This blog post was updated on October 1, 2018.
Eating in Italy is one of the country’s biggest attractions. Dining out goes hand in hand with seeing ancient ruins, grand piazzas and historic monuments. However, eating out in Italy is not so cut and dry when it comes to language. Over the last week, I witnessed many English speakers converse with restaurant staff in English. While in major tourist cities in Italy this is generally the norm, if you want to stand out less and even survive at the Italian table, you should pack a few key phrases to use when you enter restaurants.
Un tavolo per uno, due, tre, quattro: When you arrive to an Italian eatery, a wait staff will most likely greet you with, “Buona sera,” meaning, “Good evening.” You will then want to reply with the same greeting and ask for a table for the number of people in your party. To ask this for a party of two, you would say, “Un tavolo per due.” If you know a few numbers in Italian, it makes it easy to adjust this phrase for how many people you are dining with that evening.
Potrei vedere il menú?: There is no worse feeling than sitting down to a restaurant in Italy and the waiter just stares blankly at you to order, without producing any sort of menu to order from in the process. If you encounter this situation, you need to ask to see a menu. You can say, “Potrei vedere il menu?” You can also say, “Mi porta il menú?”
Aqua naturale o frizzante?: Most waiters in Italy will first ask you what you want to drink before you have even had a look at the menu. To be prepared, you will want to know your types of water. Most likely, you will be asked if you would like aqua naturale or frizzante. Naturale is your basic water while frizzante is sparkling water. In addition, you can generally always order a house wine instead of a bottle from the wine list even if you don’t see it listed on the menu. If you would like to order a house wine, you merely need to request vino rosso della casa, per favore, or vino bianco della casa, per favore. Vino rosso is red wine and vino bianco is white wine.
Vorrei/Vorremo: So many travelers sit down at a table in Italy and just blurt out English when ordering. If you want to perhaps get treated a little better or fit in a little more, it is actually very simple to say what you want at the Italian table. For yourself, you can say, “Vorrei,” plus what dish you would like. This translates into, “I would like…” If you are a group of two or more ordering one set item, you can say, “Vorremo,” meaning, “We would like.”
Il conto, per favore: This phrase is perhaps the most useful one at the Italian table. Many travelers end up waiting and waiting for the bill to arrive. Most waiters will not bring it to you until you ask for it. In general, you can say, “Il conto, per favore,” meaning, “The bill, please,” to get the waiter to bring the bill. If you want to ask for the check a little more completely, you can also say, “Puó portarci il conto, per favore.”