Restaurants in Italy: Does Service Matter? (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my previous post. It includes my observations about how Asian customers are treated in restaurants in Florence and Rome.


Florence

L’Osteria di Giovanni (March 2017)
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The calm before the storm at L’Osteria di Giovanni | © Vylyst

Although we wanted to try the famous Bistecca alla florentina (Florence-style steak), we deliberately avoided Il Latini, the most well-known Florentine restaurant for this dish. Guessing that Il Latini could be a tourist trap, we made a reservation at L’Osteria di Giovanni, which belonged to the son of Il Latini’s owner (if I remember correctly). L’Osteria di Giovanni is a lot less popular than Il Latini. 

The reception was wonderful at the beginning – the staff were friendly and we got a lovely table. Up until when the steak was served, the service was quick, and waiters were attentive. Unfortunately, our waiters could not keep this up until the end of our dinner.

As we finished our delicious steak, suddenly none waiter was around. Even if there was somebody, that person would be in a hurry and avoid any possible eye contact. We could understand this because the restaurant was getting busy.

Watching other tables, we noticed that all customers were given complimentary cantucci e vin santo (traditional cookies and sweet wine) after finishing their meals. Then we realized that our waiter completely forgot about our table. Eventually, we did get our cookies after a long wait and some subtle signals (such as keep looking at the guests who got their cookies). We even got more cookies than other tables – it was probably how our waiter indirectly apologized us.

However, there was an exception. A table nearby of a Japanese or Korean couple did not get their cookies at all. They just had some tea after their meal then left. Did they say no to free cookies?

A lesson to be learned: If a restaurant offers complimentary food and drink, never leave the restaurant without getting them. Every customer should be treated equally.

Where to go instead in Florence: 4 Leoni

As I was ready to let go of the incidents in Venice, Lucca, and Florence, two recent experiences in Rome made me think otherwise and become more critical with restaurant service in Italy. 

Rome

Pizzeria Ai Marmi (April 2017)
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The pizza makers at Pizzeria Ai Marmi worked effectively, but not our waiter | © Vylyst

This is the worst case in this series. I read somewhere that Pizzeria Ai Marmi was one of the best pizza places in Rome. As I and my friend did some shopping nearby, we gave it a try.

Similar to the service at L’Osteria di Giovanni, the waiters were smiley and efficient at first. Although the restaurant was packed, we got a table quickly near the cashier and also the pizza makers. The pizza oven was literally one metre away from us. So we knew exactly how long it took to get a pizza ready, possibly 20 mins maximum. We quickly got our supplì (Italian rice balls).

30 mins later… our pizzas were not ready yet. Oh, that is okay, we thought. Many customers came before us also had not got their pizzas.

1 hour later… still no signs of our pizzas. All other tables around us seemed to get their pizzas already.

I waited another 10 mins before standing up and talking to the cashier, who could be the manager. I asked him in Italian how long it would take to get our pizzas. He told me to ask our waiter. But our waiter kept avoiding any eye contact with us. The restaurant was too noisy so we could not call him. Then we asked another waiter, and he said our pizzas were almost ready.

20 mins later…. As we were ready to leave the restaurant in anger, our pizzas came. Although I was hungry, I must admit that I did not taste much. Maybe the pizza was tasty because I remember the crust was quite thin, which is how I like it. However, I also had to digest my complimentary side dish, which was my frustration.

So in total, we waited about 2 hours for two pizzas that would take 15-20 mins to make. It was because our waiter totally ignored us and would not serve us our pizzas. The worst thing was that… a couple who came later than us got their pizzas after only 45 mins of waiting. Was it because their table was served by a more attentive waiter or was it because they were not Asian?

By the time we asked for our receipt, our waiter became obviously grumpy and rude. Instead of apologizing for the super long way, he acted as if he was bothered by us.

Not only do I eat with my eyes, but I also eat with my feelings. I do not think that I can enjoy pizzas in that restaurant ever again.

A lesson to be learned: There are plenty of fish in the sea.

Where to go instead in Rome for pizzas: Bonci PizzariumL’Antica Pizzeria da MicheleDar Poeta Trastevere.

Osteria Barberini (May 2017)
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One of the tables close to the wall at Osteria Barberini | © Vylyst

This is the most ridiculous case in this series. Having read tons of good reviews about Osteria Barberini, I and my cousin made a reservation for lunch at this restaurant, which specializes in truffles. From the reviews, walk-in guests do not have many chances of getting a table.

As we arrived, the manager did not give us a warm welcome. I did not think much of it because the waiters, on the other hand, were very friendly and attentive. The waiter showed us our table, which was right opposite the front door and very close to the manager’s desk. I politely asked in Italian to change to the table closer to the wall. Although the other table also had the sign “reservation”, we thought that as we were the first guests we could choose our table. However, the manager coldly refused without any explanation.

Unfortunate for the manager, since we sat so close to him and the front door, we observed every single of his actions and saw all the guests who came in. What I saw made clear to me why the manager was not friendly with us.

We were the first guests. Following us were a white couple who did not make a reservation but got a table immediately. I did not notice anything strange at first because it was still early for lunch. I thought that the couple was lucky because, for us, we had made a reservation a week before.

Later, a group of white tourists came in, and they were asked how many they were. They said 6, and obviously, they were turned away.

After a few moments, a Chinese-looking guest came in. When she was asked if she had made a reservation, she simply shook her head. She was then turned away coldly. The strange thing was that she was not even asked if she was alone or with other guests.

Another Japanese-looking couple came in, and they also did not have a reservation. They seemed to be determined to dine at this restaurant so they asked if there was a table another time. They were asked to come back at 9:30 in the evening.

Interestingly, only a few moments later, a young American white pretty girl came in. She said that she did not make a reservation but then she still got a table – the reserved table close to the wall that we wanted to move to. Suddenly the reservation for that table was canceled. What a perfect timing! Then out of a sudden, the manager came to us with a smile and said that the table was reserved for very special guests. He said that we were unlucky that the table was not canceled when we came in. He also said the American girl was luckier than us. Well, not just us, I thought, she was also luckier than the other Asian guests who came earlier.

Guess what! The manager became friendly to us at the end and even took off 50 cents from our bill. Did he feel guilty or what?

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hence, this rather bitter series.

Another lesson to be learned: Mass reviews are not always trustworthy.

Where to go instead in Rome: Antico Arco, Retrobottega, Culinaria, Virginiae. 


Italy is like a spoiled kid, who is as beautiful as an angel, yet can be evil sometimes. Despite my unrequited love for Italy, I cannot let him get away with his unruly behaviours. I write this series with the hope that he can learn from his own mistakes and become a better person. 

According to Professor Baumeister quoted in the article “Praise Is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall”, five good events can make up for one bad one. So I will try to find better restaurants in Italy. That is to say, if I can dine at Osteria Francescana (the best restaurant in the world in 2016) before living Italy, I will forget all of these unsatisfactory experiences. (Does anyone have a valuable tip on how to make a reservation there?) I sincerely hope that I will not have to write part 3 of this series. Still, everyone who is coming to Italy should read this to know what to expect about the hospitality industry in Italy.

So does service matter in Italy? The answer is NO. Tourists will continue to be trapped. Meanwhile, Italy has thousands of other urgent issues to be solved – immigration, trash crisis, poor public transportation, domestic violence, mafia, art looting, etc. However, my blog has focused too much on the positive side of Italy so I would like to give you a more balanced account of what Italy is truly like. Restaurant service might be a trivial matter here, but what about the ethics of Italian restauranteurs and the feeling of the minority diners?

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19 thoughts on “Restaurants in Italy: Does Service Matter? (Part 2)

  1. I’m so sorry you had so many bad experiences to write about, but am glad you told us about it. I wish people in charge would read it, but I also suspect they would not be bothered either way even if they did, knowing the Italian, especially Roman non-me-ne-frega-niente state-of-mind. Even though I prefer to focus on positive things on my blog, there is for sure place also for telling it like it is.

    I can feel the bad taste such service can leave. Honestly, I have not yet travelled anywhere where white is not the majority (except some parts of LA where it was interesting but I didn’t eat there) so cannot even begin to imagine how this kind of discrimination feels like. It is so ugly!! I feel for you so much! I wish to take those 50 cents and shove it in his face. 😦

    I don’t eat out that often but I’ll be sure to avoid these places. Thank you for telling us. I wish Italy doesn’t get (too) tarnished in your eyes by such abominable behaviour.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! 🙂 Luckily I have found some other amazing restaurants in Rome that I will definitely come back to. If I keep making more good memories in Italy, eventually the bad ones will be vanished.

      I totally get your point about the Italian non-me-ne-frega-niente way of thinking. To me, it is okay to be faulty as nothing is perfect but it is not okay to resist change and remains faulty. Even if the Italians will not change, I hope the badly-treated customers like me will not tolerate those unfair attitudes so that there is no room for such nonsense anymore. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s good that you want to give a balanced account of what Italy truly is, as tourists often see it as some sort of heaven.

    As in my experience, I can tell you that the level of “customer care” is lacking and it became like this especially in the last decade (not only in restaurants, hotels, but also clothes shop etc… sometimes I enter shops and they make me feel unwelcomed, it looks like you are some sort of nuisance, lol wtf ). You don’t usually see racism toward customers, but you can see cases of xenophobia (Italians do not usually discriminate because of the colour of the skin, but they judge you according to your country…it all depends on how rich your country is…like, a white-skinned Albanian can be discriminated as much as an African from a poor country) and VERY often they judge you because of your age (Italy is a very gerontocratic country and old people are always treated with more regard…I speak from experience * sigh *). As for Asian people, I THINK the problem is that Italians are not able to classify Asian people according to their specific country and so when they see an “almond-eyed” person, they classify him/her as Chinese (and with the Chinese community in Italy there are some problems, so you know…). This is just my take on the matter, I’m not saying this is what happens all the time and that all the people think like this. Lots of people are actually nice to everybody (especially in the “humbler” shops and restaurants).

    As I’ve told you in the previous post, the “big fancy restaurants” just want to show off and judge customers with a look. Common Italians usually don’t trust that kind of restaurants, in fact you often see tourists there…it’s kind of rare seeing locals. Personally, I don’t trust those “ranks” and reviews.

    The behaviour of the staff of the third restaurant is unforgivable, btw. OMG.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with Sara. Normally i don’t trust all those reviews. I usually ask the receptionists to give me recommendation (that was what I did during my time in Italy). They are local and they have a reputation to lose if they send me to a horrible location. So most of their recommendations are fine or excellent 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Thank you for your insight! I do understand what you meant about the Chinese people. There is even a whole documentary about the behaviours of the Chinese tourists in Europe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVhbRtnjT0E. They can be very ridiculous.

      Personally I am not fond of Chinese tourists either. I am not saying that all of them are bad, but a lot of them have bad manners while traveling abroad. Still, it is not fair that other Asians suffer from the same stereotypes.

      Actually I do know some high ranking restaurants where locals go and their services are very good! So not all is bad in Italy. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think the 1st restaurant is still acceptable. The waiter might be too busy and overlook your table, and he/she realised the mistake and tried to correct it with more cakes 🙂
    The second one is simply bad service. They should at least say sorry to you, after letting you wait 2 hours for a pizza.
    The third one is a NO GO. He selected the customers based on appearance. Those who look not like potential customers (or at least does not match the profile of his restaurant) won’t have a seat. He knew you observed him, so that’s why he tried to explain and deducted 50 cents from your bill. A pathetic move! I really hate this kind of restaurant.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with you, as well. These ones are all valid observations.

      Vy, I do think the first case was just a mistake. And for those customers who were just drinking tea instead of having free cookies, I’ve actually heard of several foreigners who don’t like cantucci, since they are hard to break with the teeth. Even vin santo is not liked by many people. They might have refused these things.

      I do think the second one is bad service, as well. It did happen to me to wait two hours for a pizza :\ Sometimes the waiters make mistakes and forget to pass the order * sigh *

      The third restaurant was just unforgivable imo.

      The thing of judging customers for their appearance happens also with Italians. Some “fancy” discos for example might even send you away when you present yourself at the entrance, if you are not dressed in a “proper manner”. I’ve heard of people who were sent away because they were wearing jeans and snickers. And no, I am not joking.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I totally agree with you two! The restaurant service in Florence was not that bad if it happened for only one time. The third one is the reason why I wrote this series. I am normally an easy-going customer but that one was really the limit so I could not ignore.

      It is simply unacceptable to judge people based on their appearance and their budget. This is the 21st century now! We are not in Roman times anymore.

      Thank you both for taking the time to think about this issue and share with me your views! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That sounds utterly ridiculous , Vy, that you should have had to put up with such shamelessly odd behaviour. I would say hashtag them and let them have your opinion on Tripadvisor because that is where it might hit these pizzerias and restaurants x

    Liked by 1 person

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