yup, never again.
6. Don’t expect servers to be super smiley or accommodating. Since servers aren’t living off tips they’re much less likely to bend over backwards for you while maintaining a smile like they do in America.
7. Expect your coffee strong. Coffee in Italy is an important affair, and nothing like the cold sweet drinks we’re used to at Starbucks. When I asked for an ice coffee at a café, they gave me an utterly confused look, and ended up giving me a coffee that was shaken over ice. Frappuccinos and iced Latte’s are just not a thing here; with most Italians drinking a straight shot of espresso every morning or as a desert after their meal.
8. Five course meals are a must have at some restaurants. A few restaurants we tried to frequent would not let us dine if we didn’t order at least three courses. The Italian dinner is a big deal and often comes complete with an antipasto/primo/secondo/contorno/and dolce. The antipasto is something to nibble on before the meal, often olives, nuts, or a glass of wine. The antipasto is the first course, usually a pasta, risotto, rice, polento, or charcuterie platter. The secondo is the second course, usually a chicken, fish, or meat dish. The contorno is a platter of vegetables that accompany the second course, and lastly, the dolce is the dessert!
9. McDonalds is neither quick nor cheap. When we stopped at a McDonalds in a more rural area, our order took almost 20 minutes to come out even though there was no one else there. There is definitely a more laid back culture, and they felt no need to rush our order. Plus, the McDonalds was pricier, with fish filets costing 4 euros and no soda fountain, only bottled juices and canned soda.
10. Breakfast is simple. We usually ate a really simple breakfast at a café or the hotel. There is no such thing as pancakes and waffles here, instead a piece of toast with tomato puree and a few slices of prosciutto will do the trick.