But in Italy, they seem to have a dizzying number of names for places that, ostensibly, all seem like sit down restaurants: trattoria, ristorante, osteria, enoteca, and the list goes on.
When you're out in Italy, how do you know what you're getting? There are basically five grades of sit-down restaurant, two types of wine bars, and two main types of take-out place.
- Ristorante - This is the top grade of Italian dining establishments, with conscientious service, fine dining plating and dishes, and often a well-known chef.
- Trattoria - Trattorias are wonderful casual places to eat, whether for a pre-set lunch menu or a dinner out. They focus on typical Italian fare, without the fusion flare you may see in ristorantes.
- Osteria - Osterias are much like trattorias, but a bit more casual with a focus on regional specialties.
- Tavola Calda - In a tavola calda, there is typically no table service. You choose your food from a cafeteria style serving set up. These are primarily in Florence.
- Pizzeria - In Italy, pizzarias are sit-down restaurants that predominantly serve pizza with wine, a variety of salads, and a few pasta selections.
- Enoteca - For a more formal wine tasting experience in line with American wine bars, head to an enoteca. Today, many are high-design and high-tech, though the food options are typically limited.
- Taverna - Tavernas are more old-fashioned, like an Italian version of a British pub, with wine instead of beer. Food is very traditional, simple fare.
- Pizza a taglio - For a slice of pizza on the run, look for a pizza a taglio (literally: by the slice). There may be limited seating, but squares of pizza, calzones, and occasionally some desserts are packaged up to take away.
- Rosticceria - Unlike pizza a taglio places, which expect people to be eating their food on the go, rosticcerias typically serve hot food, primarily meat and roast vegetable dishes, to take and eat at home. If you're looking for an entire chicken, this is the place.
As you may have seen recently via email, I was fortunate to be selected to speak on a panel at the New York Times Travel Show earlier this month with several other Italian travel specialist:
- Kathy McCabe from the Dream of Italy magazine
- Steve Perillo of Perillo Tours
- Dominic Siano of Tour Italy now
In "How to Plan a Luxurious (But Affordable) Italian Vacation," Susan Van Allen, a friend and author of "100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go" and "Letters from Italy," moderated a panel of experts to help travelers enjoy Italian luxury without breaking the bank.
To be completely honest, I was very nervous beforehand. Though I've been leading tours for decades, that's different than sitting, facing a group of people you don't know at all, and hoping they're interested in what you're saying!
I ended up being very surprised though, because the other panelists didn't have a lot to say and ended up taking notes on what I was saying (!). In particular, I talked about the kind of experiences that a travel specialist can arrange for you through the people they know in Italy that can really add a sense of luxury to your experience even without an over-the-top price tag.
Watch my whole talk on YouTube here or the embedded video above.
Shopping in Italy is kind of inevitable.
You may end up with a suitcase full of gourmet goodies or wine bottles (here’s how to pack them), housewares or high fashion. But first you have to navigate the cultural nuances of shopping in Italy.
Opening and Closing Times
Shops open on the later side, often around 10 am. Most non-chain shops, boutiques and handicraft shops close for an extended lunch from 12:30 or 1pm to 3 or 4 pm. In small towns, absolutely everything will close.
In major city centers, most things stay upon through the lunch break. Stores, even in smaller towns, are open later to compensate, usually till around 7:30 or 8 pm.
Trying Things On
When you arrive, you must say hello (buongiorno during the day and buona sera in the afternoon) to start a respectful relationship with the shop keeper. Otherwise they will find you very rude.
You, on the other hand, might find it rude when salespeople come into your dressing room while you’re trying things on to help you squeeze into a tight pair of jeans. Salespeople in Italy are very hands on, but it is just because they are passionate about helping you find something you like.
Buying and Exchanging
Commas replace a periods on price tags, and tax is already included. You can’t pay anything that is less than EU10 or 20 Euros with a credit card. Always bring cash with you for the smaller purchases.
Credit cards are not widely accepted, but bring your passport or another photo ID if you plan to make a large purchase with your credit card. Many stores will send you away if you are not able to provide photo ID with your credit card.
Be very confident before you purchase anything, because store exchanges essentially don’t exist.
Photo by Flickr user Time Stands Still
Even though cell phones are so ubiquitous in Italy that even the most elegant, old-fashioned grandmother has four in different colors to match every outfit, it can still be difficult, if not expensive to stay in touch with the U.S. while you’re in Italy if you don’t plan ahead.