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Do we really need every restaurant planned before we go to Rome?

My husband and I will be in Italy in May and are typically "let's just walk until we find something interesting" travelers or we'll talk to locals we meet. From reading different restaurant suggestions, this doesn't sound like it is the best plan for Rome?? Do we really need reservations for lunch and dinner? We'd rather not be on too much of a schedule, but sounds like we need to be if we plan on eating anything decent? This is our 1st trip to Italy, thanks for any suggestions!

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  1. Read these many boards...take a look at Katie Parla's blogs, and if something strikes you, like Roma Sparta for example, make a reservation....if not, why not just "wing it"!!! Have a great time!

    1 Reply
    1. re: sockster

      I agree with "sockster." We spent two week in Roma a couple years ago. Our homework process is to study maps of the city, read reviews and locate places on a map--then treat this as our backup plan. Since we prefer small places frequented by locals rather than tourists, our goal was to walk the areas and talk to folk for suggestions. We ended up eating at 2 previously identified places--all the rest were from locals' recommendations and "happy accidents." We never deviate from this process as we explore areas--so, relax as you prepare, and relax as you enjoy ROMA!

    2. Except for a place like La Pergola, which is not what I think you're looking for, you don't have to make reservations months, weeks or even days in advance. Most places will still accept phone reservations made the same morning. Friday and Saturday evening and perhaps Sunday at lunch may require reservations a bit longer ahead.

      Put together a list by area of the restaurants that interest you and call to reserve when you've decided where you'll be that day. (Locals are not always the best source of recommendations.)

      1. as sockster, Longing for Italy and zerlina have astutely pointed out, reservations aren't essential for most places, though making reservations for fine dining is highly recommended. I would also recommend booking Sunday lunch and Friday or Saturday dinner if you want to eat at 9pm, the busiest dinner hour. I do like the approach of surveying locals--though beware that many (most?) hotel concierges get kickbacks for sending you to restaurants--but I am completely incapable of leaving dining to chance when I travel (much to the dismay of my more laid back companions!!). Additionally, I am more and more disillusioned with the quality of food in the center of Rome and happening upon a place with decent food is not always a given. What I suggest is that you look over the boards, get a good map of Rome, and mark it up with some places that interest you. Longing for Italy's advice is probably more practical than my anxiety ridden plan-every-calorie approach!


        1. if you are going to have your phone with you, consider downloading Katie's new Rome Dining Guide app. You will at least have excellent suggestions at your fingertips if needed.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ekc

            ekc thanks for the Parla Food Dining Guide shout out! at the moment it doesn't work off line, but it does, however, function on computers, iphones, blackberries and androids with an active internet connection. you can email listings details to yourself from the app to check when you are offline. Im not sure it's kosher for me to post a link to it but since it came up in the tread maybe it is? here goes nothing! http://guide.parlafood.com/#home.php?...

            1. re: katieparla

              Impressive site!I have bookmarked it for our May visit. thanks!

              As to the question, " To plan or not to plan," I think folks confuse forethought and thoughtful research with creating a schedule, template or checklist. IMHO the former is required and the latter is oppressive.

          2. Given how costly a vacation in Rome can be, and how right we want it to be, there's every reason to build the best list you can of places you'd like to try, knowing that nothing's guaranteed.. On the other hand, serendipity is priceless, and as much fretting as I know I do before a big trip, I'm often amazed (and not a little saddened) by some of the CH posts by folks planning a trip that lay out often a dozen or so places, often with dishes already selected, asking for board-wide imprimatur. Over and over these posts appear, and bravo to the Rome insiders who take the time to respond, over and over.

            1. Thank you all so much for the feedback. Looks like the best plan for us is to map out restaurants throughout the city that are recommended often, and at least have that to reference when we're in the different areas. I'll be sure to download Katie's app also before we go. Even if we don't want every minute planned, it would be horrible to not have amazing food experiences while we're there! Thanks again!

              1. If you have your heart set on a particular restaurant (though you needn't in Rome), you do need to reserve, but since Romans don't like to plan, short notice is usually fine. What you should not do is just wander around and eat at the first place you come to when you decide you can't take another step. You need to carry information and a cellphone. Don't obsess and overplan, but don't leave everything to chance (I simply do not believe people who say they ate consistently marvelously with a lilies-of-the-field approach; they are probably easily satisfied). And remember that for lunch there are bars, pizza al taglio places, and other light-lunch joints where you couldn’t reserve even if you wanted to.

                1. ive read all the responses and they are spot on. if you care about what you eat, its worth getting an idea of where you will be and keep a list/map ofsome good restaurants in those areas, noting their closing days.. If its lunch time, you will often be just fine without a res if you get there at the beginning of service. but there is nothing more depressing than arriving late, and getting turned away when you are hungry and tired. Too, in certain areas, like right around the Forum or the Vatican, its not like restaurants are exactly thick on the ground. Better to have a destination in mind if you spend your morning in a place like that.

                  Im always a bit sad when I read accounts of unsatisfying meals on Fodors and other travel sites - often the travelers hadnt done any research in local foods and restaurants, made no plans, just walked in someplace randomly. Sometimes they are great meals, sure but your chances are reduced by random choices. Or maybe you are like Jim Leff our legendary site founder and just have great "Chowdar". Its always better to have some base level of knowledge before you go even if you arent a nut like some of us..

                  Will be interested in hearing about your plans and your trip.

                  1. I agree with everyone, that you don't need to make reservations months in advance, but it does pay to have some sort of wish list before you hit the ground. In the last few years dinner reservations have become a must, even on week nights, if you don't want to get stuck waiting on the sidewalk for a table.
                    Lunch is easier, and while you are more likely to find a table at the last minute, it sill is wise to know where you are going. There are plenty of restaurants you don't want to end up in, while great places may be just around the corner from where you are.
                    There are actually some iPhone apps available on iTunes, with built in maps, that will show you where the closest, bestest restaurant is while you are walking around. :)


                    1. Not sure if this was mentioned in other posts, but if you do wander into a restaurant without a reservation and there are empty tables but you are told the restaurant is "completa" (booked) be diplomatic yet a bit firm and ask again if they can't fit you in somewhere, per favore. I bet you'll get a table. :)

                      1. when my mother first brought me to Rome when I was young we would have cheese and tomatoe and Roman bread and fruit for lunch and looked for somewhere to sit and enjoy!You only need a swiss knife!It depends what kind of restaurant you want in the evening.Avoid the touristy ones with people hawking outside.Two restaurants on the Piazza Cavour side where the roman families go is 'La Berninetta' where they also do good pizza in the evening (don't need to book) and La Matriciana.(book) You can walk from where you are There are also two sicilian places where you can buy fried rice balls and chickpea pancakes until late at night.

                        1. There are a million ways to skin a cat and they all work. When I see an interesting place during my walks, I note it in my iPhone (text, voice message, photo, whatever) and do a little homework that night. If some place checks out, I'll pop over during an afternoon and make a reservation for that evening. I probably use all the techniques mentioned above, too.

                          Edited to add: My rental apartment has reliable wi-fi. I also subscribe to an international data plan (AT&T) for my iPhone when I'm in town. This really helps.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: steve h.

                            I know this is overkill, but I TOTALLY agree with what has been written ... you need to have a few choices on your list in the various locations where you think you will be so you don't get stuck wasting time and money on something awful. Sometimes your planned restaurant is closed on a day or at a time you thought it would be open, and it is nice to have a plan B and C that is within walking distance. I don't consider myself a gourmet (AT ALL!!) but there is plenty of bad food to be had in Rome, like in every place in the world that tourists go. We all say we want to eat where the locals eat, but I think frequently the locals that live around the hotels I stay in are eating at home. Thus, I have learned not to care who the other patrons are ... and I don't care if they speak english and look (like me) like tourists, as long as the food is good and the atmosphere is what I am looking for. To do that, one must plan! And, surprising at it was to me a few times when I decided to "wing it" a less than adequate meal can come with quite a price!! The persons on this board that are ever so patient to critique my proposed choices for my trips are generous with their time and tips probably because they know that you can get a bad meal somewhere and be stuck with a bill that is still quite high! Ouch! Very disappointing! A little planning (not necessarily reservations for each meal) can go a long way to preventing this!