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Restaurant etiquette - is it necessary to order an antipasti, primi and secondi at an italian restaurant? [Moved from Manhattan board]

What is the standard for ordering at restaurants that offer multiple courses? What about at non-italian restaurants that offer first and second courses?

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  1. If the menu is a la carte, you can order as few or as many courses as you prefer. If the menu is a prix fixe, it depends on how many courses it contains. For example, with a 3-course prix fixe, there is often a choice between a list of antipasti and list of pastas. Convivio offers a 4-course prix fixe: antipasti, pasta, main course (sedondi), and dessert. However, they are flexible, i.e., you can choose to do two antipasti and select a pasta for the main course.

    1 Reply
    1. re: RGR

      And, if not prix fixe, mix it up any way you want. We went to Babbo a couple of years ago and I can't remember exactly how it stacked up but we certainly didn't order by any formula --- and shared everyting. Mmm. Still a wonderful memory.

    2. It definitely is not necessary, since I usually order only two courses, and no one's thrown me out yet. Sometimes I just get two appetizers! I live dangerously.

        1. No way. Though it is nice to have something in front of you while the other eats you should not feel pressured into ordering food that you don't want.

          1. Even in Italy people don't order three courses in a restaurant all or even most of the time. I would normally order a starter and either a pasta or a main course. I think for most people ordering three courses (and maybe a dessert) is an exception.

            1. I think this a hard one if you're in Italy. Same restaurants where I've eaten obviously expected diners to order every course, as the portions were quite small. Other places, portions were huge and it would've been impossible to eat 3 or 4 courses. You need to either know the restaurant or quiz your server. (Note: price per dish can be a good indicator of portion size.)

              1 Reply
              1. re: pikawicca

                <I think this a hard one if you're in Italy.>

                But the OP is not in Italy. The OP is in Manhattan. Unless this post is misplaced.

              2. No, I don't think so. I'm personally not a big meat eater so I almost never get a secondi or a meat course. No restaurant should look down on you if you only order a primi or app/primi (but of course some do) Some people are big eaters, some are not.

                1. Definitely not in Manhattan. It can still be the case in Italy, as traditionally a visit to a restaurant implied a full meal - at least primo, secondo, contorno etc. - but even there it's becoming a rarity to be expected to do so, especially in cities. But in New York, short of dollar-amount ordering minimums, you can do whatever you want.

                  1. If you're italian, it's pretty much a standard practice.

                    1. I've received disappointed looks from servers at Italian restaurants when I fail to order 4 courses. I just don't eat that much at one sitting and don't always want to carry a doggie bag with me.

                      You're the customer. I'm assuming you're asking about a la carte restaurants. Order whatever you like.

                      2 Replies
                        1. re: shaogo

                          I must say that like any other restaurant in NY, I suspect the servers are disappointed because the less you order, the less you tip. In Italy, where gratuity tends to be a token unrelated to check total, any disappointment is generally due to the shortfall in revenue to a family-run or small-business where servers are often related or close to their employers. There are also other considerations related to how restaurants in NY vs. Italy are run that are beyond the scope of his thread, but that also account for the traditional expectation of a multi-course meal. However, I rarely encounter any kind of umbrage at ordering an antipasto and a primo, or a primo and a contorno whether in Italy or NY.
                          And I am Italian, born and raised in Rome, and that 'standard practice' of ordering 3-4 courses at any restaurant meal has become far less common, as eating habits have changed a lot in both countries even in just the last ten years.

                        2. The standard in ANY restaurant in which you do not partake in a fixed price or tasting menu is what you want.

                          All this you have to order app, entree and dessert, or you have to order a drink, or you have to order a bottle of water or you cannot split a dish or you have to tip as if you ordered something you did not because you are taking up a seat is just a bunch of bunk.

                          You have to enjoy yourself, your friends or family and the food. You should leave a tip commenserate with the service, not on some virtual PC order.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: jfood

                            What I have done that has worked out well, is to share each course. The portions are all manageable, and you get to have multiple courses. Of course, you and your companion must have compatible tastes. I've always been lucky and the restaurants and servers have all been cooperative.

                            1. re: Val55

                              If that works for you and your co-diners, that is great.

                              But mrs jfood is not a big pasta eater in restaurants and jfood is not a big fish eater. Jfood thinks he should not have to split dishes or do anything else to have servers be cooperative other than the general rules of courtesy that he always maintains.

                              1. re: jfood

                                As I mentioned upthread, when we went to Babbo we ordered grilled octopus with a tiny salad, beef cheek ravioli and sweetbreads. No dessert. There was nothing but total hospitality. And that's all I've ever experienced. That's how we always order. I would pitch a hissy fit if I ever got a whisper of disapproval. Sheesh.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    We've dined at a restaurant similar to Babbo in Philadelphia (Vetri) where we usually will order an app, a pasta course (a half portion), an entree and dessert. But on some occasions, the pastas looked so good that we made an entire meal by ordering a bunch of half portions so we could try them all.

                                    Not only did Vetri have no problem with it, they even brought them out as "courses" and replaced silverware in between as well.

                            2. No.

                              Not here and not in Italy either. Order the amount of food you want and need, and nothing more. Don't ever feel pressure.

                              There was a sweet little old local man at a table near us in an outdoor restaurant in Italy. He ordered grilled artichokes, two large halves. He finished that plate, and ordered the same thing again -- two more large artichoke halves. He then paid his bill and left.

                              1. No, and this was discussed pretty thoroughly about six months ago: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/583502