My husband Peter and I own an Italian restaurant. And pardon my bluntness or lack of modesty, but it's a pretty damn good Italian restaurant. We have spent many sleepless nights working on creating a memorable experience for our guests that focuses on reinventing traditional Italian dishes. This is why dining in Northern Italy was an uberly-anticipated experience and I couldn't wait to see what Italy restaurants did differently than our own, Sugo Trattoria.
1. Dining Late
The dinner bell doesn't ring in Italy until about 9 or 10 o'clock in the evening. Apparently they don't believe in the "don't eat after 6PM rule", but that's okay because neither do I. Our peak dining hour is between 7 and 8 o'clock, though being the owner means that I usually eat after nine anyway. Perfect.
2. Frizzante Water
When in Italy, If you look around at the other diners, 75% will have a bottle of sparkling water at their table. Close to none will have soda and almost all will have wine. In the States 75% will have still water, soda or Iced tea. 25% will be drinking wine. Italy wins on this one.
3. Fill Glasses of Wine at the Table from the Bottle
This may not be quite as enthralling to you, but I can't remember a dining experience in America where I ordered a glass of wine and the server just poured it into the glass, at the table, straight from the bottle. Most restaurants, including my own, are concerned with portion control and guests value perception. That's why you sometimes get your glass in a little carafe or you will see a selection of water-filled wine glasses along the bar to be used as a portion guide. In Italy they just came by with the entire bottle. I was always hoping for an over-pour. Sometimes I won.
4. Simple bread
In America, Artisan breads are all the rage. And, I have to admit, there is nothing like a fresh, warm loaf of crunchy olive, rosemary bread at my table. In Italy we were delivered a simple, crumbly sliced baguette. Though it was dry without a distinctive flavor profile, we were always served the most delectable olive oil to dip it in.
5. Menus Focus on Tradition and Simplicity
America is more progressive when it comes to ingredients and presentation, whereas Italy concentrates on the simplicity of tradition. Many restaurants here focus on taking a traditional meal and cranking it up a few notches with either a unique technique or ingredients. Italy is the perfect place to get back to the basics of fresh ingredients cooked simply.
6. Fancy Paper Napkins
I was disturbingly fascinated with the extra thick, colorful paper napkins in Italy's restaurants. So much so, that I stuck my used ones in my purse as a souvenir. Hey, they were going to throw them away anyway. And I am not weird. Just unique.
9. You must ask for your check
If you don't ask for the server to bring your check, you will be sitting there until closing. It DOES NOT matter that your plates have been cleared and you have finished all of your wine. You will sit. Until you ask. Dining in Italy is an experience meant to take time and enjoy, it is considered inappropriate for the waitstaff to bring the bill prior to it being requested.
10. Coperto/Servizio is included on Bills
Coperto and servizio is usually charged on your bill. Coperto, is to cover the cost for those fancy napkins previously mentioned, also for bread and water. Servizio is applied towards the service. This fee is usually between 1 to 3 euros.
11. Server Waits and Watches as you Sign the Credit Card Slip
This custom would be considered rude in America. But, not so in Italy because the tip is usually already included in your bill.
Have you noticed any dining differences in another country?