10 Mealtime Tips for Your Business Lunch in Italy

The most important meal you’ll have in Italy will be your business lunch, or more likely, lunches. Don’t be surprised if a lot of your time is spent eating with your business associates, because Italians love their food, much more than their business. Here are 10 mealtime tips that will come in handy during your all-important business lunch:


1. Wait For The Host To Sit

The position for the head of the table in Italy is actually at the middle. This spot should therefore be reserved for your business host. You would then sit to his/her right. It is therefore advisable to wait for them to pick a seat first, especially at a round table.

2. Don’t Be The First To Eat

When the food is brought to the table, you should wait for your host to begin eating. You are not supposed to touch your cutlery until they do. This lets your business partner know that you value him or her as the head of the partnership.

3. Buon Appetito Isn’t So Buon

This phrase is actually considered impolite by some Italians. If at the start of the meal the host says it then feel free to reciprocate. In ancient times “buon appetito” was meant as a warning to servants invited to a royal meal, to let them know that if they misbehaved it would be their last fancy meal. What you should say instead is “buon pranzo” which means good lunch, or “buona cena” which means good dinner.

Seafood Italiano

4. Hands Good, Elbows Bad

On the table that is. Your wrists should be rested on the table and your hands should not be crossed. Crossing your hands can be interpreted as you trying to hide something, and this is never a good sign for a business relationship.

5. Use The Right Cutlery

As with other customs, you start with the furthest utensils and work your way in. Using a spoon for pasta is not allowed, and neither is slurping your spaghetti. Your business lunch will probably consist of many courses, meaning a lot of cutlery!

6. Break Some Bread

The bread is to be broken not to be cut. Which bread you ask? All of them. Italians love bread and it accompanies virtually every meal. Tradition dictates that the proper thing to do is break the bread and dip it in your olive oil – butter isn’t usually served with bread.

7. No Room For Dieting

If you’re trying to lose weight, pick your meals and portions wisely and discreetly, but do not tell your host about it. Also if you are vegetarian the same stealth rules apply, as most Italians find it very odd.

8. No Business At The Dinner Table

You would expect a business lunch to be about business, but not in Italy. You are not actually supposed to talk about your professional dealings until after the meal is well and truly concluded, and when your host brings it up.


9. Pay The Piper

The inviting party always pays for dinner, so if you do the inviting, don’t expect to go Dutch. The guests should attempt to pay for some of it but they are not required to. And finally;

10. Don’t Forget To Tip

A ten percent tip is the expected amount, but more is always better. If you don’t tip it would offend the host and that could alter their professional opinion of you.

Now you know how to walk the walk, but can you talk the talk? Knowing how to speak Italian will help you build a better connection with your prospective business partners. It shows commitment on your part and it builds trust. You can take our Italian language level test to find out how good your Italian is, or contact us to learn how to book a course before your business lunch date.