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How Professional Waiters Make Dining in Italy an ExperienceDiscover the differences between serving diners in the United States versus serving them in Italy
Americans, who are used to chain restaurants with waiters, who are working their way through school or aspiring to be an actor, just might want to head to Italy. Going out to eat is an entirely different experience in the Boot. Not just anyone can be a waiter in Italy. It is considered a profession, and many waiters have been to a hospitality school before catering to people's meal times.
While family-run trattorias don't necessarily have professional waiters, other upscale eateries definitely do. All waiters take their cues from the professionals. If you're not used to this kind of attention, you'll notice the differences immediately. For starters, waiters will always walk you through specials of the house and any other items on the menu that interest you. They'll offer recommendations based on the preferences you share.
Then, they will be extra attentive. They'll swoop in to refill your water as soon as you start to run low, for example. Bring you an extra cloth napkin if you seem to be eating something extra messy. They will always bring you lemon and water if you're eating shellfish, so that you can clean your hands and remove the odor on your skin. If you order wine, they will have you sniff and taste your order first to make sure that is exactly what you want. And Italian waiters will check in to see if you want more wine throughout the meal.
Granted, some of this is just common sense, and you can find it in waiters, who are not professionally trained, in the United States and other places. But attention to some other details goes above and beyond. For instance, waiters in Italy still use a small scraper to remove breadcrumbs from your table. They also provide diners with new silverware ahead of each course.
In the United States, patrons are often rushed out of a meal to make sure new customers can get in. In Italy, it is the exact opposite. Waiters purposely let you linger over each course. Seriously, it sometimes takes two hours or more to get through lunch, especially if you order the traditional antipasto, primo (pasta, soup or risotto), secondo (meat or fish with sides), and dolce courses.
Most waiters are not pushy and simply provide information on the menu without really encouraging you to buy one thing or another. But they sometimes steer foreigners away from what they consider bad habits. For instance, I have had relatives, who have dined in Italy and asked for cheese on a pasta dish containing fish. Its sacrilege in the Boot, and the waiter has refused to give it to them. I guess the customer isn't always right. One reason might be because Italian waiters don't work for tips. Although they have come to expect Americans will tip them, they don't typically get tips from patrons.
In any event, you might not mind their staunchness because they are really knowledgeable about food and work closely with the chefs to understand their intent and even artistic motivation. Indeed, the concept of having professional waiters jibes with the importance Italians place on food. Mealtime is integral to the culture. It's how families and friends interact. Food is truly life. Everything revolves around it. Of course, not just anyone can bring you your meal. He or she has to have the chops to bring you the best food and make it the best experience possible.
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