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Mar 6, 2012 07:33 AM

two questions about dining ettiquette in Italy

Many thanks to Allende, Octavian and Barberindee on their help for our coming trip to Emilia Romana.
We intend to try Dal Pescatore, Le Calandre, Craco and Osteria Francescana. Wow --- looking at the cost here makes us remember fondly the dining in the 70's when we ate at Paul Bocuse for $85 and
nice meals under $100 at two and three star restaurants in the countryside of France.

1. Since gratuity is often added into the meal, what is the proper amount to leave in cash for the waiters?
I have heard 5 to 10% but would like you guy"s input.
2. Also, to save costs, we have had one of us order a main course and perhaps and appetizer --- then, the other orders the menu degustione (prix fix) and we share many tastes together. Any feel if we can do this at these restaurants? Most places have not given us any trouble on doing this, particularily when they
are fairly empty.

I look forward to your reply plus any addition suggestions on cutting edge food.

I suspect I will either have a huge diet ahead of me when we return or a visit to the tailor shop.

thanks again for your wisdom

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  1. with the exception of Dal Pescatore, all these menus will be highly non-traditional and experimental - unlike those meals you remember from the luxe country restaurants of France.

    none of these restaurants serve traditional food of Emilia-Romagna - in fact only one is IN that region (even Dal Pescatore is in Lombardia, admittedly in that area a similar cuisine)

    Maybe you ought to try one or two of the traditional restaruants of the region as well (though you may be hard put to have serious meals at both lunch and dinner. Ive recommended before Arnaldo's Clinica Gastronomica, in the town of Rubiera, near Modena, which has an adjoining genteel hotel and recently received a michelin star. Unlike the restaurants above, Arnaldos serves the classic dishes of the region at what we thought was a very reasonable price. One feature that may recommend it is that , service is largely from carts, except for the pastas and soups, so you can see what you are getting as you move through the multicourse format and sample different items. Also, they were happy to arrange bis or tris tasting plates for the pastas, and some of these were extraordinary Finally you, It was a festive and convivial environment filled with groups enjoying a celebratory eating. Good breakfast spread too. Allende has recommended other country places, such as Da Ivan, which also has rooms, and there are in-town alternatives, such as Hosteria Giusti in Modena but it seems to me it would be a shame to leave this region without at least sampling the cured meats,and delicate, rich home made pastas that make it special.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jen kalb

      ps sorry not to respond to your actual request here.
      in my experience it can be awkward, given the leisurely nature of most tasting menu formats, and is not awfully common for all diners in a party not to participate in a tasting menu . You should check ahead at your destination restaurants as to whether that is permitted if you dont get specific answers here.

      Will leave it to others to comment on tipping practices at Italian high end restaurants..

    2. If the gratuity is added into the meal by way of a service charge or just "service included", there wouldnt be a need to leave anything more.That said, I would, generally, round up the amount - so if the bill was €67, I'd leave €70.

      1. Tipping has been discussed at great length on this board. If you can't find it, I'm sure someone (else) will give you a link.

        Sometimes restaurants ask the whole table to participate in the tasting menu, others not. The problem is one of synchronization. They don't like to leave anyone with an empty place watching the other guy eat. You should assure the waiter that you don't mind, and discuss when to bring out the non-menu dishes. Really, you're going to fabulous places. Shouldn’t you just bite the bullet and both have the tasting menu if that's what you like? If you don't like one of the items on a tasting menu, they will usually substitute it with something of about equal weight, just as long as you don't upset the rhythm.

        2 Replies
        1. re: mbfant

          Dal Pescatore. As I mentioned in another post the tasting menu is 180 euros. Everything is included. Period. Craco, when I knew it was the same way, as I imagine Calandre and Francescana are as well. No tipping needed or expected. You'll get exceptional service, and if you feel guilty, you can leave something for the pot, but it is not necessary... but appreciated. Certainly not 10%. These are professional waiters, paid well, at all the places mentioned and they are there to serve expertly and do not expect tips.

          You said, " to save costs, we have had one of us order a main course and perhaps and appetizer." Can you do it? Of course. Should you do it? Absolutely not. What you're essentially saying is that one of you will order and the other will order one dish (and perhaps an appetizer).

          I don't mean any disrespect, but if the two of you can't afford to eat at Calandre or Pescatore or the others, you really shouldn't be going. Pescatore, Calandre and Francescana are very small (even Cracco is not large) and operate with tremendous fixed costs. They are losing money if essentially only one person is ordering a full meal at a table for two.

          My friends here in the restaurant business love Americans and America. They realize they would be speaking German or Russian if it weren't for us and the British. That being said, they (from three stars to osterie) are dismayed that Americans (and British and Germans) come in for dinner and essentially order one meal for two people and no wine or water. These people work incredibly hard and are dismayed when this happens.

          One anecdote, not with these restaurants but with La Buca in Zibello. We're sitting there having lunch a few years ago and four people walk in (I won't mention the nationality but it wasn't Italian). They order two meals for the four of them, no wine, no water. When they leave, they stuff their pockets with all of the very copious amounts of bread on their table and all of the sugar in packets. Shameful.

          1. re: allende

            allende - I'm somewhat surprised that your restaurant friends find British customers ordering a single meal to share between two. It's not a thing we generally do in our culture and I don't think I've ever seen it in a British restaurant - with the exception, occasionally, of chain restaurant pizza and, very occasionally, dessert.

        2. I agree with allende, etiquette wise, it is improper for one person to order a menu degustazione and the other order just one or two courses. At both Dal Pescatore and Le Calandre, the menu asked that the menu degustazione (whichever one chooses) is taken by everyone at the table. They will be accommodating as my partner and I have ordered different tasting menus at both Dal Pescatore and Le Calandre. Rather than doing what you are considering, my suggestion for saving euro is to skip some of the extras such the aperitive, the coffee afterward and go easy on the wine. Service charge is always included in the bill, therefore, no need to leave any extra. And if cost is an issue, do three instead of the four on your list. These restaurants are to be savor and enjoy and not to 'try' or just to taste.
          "Most places have not given us any trouble on doing this": it is the job of the serving staff at these high-end places to be accommodating and not show outwardly their displeasure. And it has nothing to do with the place being 'fairly empty'.
          I remember the 70's at Bocuse also. That was 35 years ago.

          2 Replies
          1. re: PBSF

            I don't think it's improper for one to order the tasting menu and the other to order à la carte if restaurant policy permits. I do agree that it's very cheesy to order little more than one meal for two people. Allende's comments about the economics are quite right. Many non-Italians don't realize that there is not much turning of tables. On our most recent trip to London, all our e-mail confirmations of restaurant reservations contained the politely worded warning that we would be expected not to take more than two hours over our dinner. That doesn’t happen in Italy, so it is especially nasty to occupy a table all evening without buying one meal per person, preferably with wine, but of course some people don't drink and can't be obliged.

            1. re: mbfant

              The 2 hour rule in the UK will usually only apply to earlier reservations where the restaurant is hoping to turn the tables. Reservations for after, say, 8.30 normally imply that the table is yours for the evening. Even so, the 2 hour rule is comparitively rare, even in London, and about as common as hen's teeth in the rest of the country.

          2. i'm properly chastized -- no longer will we order only one prix fix meal and then al la carte on the other. We also generally get a good bottle of wine , an after dinner wine and never, never would we take food from the restaurant. Glad to know about the tipping -- we have been to over 50 countries and each seems to have a diiferent agenda . Also, we plan to certainly eat at traditional restaurants also to get a feel for the different regional tastes.
            oh well -- time to remortage the house and enjoy our trip


            1 Reply
            1. re: dog21


              I think you may have interpreted the advice being given here as more rigid than it actually is.

              In my experience in Italy, if a tasting menu is designed for two or more and shouldn't be ordered singly, that is stated on the menu. If there is any uncertainty, you can always ask the waiter if the tasting menu is best for 2 people, or if the restaurant also recommends it for one.

              But I do agree with a rigid rule that one shouldn't be in a high-end restaurant unless one is coming for the occasion of everyone eating a grand meal. In addition to the fact that Italian restaurants do not do volume business to keep up the bottom line, they do not make a profit with mark-ups on serving hard liquor from the bar like many high-end restaurants elsewhere do, where it is often customary to begin a "night out" with a pricey cocktail or two.

              Outside of high-end restaurants, I do think a traveler in Italy is in a difficult position when it comes to meeting a restaurant's needs and at the same time meeting their own needs when it comes to daily eating. Most travelers want to sit down and relax over a meal twice a day, yet at the same time, two Italian restaurant meals per day are too filling, even if they are affordable (and for many it is a squeeze). For those of us who don't like cold or reheated pizza al taglio, or gelato or panini, the usual solutions offered, or who don't drink wine if we are driving, and who are told that leaving food on the plate is rude to the cook, the challenge becomes identifying tasty eateries where eating modestly is truly OK with the proprietors, and is reflected in portion size. (On a recent trip to Rome, I was able to eat happily at Settimio al Pellegrino twice a day because their portions were just right, even though they are not cheap)

              I compliment you for asking about the dining etiquette.