Essential Italian Restaurant Vocabulary to Feast Like a Local

If there is anything in Italy that rivals its beauty, it is the food.

When you visit Italy, going to a restaurant is undoubtedly one of the first things you will do!

Maybe you are keeping to the must-see areas. Or maybe you are taking a more authentic approach. Either way, it is important to have some key Italian skills for ordering correctly (and politely!) at your disposal.

In this post, we will give you all the vocabulary words you need for finding a spot to eat, ordering your meal, getting it cooked the way you like it, washing it down with a delicious drink and lots more.

These vocabulary words are simple and straightforward, and you will likely recognize several cognates with English, which makes things even easier.

Once you have mastered these foundational restaurant words, you can find expressions for talking about food or conversing (…or arguing) with waitstaff in this article.

Hungry yet?

Essential Italian Restaurant Vocabulary to Feast Like a Local

With the exception of a few longer phrases, we have included links with each word where you can hear it pronounced in a native accent. Not only will this teach you how to actually use the words in real life, hearing them spoken can help them stick in your memory.

Where to Eat

Before anything else, you need to know where you are going! Here are some types of eateries you will find in Italy.


This one is pretty easy. It is a standard restaurant.


Much like a pub, these establishments are a more casual option. Here you can get more simple, homemade dishes at a lower price than restaurants.

Bar or caffè

In these places, you will often see people drinking coffee at the counter. That is because these are primarily for a quick drink. They may serve snacks or desserts, but you will also find a cover charge (or coperto) for table service. They are great for a quick shot of espresso!

Thinking of visiting a bar or caffè during your trip? Here is your guide to ordering coffee in Italian like a local.


This shop is named for what it sells! Here you will find sandwiches, or panini, made simply and with high-quality ingredients.


This is another easy one. These shops are where you can buy pizza!

Most places sell wood-fired pizzas for individual orders, but there are also many places that sell by the slice or by weight.


Who is serving you? Being able to address them makes it easier to ask questions or for recommendations.

Il cameriere

This is the Italian word for waiter. Remember that this word is only used for male servers.

La cameriera

This is the Italian term for waitress. This word is only used for female servers.

How to Talk with Your Waiter or Waitress

No matter where you go, it is important to be polite! Here are some common pleasantries and questions you may need to ask while dining out in Italian.


A formal way to say “hello.” Literally, it means “good day.”

Avete un tavolo per due?

When you arrive at a restaurant, you will want to ask for a table. This phrase means, “Do you have a table for two?”

If you know your numbers, you can easily change due (two) to however many people are looking to dine.

Cosa mi può raccomandare?

When you are not sure what looks good on the menu, ask your server what they can recommend for you!

Io prendo…

When you are ready to order, use this phrase to tell your server, “I will have…”

Possiamo avere il conto?

When you are all finished, here is how to ask the server for your bill.

Per favore

The all important magic word: “please.”


The other magic word: “thank you.”


A formal way to say goodbye on your way out.


Once you are in the restaurant and settled, what will you be ordering? It depends on the time of day!



In Italy, breakfast is light and simple. It usually consists of a pastry and an espresso or cappuccino.



For many, it is the most important meal of the day. Pranzo at home usually consists of pasta, a meat dish and a side of vegetables.



Locals tend to make it a lighter meal. It is eaten later in the evening, usually around 8 p.m. or after. It is typically a slow and social meal.


When you are looking through the menu, this is how the courses will likely be sorted.


These will be starters or appetizers. Usually, you will find cured meats, cheeses and vegetables.

Il primo

This is your first course. This will usually be a pasta dish.

Il secondo

This is your second course, or main course, depending on what region you are dining in. It consists of meat or fish. If you want something alongside it, though, you will have to order a contorno (side dish).

Il dolce

This is the sweetest course! Desserts can be anything from tiramisu to gelato, panna cotta to zeppole and a number of other sweet treats.


Is your table fully set? Do you need extra cutlery or plates? Here is what you need to ask for.

Il piatto

The plate

La ciotola

The bowl

La tazza

The cup

Il bicchiere

The glass

La forchetta

The fork

Il cucchiaio

The spoon

Il coltello

The knife


Now the really important part! Here is a wide variety of foods that you will likely see and order at Italian restaurants.

La zuppa



L’insalata, or “salad,” usually follows il secondo in Italy.

The selection will be more diverse than you might initially think.

You could get l’insalata caprese, with tomato, basil and mozzarella. Panzanella, or bread salad, is another delicious option. You can also get a more traditional salad with a mix of greens and veggies, and topped with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. L’insalata usually follows il secondo in Italy.

Il pane


Il riso


Il pasta


La pizza




In Italy, they would be served as il secondo, rather than with pasta in il primo.

La verdura


You will mostly find these on your menu in il contorno.

La carne


Il manzo


La bistecca


Florence is known for its beautiful bistecca alla fiorentina.

Il maiale


Il pollo


Il pesce


Il sugo


In simplest terms, it refers to pasta sauces (such as sugo di pomodoro, or “tomato sauce”) but can also refer to pan juices from meats.





You will often see dishes such as pasta con olio e aglio (pasta with oil and garlic).

Cooking Methods

Now that you know what you want to eat, how is it going to be cooked? Here are common preparation methods you will find on the menu.

Al forno

This refers to food that has been baked in the oven.


Fried food


The technical translation of this is “cooked,” although it can also mean “well done.”



This is often used to describe cured and thinly cut meats.




Your perfect meal needs the perfect drink to pair with it! Whether you are looking for water, coffee or alcohol, there are lots of options to choose from.

Vino rosso

Red wine

Vino bianco

White wine

Vino rosato

Rosé wine

La birra


Acqua naturale

Flat water

Acqua frizzante

Sparkling water

Acqua gassata

Carbonated water

Il succo



Coffee with foamed milk

Il caffè

Espresso coffee

You will be served a shot in a small cup. For a more familiar coffee, order il caffè Americano.


A post-dinner liqueur


This list of Italian restaurant vocabulary will help prepare you for dining out in Italy. You should now feel comfortable in most restaurant scenarios you will come across! Happy eating!

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe