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.
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.
FluentU is another great resource to internalize these words without sweating over a pile of flashcards.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons, as you can see here:
FluentU helps you get comfortable with everyday Italian by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with interactive subtitles.
Tap on any word to instantly see an image, in-context definition, example sentences and other videos in which the word is used.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and review words and phrases with convenient audio clips under Vocab.
Once you’ve watched a video, you can use FluentU’s quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in that video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
FluentU will even keep track of all the Italian words you’ve learned to recommend videos and ask you questions based on what you already know.
Plus, it’ll tell you exactly when it’s time for review. Now that’s a 100% personalized experience!
The best part? You can try FluentU for free with a 15-day trial.
Start using Fluent on the website, or better yet, download the app from the iTunes or Google Play store for iOS and Android devices.
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.
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.
This is the Italian word for waiter. Remember that this word is only used for male servers.
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!
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.
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.
This is your first course. This will usually be a pasta dish.
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).
Is your table fully set? Do you need extra cutlery or plates? Here is what you need to ask for.
Now the really important part! Here is a wide variety of foods that you will likely see and order at Italian restaurants.
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.
In Italy, they would be served as il secondo, rather than with pasta in il primo.
You will mostly find these on your menu in il contorno.
Florence is known for its beautiful bistecca alla fiorentina.
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).
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.
This refers to food that has been baked in the oven.
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.
Coffee with foamed milk
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!
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