Enjoying a cup of coffee at a café…. sounds pretty straight forward, right? You order, you pay, you sit down if you want, you might stay a while, and then you leave. However, every culture has its differences. Ordering and eating out in Europe is no exception.
Let’s break it down.
Say you want a coffee in Italy (trust me… you want the coffee in Italy). First you go to the counter of a café (also referred to as ‘bars’ from the signs…but not the shot taking, floor tearin’, throw it back kind of bar). So, you go to the ‘bar’ and order a coffee of your personal taste.
Here is what you need to know:
· A regular coffee translates to ‘un caffe’ in Italy, meaning that you will get a shot of espresso that is meant to be gulped in one fowl swoop.
· Cappuccinos are typically ordered only in the mornings (particularly in Paris) and are one shot with milk and foam.
· Iced coffee is not as common abroad as it is in America, but most places can still accommodate this request.
· Café Americano, or “Americano” is espresso with water and is the closest to a typical American cup-o-joe.
What you also need to know is that most Italians stand at the bar, chug their ‘caffe’ and then continue onto work. They don’t typically have to-go cups, and they don’t spend a lot of their mornings sitting around at cafés drinking coffee during the week (the weekend may be a different story). If you want a to-go drink, look for signs that indicate ‘take away coffee’ or ask ‘to take’). For this reason, if you want to sit down to enjoy your cappuccino, there will be a surcharge for taking a table and potentially requiring service.
So then what should you do if you want to sit and enjoy a croissant and your favorite caffeinated beverage?
Head to the bar, order what you want, and then let them know that you will be sitting at a table before you check out. If they encourage you to sit before paying, make sure to ask for the bill when you are ready to leave. A ‘self-service’ bar will require you to only order at the counter, whereas other cafés may let you know to sit down and a server will come over. Just know that even when you snag a table, you will most likely see your server only three times: to order, when they bring your food/drinks, and when you ask for the bill. For coffee orders, you may see that they bring the bill with the food.
There is another important thing to note when eating a meal at a restaurant. It is considered rude in many parts of Europe to bring the bill to the table without it being requested (typically for lunch and dinner). The good news? It is extremely rare to feel the need to rush out of a restaurant when you finish eating. Meals out are events in Europe and they are meant to be leisurely enjoyed, and sometimes consuming a full evening. Don’t get frustrated, blame it on bad service, and take it out on the waiter…just wave the server down and ask for ‘the bill’ (not ‘the check’) when you are ready.
It’s easy to be confused, feel embarrassed, or even feel like the service is poor in a place where actually the biggest difference is the culture. Be patient, be assertive, and most of all…enjoy your meal!