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The Experience of Eating Out

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Although Rome is known for its delicious food, service-mindedness is not a concept generally understood or practiced in most restaurants or bars. Prompt and friendly service simply does not go with the attitude: Roman waiters are a proud bunch and will not risk appearing servile.

This does not mean that you will not come across great waiters, or great dining experiences – on the contrary.

l restaurant campo rome The Experience of Eating Out

A restaurant on Campo de' Fiori

One of my favourite experiences of eating out in Rome took place a few years back in early August, when I ate at a pizzeria in Testaccio on its last open night before the holidays, sending the staff on a three-week break to wherever they were from. Our bulky 6 foot 5 inches tall waiter, originally from Sardegna, was dancing between tables, hugging the guests, and delivering dozens of pizzas simultaneously. Between a couple of speeches, in which he told of his longing for his mother and her cooking, he sang songs from home in a booming voice, cheered on by the crowd.

This example illustrates how, generally, eating out is much less a predictable event in Rome than in many other cities around the world. The protocol of arriving at the restaurant, being seated at a table, receiving the menu, ordering the food, being served the food roughly in the order wished for, and being presented a correct bill at the end, all by a reasonably friendly person and in a reasonably quiet environment, cannot be relied on in Rome. In fact, any part of this sequence may vary greatly depending on the locale. While some guests will find that such an uncertain undertaking is too adventurous for their liking, others will enjoy the thrill of it and will happily engage with the locals in this way.

p lady menu night rome The Experience of Eating Out

Studying the menu

Although the experience of eating out in Rome can vary, some similarities are observable: You may not receive a menu until you ask for it, and once you have ordered, it doesn’t seem advisable to rush your waiter, ever. He will serve the food once it has been prepared, and when he has the time. When you finish your meal, you may need to ask twice for the bill, which will not appear instantly. It will first need to be totaled out at the convenience of the waiter, often in consultation with the owner. All this rather suits the roman way of dining; a meal is taken as an opportunity to relax, to converse, and people generally take their time.

As noted above, this does not mean that your experience of eating out in Rome will be terrible. It is just likely to be different – but it doesn’t need to be. You may stumble upon a beautiful little trattoria tucked away in an alley, in a quiet spot, with infinitely smiling and soft-spoken waiters. Or you may find yourself sitting among large groups of Romans of all ages caught up in loud, effusive, but amiable conversation. Finally, if you get talking to your waiter, or even the owner, you might very well be offered a complimentary digestivo at the end of your meal. If this happens rarely, at least it is not an expression of service-mindedness, but of a genuine sense of affection. An acceptable trade-off only at times, I must agree.

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