5 signs that a restaurant in Italy is a tourist trap

Oct 5, 2022

How to find the best food in Italy

One thing most people expect in Italy is mind-blowing food, and for good reason.

Italy has all the saucy, fluffy, flavorful, and authentic pastas, breads, pastries, and cheeses that you could dream of. But how many people have you talked to that came home from Italy underwhelmed, casually (and pompously) trying to burst your bubble by saying the food is overhyped or overrated? 

Trust me when I say that they didn’t know where to go or how to spot a tourist trap vs. an authentic Italian restaurant. Italy, like every country, has both fantastic and terrible food. It also has entrepreneurial people who are well aware of the mental picture that tourists, particularly American tourists, have in their mind for dining in Italy. 

It goes without saying that you want to avoid tourist traps at all costs so that you don’t miss out on experiencing real Italian cuisine. That’s why I’m sharing these 5 tell-tale signs of restaurants that you definitely want to avoid! This advice came straight from Lorenzo, a very sweet guide born and raised in Florence that I met on one of my first days in Italy.

Signs that a restaurant is a tourist trap in Italy

1. Red and white checkered tablecloths

Shocked? Then they’ve got you right where they want you. Think of all the American movies you’ve seen that are set in Italy- they all include that classic red and white checkered tablecloth. These restaurants, which are also probably the closest restaurants to the must-see tourist attractions, are playing to what they know you think “authentic” Italian restaurants look like.

2. Pictures of the food outside the restaurant

If there are laminated photos or large signs showing pictures of the food, run far and fast. Authentic Italian restaurants update their menus seasonally and frequently, so if you see a faded laminate sign out front with photos of the food, it’s definitely a tourist trap. Lorenzo called this on in particular “schifoso” — gross.

3. A person outside trying to convince you to come in

If there’s an employee standing outside of the restaurant acting like a club promoter, turn and walk the opposite direction. This one is common sense- decent restaurants don’t have to station people outside to beg you to come in. 

4. Menus translated to several languages

While seemingly courteous, all of the authentic restaurants that I ate at in Italy had either only Italian or Italian and English translations on the menu. If the menu has 3+ languages on it, it’s a sign that they’re purposefully going for mass appeal and catering to tourists, and that includes the dishes they choose to put on the menu. According to Lorenzo, locals DEFINITELY not don’t eat at places like this.

5. Pineapple on pizza

I actually love pineapple on pizza (don’t come @ me). But I understand that it’s sacrilegious in Italy and all of the Italian grandmas would turn in their graves if they saw this happening at the family restaurant. 

Other important things to know about dining in Italy

True Italian cuisine is composed of simple, minimal, fresh ingredients. Italians have a food culture that prizes care and taste over efficiency and turning tables quickly. As an American, the dining experience took some getting used to because meals are an hours long affair. It’s a stark contrast to American dining when it comes to the speed of food coming out, the frequency of servers checking in on your table, and getting your check. So if you’re that fussy person who expects a server to check in with you every 15 minutes, you’re going to be frustrated in Italy. 

You know what they say- when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Savor, relax, and enjoy!

Last thing- is if you need more convincing, another great thing about eating authentically in any country that you visit is that you’re supporting the local people and economy. You don’t always have to opt for restaurant: hole-in-the-wall food halls and markets always have amazing street food and fresh produce too!

Looking for more? Don’t miss the best-of-the-best!

Are you new here? Let’s be friends! I’m Sarah— a solo female traveler (& world’s okayest travel blogger) helping you travel the world, discover surprising destinations, & have a laugh getting off the beaten path. Scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up to stay in touch (I promise not to spam you- just to share the best travel hacks, guides, itineraries, embarrassing stories, and unmissable experiences)!

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