never ask your italian waiter

5 Things You Should Never Ask Your Italian Waiter for Fear of Being Ridiculed

I have to admit where this post comes from.

I love eating, and eating well. But my stomach just doesn’t hold large quantities of food at a single time. This puts me in quite the pickle when eating out in Italy. Portions in Italy are smaller than they are in the US, but still generous. I usually end up getting tricked into partaking of some appetizers (antipasti), which often renders me finishing my first course impossible.

So I had this brilliant (ha!) idea the last time I went to dinner. To avoid the embarrassment of the waiter asking me why I did not finish my meal “Ma che c’era che non andava? Non era buono?” “What was wrong with the dish? It wasn’t good?” and also of my Italian friends turning their heads away in derision over the heap of perfectly good food left on my plate – I decided to ask for a half-portion. Or a mezza porzione.

THEN the apocalypse happened. I won’t get into it, but it was heated and ended up with the waiters weighing in on the argument. Long story short: (they say) I’m wrong.

Ladies and Gentlemen – I present to you:

The FIVE Things You Should Never Ask your Italian Waiter (or Anyone Italian) for Fear of Being Ridiculed:

half portion
The half portion vs. a full portion. Hint: Don’t ask for it.

1. Ask for a half-portion or a “mezza porzione”

Even if it’s for your kid. Unless it explicitly states a price for a half-portion on your menu (and it likely wont unless you are in a touristic restaurant) – it’s probably going to cost the same anyway. If you are paying the same – in Italy it’s unthinkable to ask for LESS food.

2. Ask for a doggie-bag or to have the remainders of your dish ‘wrapped up’

Not finishing what is on your plate is bad enough. Don’t humiliate yourself further by asking to have it ‘wrapped up’. You are likely the get puzzled looks and chuckles at your expense in the kitchen.

There’s often good reasoning behind this. Italian dishes are lauded for their fresh ingredients and minimal use of preservatives. That means the food is tasty – but when fresh. Plus, let’s be honest — day old pasta almost never tastes good.

parmesan cheese
Mmmmm, freshly grated parmigiano. But, hold the grater.

3. Ask for cheese to put on your meat or fish dish, even if it’s a pasta meat/fish dish.

Contrary to popularly held belief abroad, In Italy you do not slather your meat, poultry or fish in cheese. At least – not unless there is a very specific recipe that calls for it (I will admit there are a few, like Brascioli). The golden rule is that if your meat or fish dish didn’t come with cheese already in/on/served with it – then do NOT add it. Do NOT ask for it.

4. Ask for a cappuccino after you finish your lunch or dinner, or anytime after breakfast.

Cappuccino is a breakfast drink, and should not be ordered at any other time of day. Rules like this are little reminders of profound cultural differences for me. In Italy (and in many European countries) there is a way, time and place for most things.

But there is some science behind limiting your cappuccino to breakfast-time. A cappuccino contains quite a bit of steamed milk, and milk is notoriously difficult to digest. Best to have any milk products early on in the day, to give your body time to process the lactose so it doesn’t disturb your sleep (or the bigger meals of lunch and dinner).

A coke with ice? OK. But not with your meal.

5. Ask for a soft-drink with your meal, or for ice in your drink.

This one is a little less grave. That’s because if you are a tourist from the U.S. and you are visiting Italy – waiters practically expect this from you. But kick the ‘live it like a local’ up a notch and when your waiter asks you ‘naturale o frizzante?’, respond without a beat. Water is good for you and is a staple at any Italian meal. Also, Italians believe that ice, like air conditioning, is bad for you. You’ll need to specifically ask for it if you want it, and this will like you identify you on the tourist end of the spectrum. Exceptions are, of course, made for cocktails or for soft drinks consumed independently of meals. After all, what would an Aperol spritz be without ice?


There you have it! Just some friendly advice for your next trip to Italy. Anyone have any tips or experiences they’d like to share about dining out in Italy?

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