Bars & cafes

Going out in Italy

Bars & cafes

The foreign custom of ‘going out for a drink’ isn’t particularly popular in Italy, where most people consume alcohol only with meals, although many Italians have a grappa or brandy with their morning coffee.

Nevertheless, bars and cafés are plentiful in Italy and are an essential part of daily life. In fact, there’s an ever-increasing range of bars and ‘pubs’ springing up throughout the country; in Rome alone, there are many hundreds of watering holes.

Most bars are similar in appearance – a pristine chrome bar, bright lights and a photograph (or two) of the local football team on the wall – and serve snacks and ice cream as well as drinks all day (they also admit children).

When you enter a bar, your first decision is whether to stand or sit; once you’ve chosen, there’s no going back! Table ( tavola) or terrace ( terrazzo) service is usually twice as expensive as standing – a tariff list ( listino prezzi) must, by law, be posted behind the bar.

If you choose to stand, you must usually order from the cashier ( cassa), who gives you a receipt ( scontrino) that you present to the bartender, although in smaller bars you may be able to order first and pay when you leave. If you decide to sit, you must wait to be served. It isn’t done to order from the cashier and then sit down; if you do, the waiter will have his suspicions about your nationality confirmed instantly!

Hot Drinks

Coffee ( caffè) is an institution in Italy and is served in many ways. Among the most common are:

  • espresso – a small, very strong black coffee;
  • caffè lungo – also small and black, but weaker;
  • corretto – black mixed with a liqueur, usually grappa;
  • macchiato – black with a spoonful of milk ‘foam’ on top;
  • caffè latte – large with lots of milk;
  • cappuccino or cappuccio – with with cream and chocolate on top, often served lukewarm and drunk only for breakfast or between meals in Italy (only foreigners insist on it being served after dinner!).

A decaffeinato or Hag usually consists of a sachet of decaffeinated coffee and a cup of warm milk (decaf isn’t popular in Italy). Some names for coffee vary from region to region, although none have much in common with the pale imitations dished up in many other countries. An espresso costs around €0.80 and a cappuccino around €1.25.

Italians aren’t great tea drinkers and, if you ask for tea, you should be prepared to receive a glass of lukewarm water with a teabag beside it. If you want proper tea, ask for boiling water ( molto caldo or bollente) and bring your own teabag! Other hot drinks include chocolate ( cioccolata), which is thick enough to eat with a spoon.

Beer & Wine

Beer is a popular drink with Italians, particularly among the younger generation, and British- and Irish-style pubs have mushroomed in recent years. Italian beers include Moretti, Frost and Peroni, which are served in bottles containing one-third or two-thirds of a litre and on draught ( alla spina). Prices average around €1.50 for a small ( piccola, 20cl) beer, €2 for a medium ( media, 40cl) beer and around €2.75 for a large ( grande, 66cl) beer – although prices depend very much on the establishment and whether you sit or stand, and you can pay up to around €5. Beers from a wide range of other countries are also widely available.

Wine ( vino) is served by the glass, costing from around €1 to €1.50, although you can pay up to €12 for a glass of vintage wine in a wine bar.

Other Drinks

Non-alcoholic drinks include granita, an ideal summer drink made with fresh lemon or other fruit juice and crushed ice. Carbonised drinks are also popular throughout Italy, where bars and cafés are obliged (by law) to provide a free glass of tap water for anyone who wants it, irrespective of whether you buy anything else.


Bars usually serve a wide range of snacks, from sandwiches to basic hot meals. Snack bars ( paninoteche) specialise in made-to-order sandwiches with a vast choice of fillings, which are usually displayed behind the counter. The different sandwiches available include:

  • tramezzino – thin white sandwich bread cut into triangles;
  • panini – a crusty, French bread stick;
  • schiaccitta schiacciata– a large, round salted cracker which, when filled, is cut into portions;
  • toste toast or tost– a toasted sandwich, which in bars is usually limited to cheese and/or ham.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Italy. Click here to get a copy now.

Further reading

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