Restaurant faux pas in Italy??

We went to an outside restaurant in Piazza Rotunda at the Pantheon for their delicious Tiramisu (however it's spelled). The waiter seated us front row until he gave us the menus and we said we were only going to have dessert and wine. He then asked us if we wanted to sit further back and we said, "why, because we are only having dessert?" So he left us there and when our wine and dessert were delivered, discretely placed under a metal napkin holder was our bill. Talk about the bums rush! NEVER got a bill in Europe without asking for it. We were quite embarrassed and didn't know what we did wrong. On a previous night we did the same thing at a restaurant in Piazza Navona and were treated so nicely we made a point of going back for dinner before we left. My question is... What rule did we break that resulted in such shabby treatment?? I know I don't want to do it again, for sure.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2375 posts

Was it at dinner time? It sounds like you were "taking" a prime seat but not really eating a meal. In Italy (and many other European countries), a table is given to you for as long as you want it. So they'd rather have actual diners than snackers during the mealtimes. Otherwise, they lose money. That's part of the cultural difference.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5737 posts

Yep, that's Italy, where the customer is NOT always right. Think of it as part of the charm, or you'll go crazy. Douglas is right. They assumed you were going to monopolize a very desirable table that could instead be given to someone who was going to order a full meal. It was nothing personal against you. And, as you found, it varies from restaurant to restaurant. The other truth is that that restaurant in Piazza Rotunda gets so much business that they don't have to worry about offending potential guests. That's the problem with lots of restaurants in the major piazzas. Italians do indeed tend to stay at a table for a much longer time than Americans. At one restaurant in Venice frequented by locals, we stopped by in early afternoon to make a reservation for that evening. The owner told me they were full. I pleaded with him (in Italian) to see if there was some way we could get a table. He said, "Well, I can give you a table at 7 pm, but you have to promise to be gone by 9 pm" as if that was almost beyond the realm of possibility that we could finish a meal in two hours. We were done by 8:15. :-)

Posted by Dianne
Pawtucket, RI, USA
88 posts

Thank you so much, Douglas and Michael. You reminded me that those cultural differences are exactly why we go to Europe. I was really so annoyed and needed to understand why it happened....which I now do. And you are correct.. we were at the Navona restaurant much later in the evening. Thanks again!

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7820 posts

Jennifers post is exactly what I thought too, I didn't percieve that "treatment" as shabby at all,, what was waiter supposed to do, I found nothing the least bit offensive.. I would prefer it that way myself but I think some people enjoy a waiter hovering more then I do.

Posted by Rik
Vicenza, Italy
700 posts

"Yup, that's Italy..." No, it's not. This was a tourist restauarant next to one of the prime tourist locations in Rome where you can expect treatment like that but most of Italy is not like that at all. When in restaurants in popular tourist places, it's best to just let the waiter know in advance that you just want dessert and wine and he'll seat you accordingly.

Posted by jennifer
brooklyn, ny, usa
118 posts

diane, i believe you may be over reacting to this. from what i can tell, and ive read your post several times to see if i missed anything, your server discretely placed your bill under a napkin holder while serving what you told him was the only item you were going to be ordering. i honestly dont see what is so noteworthy about this. you told him that was all you were ordering, why shouldnt he give you the check at that time? he placed it discretely. even if he hadnt done it discretely - why would this would be embarassing? like if anyone sitting nearby saw him place the bill on your table you would be shamed? im sorry, im just not seeing any shabby treatment or any reason at all why you would be so upset by this.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5737 posts

Rik, I didn't mean that it's like that everywhere in Italy. In fact, I said it varies from restaurant to restaurant. I just meant that this kind of experience is much more common in Italy, esp. in the major piazzas, than you would find in the US. I'm a big lover of Italy. We're going back for our fourth trip in May and I can't wait.

Posted by Paul
Cedar, IA, USA
2371 posts

I agree with others to the extent that you were taking up a prime table in a very tourist centric spot. I recall being turned away from a restaurant on Campo di Fiori when we made it known we were interested in just drinks and maybe a snack. Get away from the main Piazzas or to a smaller town and this would not be an issue.

Posted by Dianne
Pawtucket, RI, USA
88 posts

OK, I see your point. Yes, we did overreact and I'm glad I put this query into Rick Steves so I can put what I perceived as a bad experience aside and change it to a definite learning and better understanding experience. Thank you ALL for pointing that out

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3404 posts

Dianne: What a very civilized & thoughtful response. You are very nice.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2460 posts

Paul, there are usually some bars/cafes with outdoor seating if you only want light snacks/drinks; during peak hours many restaurants expect guests to have a meal.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

If you want drinks and light snacks, go almost anywhere in Italy in the 4-6pm time slot and that's what you get. Just order a drink and the snacks will automatically be brought. When in Italy, meals and drinks service follow a fairly rigid time schedule. Italy isn't as "loosey-goosey" as you might imagine. I've been yelled at in Italy by workers who didn't like that I wasn't following "rules." Asking for info at the train station, asking for a particular flavor of gelato in a restaurant, walking across train tracks in the lane meant for workers..... You are probably lucky you didn't get yelled at!

Posted by Kat
Boston, MA, US
17 posts

Was the table already set for dinner (napkins, glassware, etc?) or was it bare? If it was set, then it is a table for a meal only. People who are just looking for drinks or light snacks have to sit at the tables which are not set, usually in a separate section from the dinner tables. This was my experience. At least the server let you sit there instead of demanding that you move.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5737 posts

Dianne, you may have to delete this topic to avoid future comments from people who aren't reading the entire thread. (I'm assuming you're getting email notices about each new response.) Just a thought.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3202 posts

Don't delete this thread, it could be helpful to others.