Much like “Happy Hour” in the U.S., the Italian version, aperitivo, is a great time to meet up with friends, grab a drink and munch on some food.
However, that is where the similarities stop and in my opinion, the aperitivo wins.
If you’re going to Italy soon and haven’t taken part in this Italian tradition, I highly suggest you add it to your must-do list. If you’ve done it before, but want to relive the fun (or check your knowledge) here is everything you need to know about one of Italy’s favorite pastimes.
So, what exactly is an aperitivo?
It is a drink and food combo that normally begins around 7pm and ends between 9pm and 10pm.
With your purchase of a drink (normally alcoholic but you can get whatever you want – keeping in mind the price remains the same usually) you get either a sampling of food brought to you, or access to a buffet.
How much you eat is up to you, but oftentimes, there is enough food to make it serve as dinner.
It ranges in price from 5-15 euro (sometimes even more) but normally, in Florence at least, it costs about 10 euro. Keep in mind, this includes your beverage AND food plus a lively atmosphere of Italians just off work, chatting, socializing and having fun.
Now that you’re familiar with what an aperitivo is, its important to keep in mind some etiquette.
9 Aperitivo Etiquette Rules You Need to Know
1.) You can often make reservations. If you have a big party (more than 3-4 people), it is a good idea to call ahead. If you need to brush up on how to make a reservation at an Italian restaurant, click here.
2.) Not all places do aperitivo, so if you’re unsure, ask. You can simply ask these questions: Fate aperitivo? A che ora? Do you have aperitivo? At what time?
3.) When going to the buffet, the plates are small. That is because Italian’s don’t consider aperitivo dinner. In fact, the word comes from “aprire” and it is meant to “open” your appetite, not squash it.
4.) However, if you’re planning on making it a meal, just take one small plate at a time. It used to be only foreigners who did this, but nowadays I see lots of Italians eating enough for dinner as well.
5.) You can go back for seconds, but use a new clean plate.
6.) If you’re only having aperitivo at a place that also serves dinner, it is expected you will leave before the dining hour. Don’t linger past the time the buffet has closed, unless the location turns into a regular bar.
7.) Aperitivi range in quality and quantity. Don’t be surprised if one place offers peanuts and pretzels while a place a few doors down has pasta, couscous, chicken wings and more.
8.) You can read reviews on aperitivi online by checking Yelp or other online review websites. Just search “aperitivo” in the city you are going to, or better yet, ask a local.
9.) Often the food is served without explanation, so if you have allergies or are unsure what something is, it’s worth asking the server.
Besides etiquette there is also some vocab worth remembering.
— Apericena – Aperitivo combined with the word “cena” (dinner), meaning a large aperitivo that is intended to be enough for dinner
— Aperitivo a buffet – Buffet style aperitivo
— Lo spritz – An orange drink of choice made from Aperol for summertime aperitivi
— Un negroni – This is a famous, bitter and very potent drink, popular in Florence. It’s made with Campari and it is not for the sensitive palate!–
— Con/senza ghiaccio – With/without ice
Keep in mind soft drinks are often served without ice.
— Analcolici/alcolici – Non-alcoholic or alcoholic choices for drinks
For more tips and suggestions on Italian culture and language when traveling in Italy, check out the Not Your Typical Tourist Workbook / Phrasebook.