Please sign in to post.

Introvert anxious about dining out in Rome

My husband and I are planning a trip to Rome (eventually... once COV19 is no longer an issue).
We are both introverts who find social interactions in English stressful and the added cultural differences and language barrier has us anxious about eating out in Rome.
I am really looking forward to experiencing the food and am practicing key phrases to make interactions smoother, but I fear I will just end up eating quick take-out food in order to avoid the challenges of making a reservation, ordering correctly, possibly dealing with being ripped off, etc.
Does anyone have advice for ways to enjoy authentic cuisine in a low-stress environment?

Posted by
157 posts

This may not work for you, but perhaps a food tour? I've only taken one (in Madrid), but on my tour (with Devour Tours), our guide explained a bit about how to order food and other topics that made it easier to go out to eat on our own.

Also, when I've been to Rome, I haven't noticed too much of a language barrier when I've gone to a restaurant. Perhaps use Google translate or another similar app in case there are difficulties. Relax and I'm sure you will have great experiences!

Posted by
323 posts

You are probably better off in Italy eating out than in the states. The waiters don’t constantly come over to see how you are. They are career waiters and I found very professional. If they sense you don’t want to chat, most likely they will let you be.

They all speak English.

Posted by
6060 posts

I don't find (albeit moderate to upscale) Italian restaurants in the US to be much different in terms of the menu - they'll have a "primi", "secondi", "pesci", "dolci" categories that look exactly as you'd see on Italian menus (some examples here: https://www.eataly.com/us_en/stores/nyc-flatiron/nyc-restaurants/). So if you're that anxious, practice first at home in you have a nice restaurant nearby. Look at some library books that have names of regional Italian foods. For example, I got this one for Sicily and it was great in familiarizing myself with foods I wouldn't see on a typical Italian menu: https://www.amazon.com/Eat-Smart-Sicily-Decipher-Adventure/dp/0977680118

I went to Rome for the first time solo in my 20s and ate every single dinner (and lunch) alone in a sea of groups. I was definitely an outlier, but it didn't bother me one bit. I also had wine with every meal and a journal or book so I kept myself occupied. I never had any issues communicating with a waiter in either Italian (I spoke it at a moderate level) or English.

I think if you read up on the cultural differences (like length of meal, mineral water, small quantities, waiters leaving you alone, etc.) and are prepared, your anxiety is probably going to decrease. I would not under any circumstances recommend forsaking good food and experiences and substituting take-out. Long, satisfying meals are a big part of the culture, and it will get better as you gain more practice and confidence. If you're worried about being ripped off, stay away from overtouristed places which are typically smack in large plazas and highly visible.

Posted by
3927 posts

I second the idea of a food tour. You will try some great food, and your guide will give you tips on eating out in Rome. And he or she will be delighted to answer your questions.

Some things are tricky, but I wouldn't worry about being ripped off. The trickiest part for me (and not only for me) is behavior in a bar - ordering coffee can be surprisingly difficult for us. (Decide what you want, go to the cashier, pay for your order, get a chit, take it back to the bar, get your order, leave a minuscule tip (optional), then stand there and drink your coffee. If you want to sit with it, you pay extra. If you want to sit outside and order from there, it costs even more. Etc.)

If you're staying in a hotel, ask the desk clerk to make restaurant reservations for you. I like to eat in trattorias; they tend to be less formal, with a simpler menu.

Rick's books have tips on how to behave in different categories of eateries, as well.

Posted by
84 posts

Many restaurants use the Open Table online booking service or have a direct booking link on their website. You could do bookings online. There are lots of places where you will not need a reservation.
If you know certain restaurants that you want to visit you could make a reservation online before you even leave on your trip.
The restaurants are used to serving people who speak all different languages. They will usually have an English language menu or the English description written under the Italian.

The prices, including tax, are printed on the menu. Sometimes there will be a service charge and a charge for bread. If you do not want the bread, just wave it away when they bring it.
You just pay the total on your bill. A waiter may tell you that tip is not included, but you do not need to tip. If you use a credit card they may ask if you want to pay in euros or dollars. You should choose euros.

You will be just fine. The restaurants are so used to all types of travelers and are very helpful.
Have a great trip.

Posted by
5017 posts

Everyone you deal with will speak English about as well as you do. English is the closest thing there is to a universal world language if tourism is involved, so you (and most of us) are lucky, everyone else has gone to the trouble of learning our language (something to keep in mind and be thankful for).

They will leave you alone if you want to be left alone. The only phrases you should need to know are please, thank you, maybe yes and no. You could get by without those but you will make others feel a bit happier (and it will make you happier too) if you can sprinkle in a few pleases and thank yous here and there....but don't sweat it.

You are over-thinking this (I'm sure you know). Relax and go with the flow, you will have fun, you will enjoy the food, and dealing with people will soon become a non-issue. I would cross this off your list of things to worry about.

Posted by
2294 posts

I would highly recommend that you do a food tour on your first full day there-not the day you arrive.

Posted by
226 posts

You could also go to the places that are most highly recommended by forum travelers. It’ll be good food but places that are used to tourists and can speak English (if that makes you more comfortable), and plenty of places have menus in English, which doesn’t mean the food is lower quality. I stayed in the Jewish quarter and had dinner in one of the places there every night where they cater to both locals and tourists. There wasn’t a bad meal.

Posted by
1866 posts

Some great advise up thread. We will be making our 4th visit to Italy in the fall. That said, before our first visit I wanted to be prepared. I took a 6 week Italian class at a local travel company that included dining information. I also take Italy classes at RS, and found his Italy guidebooks full of key information. As previously mentioned, the wait staff may speak English. Lots of great Rome Trattoria’s recommended on this Forum as well.

Enjoy your planning!

Posted by
330 posts

What's so bad about takeout? My husband dislikes eating in restaurants, so to minimize arguments when we travel we often get local foods in supermarkets as takeout or order room service.

Ordering room service in a foreign country is as much of an adventure sometimes as going to a restaurant! In China we would pick out items that seemed least likely to be spicy-hot and still get a dish filled with little red hot peppers. But so what, it's just one meal, and in the room no one else is staring at you.

Posted by
5539 posts

Download Google Translate to one of your phones. Works very well. We have used it in Italy as well as in countries with different alphabets likeJapan, Egypt.
Type in English what you want to say and it comes up in the other language you have chosen. Download English to Italian,and Italian to English before you leave home and you can use it without any data usage or charges.
And a food tour in Rome was so much fun too. We used Eating Rome.
Buy Elizabeth Minchilli's App EAT ROME for $4.99, a great investment.

Posted by
226 posts

You could also preview menus online. Looking at menus is a hobby of mine (just me? Probably not :) but it might also make you more comfortable with standard options and wording. Whatever it takes to enjoy your trip!

Posted by
1105 posts

Here on this website under Rick's blog he has just shared a video clip from a Venice agency encouraging responsible tourism and in the clip the most practical bits of advice are to keep to the right while walking and don't eat takeout by sitting on a curb or edge of canal.

My point being that if you're introverted and concerned about interactions, don't opt for takeout and then find a spot to isolate yourselves because that will make exactly the kind of impression that you want to avoid.

Once you've picked out some places to dine use the advice above -- check out their menus online if available, see if your hotel desk can make a reservation for you, get a sense of what to expect.

I disagree with the comments about finding English spoken wherever you go -- I would not go to those places, like the restaurants right on Piazza Navona or around the Pantheon. That's not the experience I'm looking for. If a place has touts in front inviting people to come in, or large menu boards in English (or even worse, German) then they are catering to clientele I don't want to be around over dinner. Off the beaten path establishments are going to be more low-key (which is a relative term -- Rome is a bustling city so what seems cozy and laid back to them might still seem pretty hectic depending on what you're accustomed to).

Let me share an analogy: if you're going on a short trip to Yosemite with van- or bus- load of visitors for whom it's part of a longer trip, do you want to see/experience Yosemite or do you want to be traveling with a group (family, friends, new friends, strangers, whatever) where your group fun happens to be taking place in a famous natural setting? My impression (or maybe my projection) from your post is that you want to see Rome more than you want to meet and socialize with people visiting Rome or with people who work in service jobs in Rome. If that's the case, then that's what you should do.

Posted by
1469 posts

One thing we often do is stop by a restaurant in the afternoon to make a reservation for dinner that night - so much easier than telephoning!

Posted by
12040 posts

I think it's pretty unlikely you will stumble upon a restaurant in Rome where nobody speaks English. Rome is one of the most visited destinations on Earth, and since English is the current lingua franca, restauranteurs would put themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage if they couldn't communicate with you.

Plus, forget every stereotype you might have of boisterous, friendly Italians engaging strangers in their joie de vivre. Most people do not go out to eat in Europe with the intention of making new friends. You will mostly be left alone. Even the waiters generally only come to your table when you signal them.

Posted by
6536 posts

Let me just say a couple of things about eating in Italy. You'll be fine just speaking English as most big city waiters speak good English.
On a Saturday night, you'll often see whole families going to eat out. I'm a big guy and can eat a lot of food, but I cannot hold a candle to some little Italian men--eating course after course after course. We just don't eat as much as they do. We just pick what we want to eat and it's never the whole full Italian meal. But it's most often very good food.
Heck, I've been known to eat Chinese and Thai food in Italy too. Seems like blasphemy too.

Posted by
7604 posts

I'll just add that I travel solo and I am not a reservations type of eater. I also tend to eat early (can barely hold out until 7PM when many restaurants in Paris open their doors, lol) so I just go then and scan menus. Don't think you need to do reservations as often you can be seated as soon as they open.

This is not going to be as hard as you may be imagining.

Posted by
837 posts

Please enjoy Rome and the opportunity to eat out in a tucked-away piazza! Google Ristorante da Sabatino on Piazza San Ignazio (St. Ignatius Loyola) and look at the photos. We ate outside at night across from the church, and while I don’t remember the food being better or worse than anyplace else, the atmosphere alone was worth it. As others have said, many places are much more casual than what I think you may be imagining.

Posted by
187 posts

Get the Rick Steve’s Italian phrase book it has a whole section on menus and restaurants use google translate app

I really really really recommend taking this food tour. Not only was it fun and delicious the tour guide explained how to order in an Italian restaurant or cafe so that makes you more comfortable — but best if all if you like the restaurant on the tour you can make a reservation right then and there for a later night in your visit with the guide who speaks Italian helping you

People are nice. Waiters don’t bug you in Italy wanting to chat like they do in the US

https://www.eatingeurope.com/rome/twilight-trastevere/

Posted by
3315 posts

Rebekah, this should put your mind at ease - you will never see those waiters again or the rest of the people at the restaurant. So, if you feel self-conscious, no one will remember it. Of course, you might decide to return to the same restaurant because you had such a great meal!

I do like to look at some menus on-line, so I get a good idea of possible menu items and the general order of the menu in each country. Regional food will be unique.

I tend to be an introvert, and I traveled solo to Italy for three weeks to celebrate my retirement. The first meal might feel awkward, but enjoy the confidence you gain each time! And as a lovely woman, Zoe, on our Forum once told me, “Italy wants to feed you!” Enjoy!

Posted by
307 posts

I, too, suggest a food tour. I loved the Trastevere and Testaccio tour from https://www.eatingeurope.com/rome/

As a solo traveler, I really enjoyed being with other people yet eating the foods of Rome. So fun! And then I went back to some of the places we visited for a full sit down meal. Not intimidating at all. And, you're not going to get ripped off. Seriously, as someone above said - Italy wants to feed you! The Italian people are welcoming and most speak English - just know the basics of please and thank you. Seriously, don't waste your trip to Italy on fast food. Though, do be sure to eat the take away pizza - awesome!! A good resource for places to eat is Elizabeth Minchilli's app Eat Italy.

Posted by
890 posts

If you don’t like to socialize then do not take a food tour. There are thousands of places to eat in Rome where you do not need reservations. Check out a few restaurants on line and look up the meaning of words on their menus so you can have a good idea of what you might expect to see on menus. Many restaurants have English menus. Do not let anyone on this sight turn you off to eating at restaurants with English menus.

You will be fine if you don’t over think this too much.

Posted by
323 posts

I’m also in the camp that a food tour might not be great for someone who doesn’t enjoy a lot of social interaction....because you will get plenty on a food tour. The tours tend to be smaller and everyone engaging with each other.

Posted by
23 posts

Thank you all for your thoughtful responses and excellent suggestions. What a terrific and supportive community!
Some good ideas:
Download Google translate to use offline
Practice in local Italian restaurants
Look at menus in advance
Learn terms for cover charges, etc.
Reserve online, in person or have hotelier call
Elizabeth Minchilli's App EAT ROME
Consider food tour...

Happy travels everyone

Posted by
7604 posts

One more thing to add to the list....let us know how it went!