Want To Dine Like a Local? Here’s Your Guide to European Restaurant Etiquette.
Each country has its own unspoken rules surrounding meal time. Though you are not necessarily expected to be aware of these customs as a visitor, waitstaff will not excuse your lack of etiquette or spare you their judgment if you are not observing the local traditions. This seems a difficult feat as the unspoken rules are exactly that: unspoken. But luckily we live in a digital age where information is accessible. A little research can go a long way where etiquette is concerned, so do yourself, and your travel group a favor, and be informed on how not to out yourself as American tourists when traveling abroad.
In Europe, the customer is not at the top of the hierarchy, as is expected in America. Meaning, you should forgo your niche preferences and opinions when ordering off of the menu. While serving tables myself, it was a common occurrence for diners to say something like “I’ll have the lobster pasta, without butter, and with the cheese on the side please? Oh, and with extra pepper.” Annoying as it was, I was to smile and oblige, since the customer is king at American restaurants. If you were to ask this of a waiter in Italy, you may receive extra butter, no pepper, and the chef’s spit in your entrée. At European establishments, it is the Chef who knows best. So if you don’t like pasta with butter, and cheese, don’t order it. You may still receive a dirty look as disdaining dairy is sacrilege, but at least you won’t be explicitly offending the kitchen.
In Italy, make sure to let your bread last throughout the meal. Chowing down on the bread before your first course is not the Italian way. Bread is meant to complement the meal, and not as a free snack.
Fold your lettuce when you’re in France. Cutting the salad, no matter how big the pieces are, would indicate that the chef did not prepare it correctly. This is a big one to remember, as proper etiquette is especially noticed, and praised, in France.
In Spain, eat late. Spaniards observe a very different mealtime schedule than Americans. Lunch time is anywhere between 1:30 and 3:30, while dinner is usually at 9pm, at the earliest, and can last until midnight.
Lastly, wherever you are overseas, signal for your server to bring the check. They won’t bring the check until you ask, no matter how long you’re waiting. It would be considered rude to rush diners out of the restaurant. You should learn how to say “Check please” in the native language of your travel destination, if hand gestures or eye contact aren’t your strong suit.