During your Italy vacation, chances are you are going to hit the restaurant pretty often. Even if you are renting an apartment with the idea of preparing most of your meals yourself, you are likely to eat out sometimes anyway. This is why knowing how to order food in Italian is important.
In this article, I’m going to guide you through the different eateries and suggest what to say when you are ordering food in Italian, whether you are at a restaurant, at a pizza place or just having a sandwich at the bar.
How to order food in an Italian restaurant
When entering a restaurant in Italy, you are immediately greeted by the waiter or waitress who will take you to your table after asking you either if you have reserved or how many people you are. As soon as you arrive, you should expect to hear:
Avete prenotato? (Did you book?)
Quanti siete? (How many are you?)
This is when you will answer either if you have a reservation made under your name or how many people you are:
Sì, abbiamo prenotato a nome di Angela (Yes, we have booked under the name of Angela)
Siamo quattro (We are four)
Siamo due adulti e un bambino (We are two adults and a toddler/child)
If you are with a toddler and need a highchair, you will ask:
Avete un seggiolone per il bambino? (Do you have a highchair for the baby/child?)
When you are finally seated, likely the waiter will ask you immediately if he can bring you water:
Posso portarvi dell’acqua? (Can I bring you some water?)
If your answer is yes, he will ask you whether you want it still or sparkling:
Liscia o frizzante? (Still or sparkling?)
Sometimes, for sparkling, they will use the term “leggermente“, which means “slightly”. In Rome’s restaurants, this usually means that they bring you Nepi water, which is natural and very nice.
At this point, the waiter will give you the menu. If he doesn’t, you can ask for it:
Possiamo avere il menù? (Can we have the menu?)
We are lucky because our 3-year-old eats pretty much everything and likes to try always new dishes and flavors, but if you’d rather stick to typical kids’ favorites for your children, you can ask for a kids’ menu or some simple dishes like pasta with tomato sauce or with butter or oil and a sprinkle of Parmigiano.
Avete un menù per bambini? (Do you have a kids’ menu?)
The menu is always a list of everything the restaurant offers. Sometimes, they will have two separate menus, one for the dishes and one for the drinks and wines. When ordering food in Italy, it will become much easier if you also know the most common terms. For this, you can check out our complete guide to the most used Italian words for foods and drinks for some reference and a good starting point.
When ordering food in Italian at a restaurant, you will notice that the dishes are divided into several courses:
- Antipasti (Starters/Appetizers)
- Primi (First courses)
- Secondi (Main dishes)
- Contorni (Side dishes)
- Dolci (Desserts)
- Bevande (Drinks)
- Vini (Wines)
Don’t miss our guide to the right customs of eating in Italy.
The appetizers are bite-size delicacies served at the beginning of the meal. After the starters, you can either order the first course, which will usually be pasta or rice (risotto), or skip the first and directly order the main. Mains are often larger portions and involve meat, fish, or cheese.
Together with the main, you can order a side dish, usually including seasonal veggies often grilled, fresh salad, French fries, and roasted potatoes.
At the end of the meal, you will see a list of sweets and cakes that might change depending on the region. The most common you can find pretty much all over Italy include:
- Panna cotta
- Sorbetto al limone (Lemon sorbet)
For reference, make sure you read our guide to the typical Italian dishes listed by region.
Sometimes, restaurants have off-the-menu dishes of the day that can be both first courses and mains. If you wish to try any of these that change every day and are usually made with seasonal ingredients, you can ask the waiter:
Cos’è il piatto del giorno? (What’s the dish of the day?)
If you are not sure about what’s a dish, what ingredients it’s made with, or if you need tips to choose, waiters are happy to help. Menus always contain a list of allergens, but if you are unsure, you can enquire about it.
Cos’è questo piatto? (What’s this dish?)
Cosa ci consiglia? (What do you recommend?)
Questo piatto contiene latticini/glutine/carne/arachidi/crostacei/uova? (Does this dish contain dairy/gluten/meat/peanuts/shellfish/eggs?)
Sono allergico ai latticini/al lattosio (I’m allergic to dairy/I’m lactose-intolerant)
Sono celiaco (I’m celiac/I have celiac disease)
Sono intollerante al glutine (I’m gluten-intolerant)
Sono vegetariano/vegano (I’m vegetarian/vegan)
If the waiter comes to take the order and you haven’t decided yet, you can ask for more time:
Abbiamo bisogno ancora di qualche minuto (We still need a few more minutes)
Non abbiamo ancora deciso (We haven’t decided yet)
Non siamo ancora pronti per ordinare (We are not ready to order yet)
When you are ready to order, you can go for any of these:
Sono pronto/Siamo pronti per ordinare (I am/We are ready to order)
Io prendo risotto ai funghi porcini (I will have porcini mushrooms risotto)
Per me tagliatelle al ragù (For me, tagliatelle on a ragout sauce)
Come primo prendo bucatini all’amatriciana (As first course, I will have bucatini amatriciana)
Come secondo prendo un fritto di calamari (As a main, I will have fried squid)
La bistecca la preferisco al sangue (I prefer my steak rare)
Ci dividiamo il secondo (We will share the main dish)
Per il momento ordiniamo solo il primo (For the moment, we will order only the first course)
There is also a huge variety of wines, served either bottled or loose like the house wine or “vino della casa”. As a general rule that you don’t need to follow every time, if you order meat, they will suggest a red wine, while with fish, the recommended wine is usually white. There is nothing wrong, however, in ordering red wine with fish. You will see this in many fishermen’s boats, towns, and homes.
Here are some of the main phrases you will need when ordering drinks and wines in Italian.
Possiamo avere la carta dei vini? (Can we have the wine list?)
Cosa avete come vini rossi/bianchi? (What red/white wines do you have?)
Ci porta il vino della casa, per favore? (Can you bring us the house wine, please?)
Posso avere un calice di vino rosso/bianco, per favore? (Can I have a glass of red/white wine, please?)
Ci porta una bottiglia di vino rosso/bianco, per favore? (Can you bring us a bottle of red/white wine, please?)
Mi porta una birra bionda/rossa piccola/media alla spina? (Can I have a glass of blonde/red small/medium draft beer?)
When you ask for a small glass of beer, you will get lt. 0.2/0.25, while if you ask for a medium, they will bring you lt. 0.4/0.5.
What if, while eating, your fork falls down? Or your knife? Here is how you can ask for one more:
Mi è caduta la forchetta, me ne può portare una pulita? (My fork fell under the table, can I have a clean one?
Posso avere un altro coltello/cucchiaio/bicchiere/piatto, per favore? (Can I have another knife/spoon/glass/plate, please?)
Posso avere un po’ di parmigiano grattugiato per la pasta? (Can I have more grated parmigiano for my pasta?)
Often, the waiter will ask you if you are happy with your meal or if you need anything:
Va tutto bene? (Is everything OK?)
Avete bisogno di qualcosa? (Do you need anything?)
To which you can answer:
Va tutto bene, grazie (Everything is fine, thank you)
È tutto buonissimo/ottimo, grazie (Everything is delicious, thank you)
If there is something wrong, you can also tell the waiter:
Questo non è il piatto che abbiamo ordinato (This is not the dish we’ve ordered)
È troppo salato (This is too salty)
La pasta è troppo al dente (My pasta is too al dente/hard)
La mia pasta è scotta (My pasta is overcooked)
La bistecca è troppo al sangue, può ripassarla ai ferri, per favore? (My steak is too rare, can you grill a bit more, please?)
If you have ordered too much and are not able to finish, you can ask to wrap the leftover in a doggy bag to take home with you.
Possiamo portare via gli avanzi? (Can you wrap the leftovers to takeaway?)
At this point, the waiter will ask you if you would like coffee or dessert. Usually, the dessert comes first and the last is the coffee. If I take the dessert, I always ask for the coffee to be brought together so I don’t add sugar to my coffee. Here is what the waiter will say now:
Gradite un dolce, il caffè? (Would you like dessert, coffee?)
And you can answer or say:
Possiamo avere il menù dei dolci? (Can we have the menu for the dessert?)
Un caffè (An espresso)
Per me, un caffè lungo/americano (I will have a long/American coffee)
Posso avere zucchero di canna/il dolcificante? (Can I have brown sugar/sweetener?)
Once you are done eating and ready to leave, you will ask for the bill. Most of the time, the waiter will bring you the check at the table and you will pay it to him directly. Sometimes, they will bring you the bill and you take it to the check out to pay it. Here is what you can say.
Può portarci il conto per favore? (Can we have the bill please?)
Paghiamo qui o alla cassa? (Shall we pay here or at the till?)
The receipt might include 10% of service or not. Either way, don’t feel compelled to leave the tip (mancia) as in Italy it’s not mandatory. However, it’s appreciated, especially if the service is not included in the bill. You can leave it on the table when you leave or give it to the waiter directly.
Before leaving, you can ask where is the toilet. I usually go when I arrive so I can wash my hands, but really this is something you need any time in restaurants, bars, and pizza places.
Scusi, dov’è il bagno? (Excuse me, where is the restroom?)
How to order food in Italian at a pizzeria
Similarly to the restaurants, when you enter, the waiter will greet you and ask you if you have booked a table or how many you are.
Once you are seated, the first thing he will bring you water and then ask you what you would like to drink and bring you the menu:
Cosa gradite da bere? (What would you like to drink?)
Cosa posso portarvi da bere? (What can I bring you to drink?)
Some pizza places in Italy will also prepare other dishes, but if they are original and authentic pizzerias, you are going to find only pizza and starters, usually deep-fried specialties typical of the Neapolitan tradition.
Some of the starters you can find in a pizza place include:
- Crocchette di patate (potato croquettes)
- Olive all’ascolana (stuffed and deep-fried Ascolana olives)
- Supplì (deep-fried rice balls)
- Bruschetta (toasted bread topped with fresh tomatoes, anchovies, or cold cuts)
If you are hungry, by all means, order some starters as they are delicious. I usually don’t otherwise I’m not able to finish my pizza.
At this point, the waiter will ask you what food you would like:
Vi porto un antipasto? (Can I bring you some starters?)
Cosa vi posso portare? (What can I get you?)
There are many different pizza toppings in Italy to meet everyone’s preferences and dietary needs. Some places will also serve whole-grain pizza, so the dough is made with whole-grain flour or other types of flour such as rice flour for celiacs. If you are gluten-intolerant, make sure you tell the waiter so that you know if they have this option.
Some of the most common pizzas you will find in Italy include:
- Margherita (with tomato and mozzarella cheese)
- Marinara (with tomato, garlic, and oregano)
- Napoletana (with anchovies)
- Quattro stagioni (with artichokes, black olives, mushrooms, ham)
- Capricciosa (artichokes, black olives, mushrooms, anchovies)
- Diavola (usually the Margherita base with the addition of spicy hot salami)
At a pizzeria, some of the things you can ask the waiter would be:
Si può avere una pizza baby? (Can we have a baby-size pizza?)
Posso avere la Quattro Stagioni senza il prosciutto? (Can I have the Quattro Stagioni pizza without ham?)
Nella mia pizza si può mettere la mozzarella senza lattosio? (Can you use lactose-free mozzarella in my pizza?)
For the drinks, it’s around the same as in restaurants. Pizza places, however, usually have fewer wine options because with pizza, ordering a beer is more common.
Ordering pizza al taglio in Italian
Apart from grabbing a table in a pizzeria, in Italy, you can grab a pizza al taglio and enjoy it on the go street food style. In the same pizzeria al taglio, you can also buy supplì/arancini (deep-fried rice balls), croquettes, deep-fried zucchini flowers, and more, all very popular street foods in Rome. When ordering pizza by the slice in Italian, these are some of the things you can say:
Mi dà un pezzo di questa pizza Margherita? (Can you give me a piece of this Margherita pizza?)
Questa pizza cos’è/cosa contiene? (What is this pizza/What is this pizza made with?)
The seller will show you the amount of the pizza he can cut with the knife and ask you:
Va bene così? (Is this piece enough?)
Desidera qualcos’altro/un altro pezzo? (Would you like more pizza?)
In these pizza places, you can buy also bottled drinks such as water, coke, beer, and soft drinks. Usually, you take them from the fridge and bring them to the checkout to pay together with your pizza.
Ordering food at a tavola calda in Italy
All across the Italian regions, you will find local eateries known as tavola calda or rosticceria. These are sort of self-service places where you take your tray and slide it through the trail. They are cheaper than a restaurant and offer homemade-like dishes.
Behind the glass, you can see all the ready dishes inside large heated wells and you will tell the assistant which ones you would like.
There are a few first dishes such as pasta, lasagna, risotto, or minestra/zuppa (soup), a few mains which can be pollo alla cacciatora (chicken cacciatore), fettine impanate (fried breaded cutlets), seppie con piselli (cattlefish with peas), spezzatino con patate/piselli (meat stew with potatoes/peas).
At the tavola calda, there is also a series of side dishes which are usually raw and boiled seasonal veggies, roasted potatoes, French fries, green beans, grilled zucchini or eggplants, veggies au gratin, and more.
You can also pick a dessert of your choice and you can directly take it from the open counter and place it on your tray. When they are done plating your food, you can go to the checkout to pay and they will ask you also if you want the coffee. If you think after lunch you will take coffee, you can pay it beforehand and keep the receipt that you will show at the counter when you are done eating.
The cutlery and seasoning like oil, salt, and vinegar, and pre-packaged bread are placed either near the trays at the beginning of the trail or near the checkout.
Some of the things they will ask you at a tavola calda would be:
Cosa le posso dare/Cosa prende? (What would you like?)
Desidera un contorno? (Would you like a side dish?)
Cosa desidera da bere? (What would you like to drink?)
Può trovare le bevande nel frigo e servirsi da solo (The drinks are in the fridge and you can take them on your own)
Prende il caffé? (Will you have coffee?)
What you can say when ordering food in Italian at a tavola calda is:
Mi dà una porzione di lasagne? (Can I have a portion of lasagna?)
Posso avere mezza porzione di fagiolini e mezza di spinaci? (Can I have half portion of green beans and half portion of spinach?)
Dove trovo le posate? (Where can I find the cutlery?)
Dove trovo il sale/l’olio/l’aceto? (Where can I find the salt/the oil/the vinegar?)
Once you are done, depending on the place, you dispose of your leftovers in the designated bins or leave them on the table and the staff will take care of it.
Ordering food in Italian at the bar
If your hotel doesn’t include breakfast, you might want to have a typical Italian breakfast at the bar. Italian bars also display a range of snacks, sandwiches, and sometimes salads that you can have for a quick, light lunch. If you are wondering how to order food in Italian bars, here are some easy tips you can keep in mind.
Some of the typical foods you can find in an Italian bar are tramezzini, triangular-shaped sandwiches with different fillings such as tuna and tomatoes, mushrooms and mozzarella, or ham and cheese, bite-sized pizza called “pizzette” usually with only tomato sauce, tomato and mozzarella, or with capers and anchovies.
Bars sell a wide array of drinks such as wines, beer, different types of coffee and tea, and soft drinks such as Crodino, coke, soda, orange soda, Aperol soda, and more.
Usually, at the bar, you pay first and then show the receipt at the counter to place the order.
If you are wondering how to order food in Italian at a bar or how to order coffee in Italy, here are some of the things you can say:
Posso avere un tramezzino con prosciutto e fontina? (Can I have a sandwich with ham and fontina cheese?)
Posso avere una pizzetta con capperi e acciughe? (Can I have a small pizza with capers and anchovies?)
Mi può riscaldare questo panino, per favore? (Can you heat up this sandwich for me, please?)
Posso avere un cappuccino/un tè/un’acqua tonica/una spremuta d’arancia, per favore? (Can I have cappuccino/tea/tonic water/orange juice, please?)
When you are deciding what to order, some of the things the bartender can ask you are:
Cosa prendete? (What would you like?)
Il panino glielo riscaldo? (Shall I heat up your sandwich)
Mangia qui o da portar via? (Are you going to eat here or shall I wrap it takeaway?)
Sedetevi e ve lo porto al tavolo (Take a sit and I will bring it to the table).