11 Tips for Dining Out in Italy with Kids
In Italy, enjoying food and family is an essential element for a good quality of life. Italians include their children in their mealtime experiences, and it would be very rare to find a restaurant where kids were not welcomed. You will find restaurants are very accommodating to babies, toddlers, and kids of all ages. Even so, there are some cultural differences and things you should know about eating out with kids in Italy.
1. Don’t ask for a kid’s menu
Most restaurants in Italy do not have kid’s menus. If you do find yourself in a restaurant with a kid's menu, you may have found yourself in a tourist trap, with food that won't be very good.
No kid’s menu doesn’t mean restaurants in Italy are not kid-friendly, especially the casual trattorie and osterie. Most restaurants will custom make items like pasta on request. When our daughter was going through a tomato faze, every restaurant we went to was happy to serve her a plate of freshly cut tomatoes drizzled with just a little olive oil.
An Osteria (pronounced oste-ria, plural osterie) in Italy was originally a tavern serving wine and simple food. Today, an osteria focus has shifted more towards the food, and it is an inexpensive place to eat a good meal along with local wine. Menus tend to be short, usually featuring local specialties such as pasta and grilled meat or fish.
A Trattoria (pronounced traa-toe-ree-uh) in Italy is described as a restaurant less formal than a ristorante but more formal than an osteria. At a trattoria you will find traditional regional cuisine. Truth be told, I don’t recognize a difference between the two. They are both great dining options with kids.
2. How to read the menu
Italian menus are divided into the following sections.
Antipasti // Think of this section like the appetizer portion of the menu.
Primi // This is known as the first course and consists of pasta, gnocchi, risotto, or possibly a soup. The portions are usually not huge.
Secondi // This is the second course, and this section will contain meat or fish. Some restaurants may include a vegetarian option.
Contorni // These are side dishes.
Dolci // Desserts
Caffè // Coffee is ordered at the end of the meal, after dessert.
Bevande // The wine list.
You do not need to order both a first and second course. Ordering only a first or second-course item per person is entirely acceptable.
3. Consider going to a restaurant for lunch instead of dinner
Italians do not rush through meals, and the customer service reflects this. Most restaurants will not open for dinner until 7:30 or 8:00 P.M. This means long dinners potentially way past your kid's bedtime.
In my articles, Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Trip to Italy with a Baby or Toddler and 11 Best Tips for Traveling to Italy with Kids, I recommend adjusting your kid's bedtime to a later time, and sleeping in later to be better in tune with the Italian culture. However, if keeping your kid way up past their bedtime after a long day of sightseeing is going to result in meltdowns or a grumpy attitude during dinner consider grabbing something quick to eat at the end of the day. Try enjoying a long meal at a restaurant in the middle of the day.
When our daughter was younger, she would nap in her stroller while we could enjoy a long, relaxing lunch. If you have a baby or toddler who will nap in their stroller, make sure you take one that reclines and take advantage of naps "on the go."
4. Where to eat outside of regular restaurant hours
As mentioned above, most restaurants do not open until around 8 P.M. for dinner. If you want to eat a quick early dinner or your kids get hungry outside of the hours most restaurants are open, you still have options.
A bar in Italy is generally not what you think of when you imagine an American bar. An Italian bar is family-friendly without age restrictions and is not only a place to drink alcohol. It’s a place in the morning where you can grab a coffee or a pastry. Later in the day, you will usually find an option for sandwiches, other snacks, and drinks.
Takeaway pizza places offer premade pizza. You can choose pizza by the slice inside the display case. You pay at the counter and take the pizza with you. Sometimes there will be stools to sit inside and sometimes a few tables just outside. In Rome, they call these “Pizza al Taglio” (Cut Pizza). It is usually offered with a variety of toppings and comes in rectangular sheet-pans. All you do is tell the server how big of a slice you want.
You can also buy food-to-go at a Rosticceria, an Italian version of a rotisserie. Here you can usually find a variety of foods (cold and hot) that include anything from a rotisserie chicken, pizza, sandwiches, fried food such as suppli` (fried rice balls, stuffed with mozzarella cheese), among other things.
5. Look for a restaurant with outdoor seating
Weather permitting, we always prefer outdoor seating with our daughter. Italians generally don't mind the sounds of children, but sitting outside gives you a noise buffer. If your child does cry or start getting too loud, either the sounds of the streets can cover it, or you can quickly take them for a short walk to recover.
Sitting outside can also provide entertainment. People-watching can be an activity even little ones enjoy. If the restaurant is located in a piazza, kids may be able to walk around or play within your view while you relax at the table.
6. Don’t drink from your own water bottle at the table
Tap water is generally not an option at Italian Restaurants. It is customary that a bottle of water would be ordered at meals. You will be offered a choice between a bottle of naturale (still) or frizzante (sparkling). If your child is young (toddler or baby), it would not be rude for them to drink from their own water bottle or baby bottle.
7. Don’t order lemonade
From my experience, Italians do not know what lemonade is. The one time we did try to order it and explain what it was, we received a very sour concoction of pure lemon juice mixed with water. Instead, try a Limonata, a sparkling lemon beverage.
8. Bring Entertainment
As mentioned, sitting down at a restaurant in Italy isn’t a quick event. Carry with you something to help entertain your child like a coloring book, book, small travel game, or toy.
9. Bathrooms are not always family-friendly
Many public bathrooms in Italy do not have toilet seats, or they may be squat toilets. A squat toilet is used by squatting over a toilet hole in the ground instead of sitting. If you have a potty-trained toddler or a young kid who would have trouble using one of these consider purchasing one of my favorite travel items, the Potette Plus Portable Potty. It is foldable and works as a trainer seat over a toilet or a travel potty with disposable bags.
Most Italian restaurants will not have a changing table in the bathroom, in fact, public changing tables can be hard to come by in Italy. Your stroller may be the only place you want to lay your child down for a diaper change. (See my article Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Trip to Italy with a Baby or Toddler for more reasons why I advise traveling with a stroller).
Most restaurant bathrooms are small, so you most likely won't be able to fit your stroller inside the bathroom. If my daughter needed a diaper change, I would leave the restaurant and find a discreet place to change her diapers, such as a park or an unoccupied area of a piazza. This is what many Italian moms do. Don’t forget to bring a changing pad with you.
10. Don’t count on a highchair
Some restaurants will have a highchair, some won't, some will only have one. I also have found many of the high chairs old, unstable, and not very safe for a squirmy baby or toddler.
Many Italians will just hold their baby while eating, but I like to be "hands-free' during my meals, so we like to travel with Phil & Teds Lobster Clip-on High Chair. If you want something lighter to carry around, you could bring the "My Little Seat" Travel Highchair, but I don't like this one as much as their head will be at or below the table. Just like Italians, I want our daughter to be a part of the meal at the table.
11. How to make a quick exit
Italian waiters usually will not bring your check unless you ask for it. Italians would find it rude for a waiter to bring the bill without asking, and they would interpret such a gesture as if they were being asked to leave the restaurant.
If your kid is on the verge of a meltdown or you have any other urgent need to leave quickly and don't have time to wait for the waiter, you can pay at the cash register. The cash register can usually be found behind the bar. You can pay there without having to wait for the check from the waiter.
Your next step in planning your trip to Italy with kids is downloading my Free Travel Planner! Included in the planner is:
Travel Planner Timeline
Suggested Travel Gear
Carry-on Checklist by Age
Packing Checklist by Age
Discount Codes for Tours, Rentals, Babysitters & More!
Weekly e-mails with helpful tips.
Sign up to download the planner here:
I promise not to spam you and only use this information to send you updates from the blog and information relevant to traveling to Italy with kids.
Once you hit subscribe, look for the email in your inbox. If you don't find it, check your junk or spam mail.
Save this article for later: