Alone, with friends, family, work colleagues: in Italy, we often find ourselves eating out, but exactly how often and, above all, how much do we spend on average when we eat out?
According to a pre-pandemic ISTAT estimate (2019), every Italian family spends around 129 euros per month on restaurants and hospitality-recreational services in general: a sum that is growing in some regions (North) and decreasing in others (South) and which is susceptible to variations not only depending on per capita income, but also on the cost of living which is not uniform at a national level.
So, we can say that Italians go to restaurants on average 2-3 times a month, spending from 20 to 60 euros per person.
We also have to declare that usually, catering is condensed into a broader concept: a dinner-show, a cultural event, a nature walk or even an art exhibition with buffet and appetizers.
On the other hand, in Italy food is a question of identity and, therefore, it is completely normal seeing it accompanying many of our activities apparently unrelated to a foodie occasion.
Italians like to experiment, but always in a quality regime
Always looking at the estimates of 2019, almost 1 out of 3 Italians is fascinated by food curiosity and the desire to experiment.
This means that there is great openness towards new premises and cuisines coming from other countries, which easily earn a first visit. However, the second occurs only with respected expectations and total satisfaction.
The most popular days of the week for a “gastronomic excursion” are certainly those of the weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and Wednesday, much chosen by the 18-34 age group and by those people who prefer to enjoy a dinner avoiding the holidays’ crowds.
The social aspect linked to this type of experience is essential too, because Italians love sharing and commenting on others’ recipes and, above all, using food as a channel, excuse and frame for getting together.
But let’s continue with the official data: here are our most frequent orders:
- Pizza – 30%
- Pasta – 25%
- Meat – 20%
- Fish – 15%
- Salads – 5%
- Appetizers – 3%
- Desserts – 2%
Ethnic cuisine for Northern Italy, steak house meat, hamburgers with different sauces and street food for the South.
As regards the choice of restaurant is concerned, or rather, based on what we prefer one restaurant over another, apart from the curiosity factor I mentioned earlier, there are:
- Food quality
- Room cleaning
- Recommendation from friends and relatives (especially among the under 35s)
Even the reviews are taken into consideration, as far as we are concerned, word-of-mouth does not beat it.
For 48% of Italians, the use of fresh, high-quality ingredients is also fundamental, 21% (especially in the 18-34 age group) are even attentive to the proposals for those suffering from intolerances or following a vegan/vegetarian diet.
In other words, we can summarize everything in 4 keywords: cheap, quality, yummy, healthy!
The Italians’ habits: food as a lifestyle
The places where it is possible to eat in Italy are practically infinite and each of them offers different experiences: from fast to slow food, from starred restaurants to semi-unknown pubs where generous portions, authenticity and small prices meet.
Therefore, talking only about restaurants would be reductive and it would not help you get an overall picture of the matter.
Scenarios also change according to this type of panorama: those people who sit down to eat a lunch or dinner in company surely order more dishes (meat, fried food, side dishes, saltimbocca and panuozzi) than those who find themselves alone, maybe on a lunch break from work, with just enough time for a sandwich and a cool drink.
Still a different matter for those who participate in aperitifs – medium-short appointments in which to taste a few snack and tell friends and colleagues about the day just spend before returning home and have dinner – or in events that offer an experience/a collateral show to food which, in these special cases, is just a frame…although our “food frames” are always substantial!
So, if you are wondering if it is possible to find an Italian at a restaurant alone, the answer is yes and no.
It all depends on the location: expensive and fancy places are the prerogative of couples and small groups, while informal and urban places lend themselves better to this type of target who find here the ideal space for a lunch break and an opportunity to visit friends and acquaintances who, maybe, work there.
In short, in Italy there is not the same overseas habit of sitting in a diner (there does not even exist that type of concept here) where the Betty on duty is ready to pour coffee (Geez, how long is that coffee!) and serve slices of apple pie.
By the way, did you notice the big absence from this speech? Where is the much loved and decanted pasta that Italians just cannot do without?
It may seem curious, but for us this dish represents an important one that we do not usually eat anywhere and we cannot conceive of it as fast food.
Gnocchi, rice and pasta can only fill our plates if we are in a real restaurant, where everything is cooked in the right way and with the best ingredients, just like we would at home; elsewhere, we prefer to order different, tasty or otherwise nutritious but differently demanding things, like sandwiches or tramezzini, for example.