We have compiled a few notes about dining in Europe, based on trips we have taken over the years and our latest experiences this time over nearly three months. I thought this might be a good time to pass these along, a day after we ate the worst meal we have had here. (But it was our fault. We should have known better.)
- Don’t eat at places that display photos of their dishes on the menu, especially if they post the menu outside the door.
- Don’t eat at restaurants where an employee stands outside asking you in like a barker.
- In Italy, don’t eat pizza at “cafeterias” or places that display the food under a glass window. The pizza was made in another age, so the dough is thick, the toppings are thin and it is only half-cooked, waiting to be warmed up when you order it. It’s fine to eat pizza from a takeaway shop open to the street, where the pizza is cooked fresh and sold by the slice, as is common in Nice. But avoid Italian pizza under glass windows.
- Don’t order a glass of wine or a beer at restaurants that don’t list them specifically on their menus. The wine or beer will be invariably overpriced.
- Study the menu before you enter and be ready to order quickly after you sit down. Service in restaurants here is incredibly fast by American standards. It is customary to order wine and food at the same time and be served the wine just minutes before your dishes come out.
- At the other end of the meal, don’t expect the check to be brought to you with the same speed. In fact, in some places, don’t expect the bill to be brought to you at all. European after-meal service can seem casual to the point of indifferent to Americans. European restaurants expect you to sit back and let your meal settle. In fact, they will let you sit there at your table pretty much the entire day until you ask for your check. Some Americans consider this poor service; Europeans consider this natural and polite.
- Don’t order the “tourist menu” in Italy unless you are really hungry. We usually split an appetizer or salad (their salads here are typically gargantuan) and order one entree each, which might or might not be pasta. The Italian tourist menu typically offers an appetizer, a primi (pasta) and a secondi (meat or fish) and dessert. Too much for us sexegenerians. We rarely see the locals eat like that either, although it is common to see diners of all ages down an entire pizza. The only people we have seen gorging themselves on the full tourist menu are not from Western cultures.