Podcast #36 : Italian Restaurants in Italy - Etiquette and Obsessions
I’m so hungry, shall we go to a restaurant? That’s right. Today we are going to talk about restaurants and in particular, about obsessions and fixations that we Italians have when it comes to going to a restaurant.
Hi everyone and welcome to episode 36 of the Italy Made Easy podcast, now available as a video version on Youtube as well. As I said, today I would like to talk to you about restaurants and how we Italians behave in relation to restaurants.
The first question is… Do Italian like to eat out or not? I’ll give you a second or two… Yes, we do like to eat out a lot and we do it quite often. Not as much as other cultures, by which I mean that we Italians don’t really have a culture of takeaway or takeout; that is, food that we go and get and bring home or that is delivered… Not that!
When I talk about eating out I’m referring to when we go to a restaurant and we sit down to have either lunch or dinner. So it’s a bit of a different relationship we have, but on average an Italian would eat out about 6 times a month, so basically once or more times a week… which is enough, I think, to go eat at a restaurant.
Other than fast food, which I’m not going to talk about today, in Italy we find restaurants - from more “posh” ones to more affordable ones - the trattorias, which are basically family-owned restaurants and a little more laid back… and then there’s the pizzerias.
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Again, I repeat, these are the types of restaurants that we could go to. There are definitely other types but right now I can’t think of them off the top of my head. In the restaurant category, we can include restaurants that are more classic and traditional, that is, with Italian dishes… and then all the ethnic restaurants, that are pretty popular depending on the area in Italy and the type of cuisine on offer… so, for example, Chinese restaurants, Japanese restaurants, Indian restaurants or - perhaps - restaurants with a specific type of cuisine such as vegan restaurants, vegetarian restaurants and so on and so forth.
A trattoria is nothing more than an Italian restaurant, so it only has Italian dishes, that is family-run, as I said earlier. And then there’s the pizzeria, my favourite! It’s the type of restaurant that I go to most often. I love pizza, I’m obsessed with pizza, so leave me alone, I go to a pizzeria every week. It’s my vice, it’s my vice.
I promised to speak to you all about our hang-ups, about our fixations. So I would like to tell you about an interesting one. We Italians have a fixation about the position of the table inside the restaurant, for two main reasons. Firstly, because too much breeze can come in or, secondly, the smoke comes in from people smoking outside and for those of us who don’t smoke, it’s a very unpleasant thing.
Another place Italians don’t like to sit is close to the restrooms, for obvious reasons. We also have a problem, sometimes, with sitting in a corner, as there are people who have the superstition that those who sit in a corner won’t get married. So, to turn the superstition on its head, if you are someone who doesn’t want to get married, when you’re in Italy sit at the corner of a table in the corner of the room.
Normally, even though we Italians definitely speak at quite a loud volume - certainly louder than many other cultures - the truth is that we don’t really like particularly noisy restaurants… Restaurants where the music is too loud, or there’s parties that are too rowdy… This is something that I believe is common even in your culture, that you avoid eating at restaurants that are too noisy. I don’t like them, personally.
Another thing that we Italians do not like at all is eating while sitting on stools. Stools are those tall and very uncomfortable seats. If we eat at a restaurant, on a seat, please! Stools are OK for an aperitif at the bar, where you don’t sit for too long, you have a drink and you leave… But in a restaurant, no way, just no.
Something funny, if you ask me, about us Italians… If you’ve listened to my previous podcasts you’ll know that we are quite an obsessive culture, especially when it comes to hygiene, illness, germs and things like that. One thing that we Italians do is that we judge the place we eat at based on the cleanliness of the restrooms… That is, we are so fixated on hygiene that if a restaurant has a restroom that is not particular clean or tidy, we conclude that that restaurant must be dirty, that we can’t trust that restaurant’s kitchen and so we will never go back… and we’ll tell everyone, “Don’t go to that restaurant!”.
And then, obviously, we have obsessions when it comes to food. We’re Italians, we’re perfectionists about food, we are able to generally make it ourselves at home, and when we go to a restaurant we’re hard to please… We expect food of the highest quality. You can’t serve me an overcooked pasta, you can’t serve me a plate of spaghetti with too much sauce… We don’t like a lot of sauce. Did you hear that, Italian restaurants abroad? Too much sauce. If you bring me a pizza and in the middle it’s all soft and doughy, or not cooked or burned… no, that’s not OK!
Food in Italy must always be perfect, otherwise we’ll complain, we’ll call over the server, we’ll go and speak to the owner, to the chef… No, you just can’t serve low quality food to us Italians in Italy.
And to finish up there’s one thing, one factor, one situation, that if you ask me, is much more pronounced and more of a thing in Italy, at least from what I’ve seen while travelling and living in other countries. That is… In Italy we generally don’t eat alone, we don’t go to restaurants on our own.
You will rarely see an Italian by themselves at a restaurant, unless they’re waiting for someone else, obviously… And the impression we have is that if you go to a restaurant alone then you’re a bit of a loser, you’re someone who doesn’t have any friends. That’s not the case, I know it’s not the case - and in Australia I do go on my own to restaurants - but in Italy I haven’t done it very often, honestly.
I don’t know if it also has to do with the fact that we Italians - in general - know how to cook… And so if you’re alone just make yourself a sandwich, rather than go to a restaurant. But the good thing is that even in Italy things are changing and Italy is becoming - gradually, very gradually - a more modern country. For example… Oh yeah! One more thing. There’s a shift, now, towards accepting more technology, even inside restaurants.
For example, in Italy we’re now more open minded and they are restaurants where we can already order with our phones - with smartphones - through a service called Smart Touch Menu, where basically from the table you take a photo of the table’s QR code with your phone… that indicates which table you’re at… you make your order that goes automatically to the kitchen, and then the meal gets delivered by the server, but there’s no server to actually take your order.
So tell me, are there any hang-ups, fixations or obsessions when it comes to restaurants or eating out in your culture? If you’re in contact with us, let us know. That’s all for today. A really big hug from me. See you - or talk to you - in the next episode, where we’ll talk about the most adored books in Italy. Bye