Italian food is world famous and is a fundamental part of Italian culture. Understandably, Italians are very proud of their culinary tradition and serious about the matter, as anyone who’s ever mentioned pineapple pizza or spaghetti with ketchup in the presence of an Italian will know. Food plays a crucial part in the life of most Italians, as much of their family and social life revolves around it.
It is no surprise, then, that Italian food is also one of the greatest charms of il bel paese (the beautiful country, as Italians call their motherland), which every year attract thousands of tourists to the peninsula. When you’ve spent a day slowly roasting on a Sicilian beach, or skiing in the Alps, or wandering about in a small town in Tuscany, what you really need is to sit down at a restaurant or a local trattoria and sample as much delicious food as you can, obviously accompanied by one or two glasses of local wine.
Depending on where you are in Italy, you might or might not find English speaking staff, so it’s better to be prepared with some useful vocabulary to be in command of the situation. Plus, that plate of tagliatelle will taste so much better when you’ve managed to order it in Italian, right?
In this article you will find everything you need to learn how to order in Italian, and make that dining experience as smooth as it can be. Sit down, relax, and buon appetito!
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Italian food vocabulary
Are you wondering what to order in an Italian restaurant? First things first: reading the menu is the first step of any meal out, and it is not that obvious to understand a menu in a foreign language! We’re here to help!
In this section, you will find some general food vocabulary, as well as some information about meals in Italian culture.
Spoiler: you won’t find “Fettuccine Alfredo” in a typical Italian menu. Actually, most Italians don’t know what “Alfredo sauce” is at all - despite being created in Italy, the success of this dish is mostly an American phenomenon!
Breakfast is not a very important meal in Italy. Italians tend to eat something small and sweet for breakfast, like biscuits dipped in coffee and milk. Many have it at the counter of a “bar” (which in Italian is an establishment similar to a cafe), and in this case the most frequent combination is cappuccino and a croissant.
Even though in the main cities you will be able to find places that offer brunch, especially at the weekend, in Italy It is not at all common to have a big and savory breakfast - Italians usually save their eating energies for lunch and dinner!
Italian vocabulary for breakfast and brunch
|il latte di mandorla / di riso / di soia
|almond / rice / soy milk
|il tè (una tazza di tè)
|tea (a cup of tea)
|il succo d’arancia la spremuta d’arancia
|orange juice orange squeeze
|il pane (una fetta di pane) pane bianco / pane integrale
|bread (a slice of bread) white / wholemeal bread
|le fette biscottate
|rusk / melba toast
|lo zucchero lo zucchero di canna
|sugar brown sugar
|biscuits / cookies
Fun fact: in Milan, they call a croissant “una brioche”. In other parts of Northern Italy, they also use the French word “un croissant”.
Lunch and dinner
Lunch in Italy is eaten between 12 and 2.30 pm, and dinner between 7 and 9.30 pm - the usual time also depends on the region. In general, meals tend to happen earlier in the north and later in the south.
A full Italian meal, either lunch or dinner, is made of antipasto (starter), primo (first course), secondo with contorno (second course with a side dish), and dolce (dessert). Traditionally the primo is a dish of pasta, rice or something similar, and the secondo is a dish of meat, fish or other protein.
Of course, nowadays people don’t eat a full meal every day, but restaurants tend to offer menus that include a choice of all courses - sometimes a full menu (“menu completo”) is offered at a fixed price. It’s ok to order just one course if you don’t feel very hungry!
Italian vocabulary for lunch and dinner
|plate of sliced cured meat
|la minestra / la zuppa
|la carne trita, la carne macinata
|le patatine fritte
|il pesce spada
|il polipo / il polpo
|i frutti di mare
|i gamberi / i gamberetti
|shrimp / prawns
|la salsa / la salsina
|le bevande analcoliche / le bibite
Italian desserts and snacks vocabulary
|cake / dessert
|cake / pie
|la cioccolata / il cioccolato
|la cioccolata calda
|la crema pasticcera
|i frutti di bosco
|le arachidi / le noccioline
Italian restaurant phrases
When you enter an Italian restaurant, you will probably need to engage in some short dialogues, as you are welcomed by the waiting staff. You will discover that the staff in Italian restaurants are usually very friendly and hospitable, and they will certainly communicate with you in order to understand what you need, but also just make you feel welcome.
In this section you will find a list of phrases that the staff might address to you with some standard answers - very handy to avoid the blank face when the waiter starts talking to you!
1. Buongiorno / buonasera, (in) quanti siete?
Good afternoon / good evening, for how many people?
Standard answer: siamo in… due / tre / quattro / … - for two / three / four / …
2. Volete mangiare?
Would you like to eat?
This might be asked in those establishments where it’s also possible to just sit for a drink.
Standard answer: sì, grazie - yes, please.
3. Volete stare dentro o fuori?
Would you like to sit inside or outside?
Standard answer: dentro / fuori.
Take a seat!
5. Cosa prendete da bere?
What would you like to drink?
See section below on how to order drinks.
6. Va tutto bene?
Is everything ok?
This is just a way to check that you are happy with your meal so far.
7. Gradite altro?
Would you like anything else?
8. Gradite un dolce o un caffè?
Would you like dessert or coffee?
9. Gradite un amaro?
Would you like an “amaro”?
The word “amaro” means “bitter”, but here it refers to a typical herbal liqueur that Italians drink as an after-dinner digestif.
Standard answer: no, grazie (if you don’t want anything else). See section below on how to order food or drinks, if you’d like to order more things.
Note: You can find these and more travel phrases in our Italian Travel Course in level A2! Not yet registered? Sign up today and check out all travel phrases!
10. Pagate in contanti o con carta? / Contanti o bancomat?
Would you like to pay with cash or card?
“Bancomat” is another word for a credit or a debit card. This is often how a credit or a debit card is informally called in Italy.
Standard answer: con carta / in contanti.
How to reserve or ask for a table in Italian
It's always a good idea to book a table if you want to be certain that you’ll be able to eat in the restaurant or trattoria you've chosen. If you are in a busy place, for example a popular seaside town in summer, it might be hard to find a table if you haven't booked in advance. Sometimes restaurants have online booking systems, but this is not very frequent, and it’s still more common to book on the phone or in person.
1. Vorrei prenotare un tavolo per quattro alle 20.30.
I would like to book a table for four at 8.30 pm.
2. Avete posto per mangiare?
Is it possible to eat? (Lit. Do you have room for eating?)
3. Buongiorno / buonasera, un tavolo per due / quattro / …, per favore.
Hello / good evening, a table for two / four / … please.
If you haven’t booked and are just turning up at the restaurant, you can use these phrases to know whether they have a table for you.
4. Servite ancora il pranzo / la cena?
Are you still serving lunch / dinner?
Restaurants in Italy are normally open for lunch and dinner, and will be closed outside of eating times (roughly 12-2.30 and 7-10 pm). Depending on the area of Italy, restaurants might be open later than this, especially in the South of Italy and in very touristy cities. However, it is not common for restaurants to be open all day. Outside of eating times, you will still be able to get a sandwich from a bar.
5. Si può mangiare?
Is it possible to eat?
Just a general phrase that you can easily use in any situation, to know whether food is available.
How to order wine and drinks in Italy
At the restaurant, it’s standard to order drinks before food, so let’s start from there. You can also use these phrases to order drinks at a bar or a cafe.
1. Una bottiglia d’acqua naturale / frizzante, per favore.
A bottle of still / sparkling water, please.
In Italy you won’t be given a jug of tap water for free at the restaurant. You have to order bottled water and pay a few euros for it. The waiter will normally ask you whether you want a 50 cl bottle (“una bottiglia da mezzo litro”) or 1 litre bottle (“una bottiglia da un litro”).
2. Vorrei un bicchiere di vino rosso / bianco / rosé.
I would like a glass of red / white / rosé wine, please.
When you ask for this, the waiter will most likely tell you what wines are available for you to pick one. You can also ask directly for the type of wine you want, if you’ve read the name on the list (see phrase below).
Vorrei un bicchiere di Chianti / Barolo / Gavi / prosecco / …
3. Prendiamo una bottiglia di … Barbera / Vermentino / Montepulciano / …
We’ll have a bottle of…
4. Avete vino della casa?
Do you have house wine?
In most restaurants in Italy it’s possible to order house wine as well as a bottle. This is wine that restaurants buy in bulk and for a cheaper price from the producer - it’s normally locally produced, so it can be better than you think! If you don’t see it on the menu, it’s worth asking, as sometimes house wine is available even if it’s not on the menu. It comes in jugs of 25 cl, 50 cl or 1 liter (see next phrase).
5. Un quarto / mezzo litro / un litro di vino della casa, per favore.
A quarter / half a liter / a liter of house wine, please.
6. Avete bevande analcoliche?
Do you have any non-alcoholic drinks?
7. Per me una coca / Fanta / Sprite / limonata / … con ghiaccio / senza ghiaccio, per favore.
I’ll have a coke / Fanta / Sprite / lemonade / … with ice / without ice, please.
8. Una birra piccola / media, per favore.
A half-pint / a pint, please.
When you ask for this, the waiter will most likely tell you a list of the available beers for you to pick one. They might also ask whether you want a bottled or draft beer (“in bottiglia o alla spina?”).
9. Quali birre avete in bottiglia / alla spina?
Which bottled / draft beers do you have?
10. Vorrei una birra chiara / ipa / weiss / pilsner / rossa.
I would like a lager / IPA / wheat beer / pilsner / red ale.
Italians drink lager most often, but these are some of the other common types of beer you can find in Italy. Remember that “ipa” is not pronounced like in English, but with an Italian pronunciation: something like “eepah”.
Pro-tip: do you need a refresher of Italian pronunciation? Check our introduction to the Italian alphabet!
11. Cin cin! / Salute! / Alla vostra!
These are a few phrases you can say to accompany a toast in Italy.
Note: You can find these and more phrases to order drinks in chapter 2 of our B1 course! Not yet registered with Busuu? Sign up now and learn more phrases for free!
How to order food in an Italian restaurant
Are you finally ready to order some food? Let’s do it! Good news: many of the phrases that are used for drinks can also be used for food.
1. Posso / possiamo avere il menù?
Could you bring me / us the menu?
2. Possiamo ordinare? / Posso ordinare?
Can we order? / Can I order?
3. Sono pronto per ordinare. / Siamo pronti per ordinare.
I am ready to order. / We are ready to order.
4. Cos’è / cosa sono… ? / Cosa c’è nel… ?
What is / are… ? / What’s in … ?
Cos’è la caprese? - What is caprese?
Cosa sono i vincisgrassi? - What are vincisgrassi?
Cosa c’è nella zuppa toscana? - What’s in the Tuscan soup?
You can use these phrases to inquire about dishes or ingredients that you see on the menu and are not quite sure what they are. You use “cos’è” for singular dishes or ingredients, and “cosa sono” for plural.
5. Come antipasto / primo / secondo / contorno / dolce, prendo…
As a starter / first course / second course / side dish / dessert, I will have…
With this phrase, you can specify what you want for each course.
6. Per me...
I’ll have… (lit. For me, …)
Example: Per me, le tagliatelle al ragù. - I'll have tagliatelle Bolognese.
“Per me”, followed by the dish you want to order, is another go-to sentence that you can use to order food (or drinks). Pro-tip: it might come as a shock, but Italians don't call the meat-tomato sauce “Bolognese”, but “ragù”!
I would like…
Example: Vorrei la grigliata mista con patatine fritte. - I would like the mixed grill with chips.
“Vorrei” is a conditional form, so it's a more polite way of saying “I want”. It's another phrase you can use to order or ask for anything.
8. Posso avere altro pane, per favore?
Could I have more bread, please?
In Italy you will receive a basket of bread as part of the “coperto” (“cover charge”). This is a small charge you'll find on the receipt for each person that sat at the table. You can ask for more bread, and it's still included. Italians often use bread to “fare la scarpetta” (lit. “do the little shoe”), i.e. dip bread in whatever is left of pasta sauce, olive oil or other condiment. Otherwise, it’s not very common to eat bread together with pasta or rice.
9. Ho ordinato (name of the dish), ma non è arrivato.
I ordered (name of the dish), but it never arrived.
You can use this phrase if something you ordered was not brought to you - let’s hope you won’t have to use it!
How to order a pizza in Italian
To order pizza, you use very much the same phrases that you would use to order other types of food. However, there’s a couple of phrases that might come in handy when ordering a pizza specifically.
1. Una margherita, per favore.
I’ll have a pizza margherita, please.
First tip: When you order pizza in a pizzeria, you can just go with the name of the pizza that you read on the menu - no need to specify “a pizza margherita”!
2. Si può aggiungere un ingrediente?
Is it possible to add an ingredient?
In some traditional or “gourmet” pizzerias they might frown upon adding ingredients to carefully crafted pizzas, but most pizzaioli will do it happily. There will be a charge for this on the bill though.
3. Vorrei una … (name of the pizza) con aggiunta di … (ingredient)
I would like a… with extra…
Example: Vorrei una margherita con aggiunta di salsiccia. - I would like a margherita with sausage added.
If it’s ok to add ingredients to your pizza, this is how you can request the extra ingredients.
Tip: Pepperoni does not mean spicy salami, but bell peppers. If spicy salami is what you want on your pizza, you have to ask for “salame piccante”!
4. Vorrei una… (name of the pizza) senza… (ingredient)
I would like a… without…
Example: Vorrei una Quattro stagioni senza funghi. - I would like a Quattro stagioni without mushroom.
If what you want is to remove an ingredient rather than add it, this is how you ask for that.
5. Avete il forno a legna?
Do you have a wood oven?
If it’s important for you that the pizza is baked in a wood oven, you can use this phrase to make sure that they have one. Most pizzerias in Italy do.
6. Avete l’impasto senza glutine?
Do you have gluten-free dough?
It is not very common, but some pizzerias have gluten-free dough. You can use this phrase to inquire about that. Check out the sections below for more phrases on dietary requirements.
How to express dietary requirements in Italian
If you follow a specific diet, or simply want to be able to express your food preferences, check out this section, to make sure you know how to ask the right questions and understand what you can and cannot eat.
1. Sono vegetariano/a / sono vegano/a.
I am a vegetarian / vegan.
As a general rule, words ending in “o”, like “vegetariano”, are masculine, and words ending in “a”, like “vegetariana”, are feminine. So use the forms ending in “o” to refer to a man, and the ones ending in “a” to refer to a woman. There are exceptions to this rule!
2. Sono intollerante / allergico/a a…
I am intolerant to / allergic to…
Adjectives and nouns ending in -e, like “intollerante”, have only one form for masculine and feminine, so can be used to refer to both a man and a woman.
Example 1: Sono intollerante ai latticini. - I am intolerant to dairy.
Example 2: Sono allergico alle arachidi. - I am allergic to peanuts.
3. Non mangio / non mi piace…
I do not eat / I don't like…
Example 1: Non mangio i frutti di mare. - I don’t eat seafood.
Example 2: Non mi piace il pesce. - I don't like fish.
4. Questo piatto contiene… ?
Does this dish contain… ?
Example: Questo piatto contiene latticini? - Does this dish contain dairy?
5. Avete piatti vegetariani / vegani / senza glutine?
Do you have any vegetarian / vegan / gluten-free dishes?
How to ask for the bill in Italian
All good things come to an end. Here’s a few sentences to end your Italian meal smoothly!
1. Ci porta il conto? / Mi porta il conto?
Can we have the bill, please. / Can I have the bill, please.
2. Posso pagare con carta?
Can I pay by card?
3. Prendete le carte straniere?
Do you accept foreign credit cards?
Most establishments, especially in cities, will accept cards, including foreign cards - but if you want to check, you can use this phrase.
4. Era tutto buonissimo!
It was delicious!
If you have enjoyed your meal, it’s always a good idea to let the staff know!
5. La mancia
Tipping is not compulsory or expected in Italy, but you can always leave a tip if you’re happy with the service you've received.
How to order coffee in Italy
Coffee is another gem of Italian food culture. If you're a coffee lover, you've come to the right place! Italians tend to drink a few coffees every day, normally quite quickly, standing at the bar counter. When they drink it at home, they usually make it in a “moka”, a coffee pot, and they share it with whoever is there.
Before lunch, especially for breakfast, it's common to drink cappuccino. After lunch and in the afternoon, Italians only drink espresso. It would be extremely strange for an Italian to order cappuccino with their meal, or even after!
In this section, you’ll learn how to order a coffee in Italian, using some of the phrases we've already seen in the previous section, and useful vocabulary related to coffee.
1.Buongiorno. Un caffè, per favore.
Good morning. A coffee, please.
Here’s the simplest way to order a coffee! In Italy “un caffè” means an espresso. If you're happy with that, you don't need to specify. If you want something different, check the table below for a list of types of coffee and what they’re called in Italian.
2. Possiamo sederci per un caffè?
Could we sit down for a coffee?
If you'd like to have coffee at the table, you can check with this phrase if it’s ok to sit just for a coffee.
3. Posso avere un caffè americano?
Can I have an Americano?
If after days of drinking espressos you're craving some filter coffee, this is how you can ask for it at an Italian bar.
4. Per me, un decaffeinato.
Can I have a decaf.
This will still be an espresso, but with no caffeine.
5. Un caffè ristretto / lungo
A short / long coffee
This is how you indicate that you want your espresso more concentrated (ristretto) or more watery (lungo).
6. Al bancone
At the counter
7. Al tavolo
At the table
How to order coffee in Italian: Coffee vocabulary
|un caffè macchiato
|macchiato caldo / macchiato freddo
|espresso with a dash of milk
|with hot or cold milk
|un caffè ristretto
|un caffè lungo
|espresso with more water
|espresso with some milk and cocoa powder
|un caffè doppio
|un caffè corretto
|coffee with a drop of liqueur, traditionally grappa
|un latte macchiato
|latte (a generous amount of milk with an espresso in it)
|una crema al caffè
|coffee cream, similar to a coffee sorbet
|un caffè al ginseng
|un caffè shakerato
|iced coffee mixed with sugar, sometimes also mixed with liqueur
Note: You can find these and more phrases to order coffee in chapter 19 of our A2 course! Not yet registered? Sign up and start learning today!
How to order food to go in Italian
Are you feeling lazy after many nights out at the restaurant? Or maybe all restaurants are fully booked and the only option is takeaway? If you're in a city, you'll definitely be able to use a food delivery app.
However, these might not be available everywhere in Italy, and you might just need to order on the phone or in person. In this section, you'll find some useful phrases to manage food delivery and order food to go in Italian.
1. Piatto / cibo da portare via piatto / cibo takeaway
Takeout dish / food
Next to the expression “da portare via”, the English expression “takeaway” is also commonly used in Italy to indicate food to go.
2. Vorrei ordinare … da portare via, per favore.
I would like to order … to take away, please.
Example: Vorrei ordinare due pizze da portare via, per favore. - I'd like to order two pizzas to take away, please.
3. Posso avere anche … ?
Could I also have… ?
Example: Posso avere anche delle posate di plastica / dei tovaglioli? - Could I also have some plastic cutlery / some napkins?
4. Può aggiungere… ?
Could you add… ?
Example: Può aggiungere la maionese / il ketchup / la salsa di soia / … ? - Could you add some mayo / ketchup / soy sauce / …?
5. Tra quanto è pronto? / Tra quanto posso passare a prenderlo?
When will it be ready? / When can I come to pick it up?
These are phrases you can use to ask when your food will be ready, in case you're going to pick it up yourself.
6. Tra quanto arriva?
When will it arrive?
If you’re having your food delivered, this is how you can ask when the food will come.
7. Posso portare via gli avanzi?
Could I take away the leftovers?
This is a phrase you can use if you’ve ordered too much food (that’s not uncommon in Italy!) and want to take some home, so that it doesn't go to waste. It is not particularly common to do this in Italy, but it won't be a problem to ask.
Ordering food in Italian: Recap
If you’re planning a visit to Italy, food is definitely going to be among the most exciting bits of your holiday. Now that you’ve read through this guide, you can enjoy your Italian meals without having to worry about not being able to express yourself.
You have all the words and phrases you need to go in and start ordering pizzas and Peronis like a local! The only thing left for you to do is choosing the restaurants and trattorie you want to sample among the millions of amazing ones you will find on your way… In bocca al lupo e buon appetito!
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