Why Reservations Are So Important When Exploring Restaurants In Italy

In Italy, dinner is an event. You won't be scarfing utility pizza on foot while rushing to the subway station. For breakfast, it's perfectly acceptable to rip a cappuccino and a cornetto while standing at the bar — but no such thing will fly for the evening meal. Dinner the Italian way lasts for two or three hours on a normal night. Servers in Italy don't rush guests out, either. Dining is a social event, and the check isn't coming until it's asked for. Many eateries are also physically smaller than the often massive Italian restaurants in the U.S., which also limits the number of available tables. (We love Olive Garden as much as the next foodie, but expect a smaller scale en Italia.) In short, don't expect to hear the host tell you that a table "should be opening up in 15 minutes." If the house is full by the time you show up for dinner, you're out of luck for the night.

In America, mealtimes are very much a matter of personal preference. Maybe you eat dinner around 6:30 p.m. every night, but your parents eat at 5:00 and your roommate doesn't get hungry until 9:00. In Italy, mealtimes are pretty set throughout the day. Lunch takes place between 1:00 and 2:30 p.m., and dinner happens around 8:30 to 10:30. As such, when dining out in Italy, making a reservation can be crucial to ensure you'll have a table within these windows.

When to book your reservation

In touristy areas, you'll probably be able to secure a table one day prior or even same-day, especially for a party of one or two. At more popular or well-known restaurants, booking that rezo a few weeks or even a month in advance might be necessary, especially for a large group. If you're looking for spontaneity as you travel, you can still dine at that cute bistro you happened to pass on your walk. Just keep in mind that reservations are typically expected, even if you call the restaurant just a few hours before you want to eat. To get the best of both worlds, as you plan your trip, book two or three restaurants on your must-hit list ahead of time, then leave the rest of your meals up to whatever eateries you discover along the way. 

Pro tip: If you see a restaurant advertising dinner at 7:00 p.m., dining there will immediately out you as a tourist because that's its target demographic. Most Italian restaurants are closed between 3:00 and 7:00 p.m. If dining earlier is more your style, book as early as you please, but to eat like a local, book your table for later in the day.