In Italy, work relationships are quickly changed into personal ones. After work, Italian work colleagues often go out for an aperitif or a meal together and then on to a bar. It’s also common to have a quick espresso in the cafe around the corner and of course to have lunch together. Sometimes work topics are discussed, at other times the conversation will be about personal matters.
You will certainly spend a lot of time in restaurants and bars during a business visit to Italy. Having a meal together is often used to deepen a business relationship or to clear the air. Not accepting an invitation to dinner would thus be taken as rejection.
The course of events and etiquette
Business dinners often start around 8 pm and can go on until late at night. People also meet for lunch, usually from 1.30 pm to 3.30 pm.
Hospitality is greatly valued in Italy. Because of this, your Italian host won’t necessarily choose a fancy restaurant. Their choice is more likely to be a favourite local restaurant with good cuisine and regional specialities where you can enjoy a delicious meal in a relaxed atmosphere. The food will therefore also take place in a relaxed atmosphere. You should still be stylishly and well dressed.
You should wait at the entrance of the restaurant until the waiter assigns you a table. Then the host will usually go ahead and see to the seating arrangements.
A meal of three to four courses is ordered. Pasta is an appetizer in Italy and is served as a small portion. Only use a fork at the outer edge of the plate to twirl your spaghetti. Don’t use a spoon as well.
The meal will end with dessert, cheese and then an espresso and a grappa. Drink both slowly in small sips to really enjoy them.
If you have been invited for an official business lunch by your Italian business partner, they will also pay the bill. However, if you are having lunch with your Italian colleagues, the bill will be split equally and paid in one go to the waiter. Simply place your share in cash on the plate with the bill.
Tips are generally included in the bill as a service charge, as is the fixed “coperto” (cover charge) per person.
A private invitation to your Italian business partner’s home will take your personal relationship to a higher level. Bring a small gift, preferably a speciality from your home country or something with a personal connection to your host. Flowers for the lady of the house are also suitable, but not Chrysanthemums as these are considered funeral flowers.
Engage in stimulating conversations on topics such as family, hobbies and vacation spots, look at the family snaps on the wall and above all: praise the food!
Soon after coffee, it’s time to say goodbye. Thank your hosts for their hospitality and extend an invitation to come and visit you soon.
Italians are very proud of their country and even more so of their region. If you are on a long business trip, they will be happy to show you the local sights or invite you to a cultural or sporting event. It would be contrary to Italian hospitality to leave you alone in the hotel in the evening or on weekends. Count on being invited to join a wide range of social events and accept the offers gracefully.