Hear “aperitivo in Italy,” and you might think “happy hour.” That’s almost right. But it’s not the whole story.
Yes, aperitivo is like a cocktail hour. But it’s one where the food tends to involve much more than the peanuts or potato chips you’d get back home. And, unlike American “happy hours,” it has nothing to do with discounts (there aren’t any) or getting drunk with coworkers (che brutta figura!). (For those reasons, if you ever see an aperitivo in Italy advertised as “cocktail hour,” run the other way. Those words mean it caters to tourists, not locals!).
Instead, for Italians, aperitivo is a glorious couple of hours—generally between 7pm and 9pm—when they can relax post-work over a glass of wine or Campari and some snacks. Since most people eat lunch around 1pm or 2pm, and dinner around 9pm, it’s also a good way to re-start the old metabolism to work up an appetite for dinner.
For visitors, hitting up an aperitivo can be just as useful. It’s a great way to experience local culture, to people-watch, to unwind with a drink after a long day of sightseeing… and to “take the edge off” of hunger while waiting for that 9pm meal!
Want to enjoy an aperitivo in Italy? Here are some things you should know!
Aperitivo is mainly a northern Italian tradition
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Italian food customs are very regional. That goes for aperitivo, too! Milan is, hands-down, the best place for aperitivo in Italy. This is where the bars are buzzing and the selection of both food and drinks for aperitivo is excellent.
The further south you go, the harder it is to find a “proper” aperitivo—but the trend is catching on. Rome, Florence, even Naples all now have aperitivo scenes, even if the Milanese might scoff at them, and some of the establishments are very lively and great for people-watching in the evenings!
There aren’t discounts with aperitivo, but you do get bang for your buck
You don’t get a discount on drinks during aperitivo. Instead, you usually get a little “bonus,” like a plate of snacks brought with your drink, or access to a buffet of food. Prices range, of course, but in general, an aperitivo including food and a glass of wine costs between 8 and 10 euros in Italy’s major cities.
What food you’re served depends on the place
Every bar differs. Although we wouldn’t really consider this a proper aperitivo, some places bring just some olives and potato chips with your drink. More commonly for aperitivo will be a plate of small nibbles like bruschetta, focaccia, or even meats and cheeses.
Our favorite, though, are the aperitivo buffets, where you can choose yourself from an array of food that might be everything from light pastas to salads. Especially when serving yourself, though, just remember that…
The food for an aperitivo is not supposed to replace your dinner
Seeing an aperitivo buffet, it can be very tempting—especially if you’re hungry, or on a budget—to load up a couple of plates and tuck in as if you’re at an early dinner. If you do, be prepared for some strange, or even dirty, looks!
When faced with an aperitivo buffet, Italians will generally get a small plate of nibbles… and then pick at them over the course of the next hour, sometimes even managing to leave a bit behind. Taking too much food, or tucking into it like it’s your last meal, is seen as somewhat rude—and not really the point of aperitivo.
Also, as a rule of thumb, one drink means one plate of food. If you want more food, buy another drink!
Have you ever been to an aperitivo in Italy? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!