How to order an Italian Coffee – Ordering coffee in a bar in Italy

Un bar, a bar in Italy does not always

imply where people go out clubbing and get drunk late at night (those are usually discoteche or discopubs). Bars can be all-encompassing:  they serve  breakfast in the morning, are open until lunchtime and serve food (panini, Italian sandwiches,  already  prepared  salads, and even pasta or meat courses), and are open again at dinnertime where they may serve food, or just aperitivo, a pre- dinner drink with snacks. They may stay open late, they may close in the afternoon, or they may stay open the entire day.

Bars  are  meeting  places,  and  the same bar may have three distinct faces during the day depending on where it is and how long it stays open: in the morning locals may get breakfast there on the way to work, lunch is filled with businessmen and  other  workers  in the area wanting a quick bite, and dinner/aperitivo time may cater to a younger crowd looking for some social interaction with a  cheap  price  tag,  or locals wanting to avoid their stoves for an evening.

It’s good to note when you walk into a bar if someone is sitting at la cassa, the cash register, and is handling payments. Most bars like you to pay first (unless you’re sitting down at a table to drink, and there is usually a waiter or table service) and present lo scontrino, the receipt, when you go to the bar and order. It helps them keep track of who’s paid and also focus on just making the coffee while others handle the money. If you see “Munirsi dello scontrino prima di  ordinare”  or  “Munirsi  dello scontrino alla cassa” you know they want you to first pay and get the receipt before ordering. When in doubt, you can ask, “Si paga prima?” (Does one pay first?)

If you’re in a touristy area, there may be tables and chairs for people to sit and drink coffee. Note that there’s probably table  service with a  waiter, and often bars  will  post two  sets  of prices  for those who want to drink standing at the bar  (al  banco)  or  sitting at a  table  a tavola. Expect to pay more to sit down than to drink at the  bar. Most Italians drink their coffee quickly, standing at the bar, and move on, especially in areas where  there  are  a  lot  of  people.  For many Italians, “prendere un caffè” (get a coffee)  will  take  only  a  few  minutes from payment to digestion. Bars charge more for table service usually to discourage tourists from sitting there all afternoon. Bars in non-touristy areas and full of locals will probably not have a table service charge and people will sit at tables (especially on the weekends).

Now that you’re inside, how do you order? If you have your scontrino, receipt, you can make your way over the bar and wait until the bartender is ready for you. I usually hold the receipt in my hand and rest my hand on the counter so they  can  see  I’ve  already  paid  and  I know what I want. Be patient and make eye  contact  if  possible.  The  barista might  be  very  busy  but  luckily  each coffee will only take a few seconds.

If he makes eye contact with you and is ready to take your order, he may say “Prego!” (basically, Please/I’m ready…tell me what you want) or “per Lei?” (for you? formal) or “Dimmi” (tell me, informal).

Thanks to this guide, you already know  the  name  of  the  kind  of  coffee you’d like to order, and you want to be polite, but you’ll probably hear that most people don’t do a lot of speaking when ordering, and get straight to the details. I myself will  order  like  this  “un  caffè, grazie.” or “un caffè” (and thank them when they give  it to  you). I think the impulse to add “per favore” at the end of every request is a good one but a bit out of  place  in  the  fast-paced  breakfast crush.

Next…what to eat with that coffee?

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