A Guide to Enjoying Aperitivo in Italy – Dos and Don’ts

Aperitivo - Spritz
You’ve heard about this fancy Italian tradition called Aperitivo, but you have difficulties to grasp the concept? You are by far not the only one! There are some rules to adhere to otherwise an Italian would never call it an Aperitivo. Or they might not even serve you one, as you’ve ordered the wrong drink. Believe me, it’s happened already.
Still, Aperitivo is my favorite Italian tradition. It’s the quintessence of the Italian culture. You will miss out on a great deal, if you don’t take part – literally and figuratively. I am going to explain to you what a good Aperitivo is and of what you have to take care.
A Guide to Enjoying Aperitivo


I’ve heard from friends that the Aperitivo originally comes from Bologna. Bars started to serve little bites of food during the hours before dinner. But they didn’t call it happy hour because Italians are far less attracted by a lower price than other cultures. Italians value quality! So having some snacks on the side definitely increases the quality of the time you spend in a bar.
This habit quickly became very popular and spread to all over Italy. People loved the casual get together before dinner. It reflects so much the Italian culture of meeting up that more and more bars adopted Aperitivo. Meanwhile, the concept developed and you can find more and more apericena, which I will explain in the end.

What to drink

Aperitivo derives from Latin and means “to open”. So, you want to open your stomach to receive something more substantial later on. People do it through an alcoholic drink. I don’t mean drinks like grappa or lemoncino that contain a lot of alcohol and are more suitable for digestion. Nor is a coffee or coffee variation suitable, as it wakes you up from the stupor you have eaten yourself into. So it is also drunk after dinner. Aperitivo - Hugo
For Aperitivo you have to choose something low-alcoholic or mixed alcoholic. Very popular to drink is Spritz, or Prosecco. But any kind of wine is okay. Nowadays you can even drink beer for aperitivo, but I think it’s too heavy. Many bars also offer Hugo, or an Aperitivo created by them. Check out the menu, or order a Spritz straight away. They all have it.
When ordering a Spritz, there are two options. It can either be on the basis of Aperol or Campari. I prefer the taste of Aperol and it is also more common to serve Aperol. If you prefer the taste of Campari, you should say so when ordering. They are both red and a little bitter in taste, but Campari is even redder and even bitterer. It’s not everybody’s taste.

What to eat

Usually, with your drink you will get at least a bowl of chips. Some bars also offer an assortment of little canapés, salami, cheese, or ham. It is never so much that you feel full afterwards, but that would be against the philosophy of Aperitivo. It should only spike your appetite for dinner.
In some cities, such as Venice, Milan, or Rome, bars might also charge for the Aperitivo. Often bars increase the prices for the drink. Still, you get your snack for free. I would always check on the tables around for what you will get to make sure it is a good aperitivo.
Sometimes it’s also the case that you will have to pay extra for the food. This holds especially true for touristic areas. Yet, this might even be a better Aperitivo, as the snacks are usually listed in detail on the menu. They might even have different offers, such as a cheese platter or a meat platter. Especially, for vegetarians this offer might be interesting. Of course, you can always ask to replace certain items with something else.

When to have Aperitivo

This might be the most important point to “blend in”. Italians will immediately notice that you are a foreigner, if you order your Spritz at five in the afternoon. Yes, five is considered to be afternoon in Italy and not the time of before dinner. In our opinions and in mine as well before I came to Italy, before dinner is the time between five and seven.
Italians eat late! Very late! I was once on a birthday and we had dinner at eleven! My boyfriend even told me to not eat anything before because we are going to have dinner there. You can imagine my mood when the clock struck nine and there was still no food on the table. Therefore, the appropriate time for Aperitivo is between seven and nine.

Mistakes to avoid

As usual when it comes to food in Italy, there are some mistakes that you should avoid. I made them and it was not nice, especially if you are among Italians. So be happy that I have listed them here for you.

Ordering coffee

Coffee is a no go during Aperitivo. I have never seen somebody ordering a coffee and I am sure I never will. This is the wrong time to feed your coffee addiction. Even if you are tired already, you shouldn’t order coffee.

Having dinner in the same place as Aperitivo

This is a very common mistake to make, when you have Aperitivo. This is just not done in Italy. You always go to another place to have dinner. The only exceptions from this rule are big dinners or dinner parties to which you are invited to. In this case, an Aperitivo is part of the menu. You can see it already when you come in.

To not dress up

You might think that this point cannot be important. I can assure you that it is. Going to an Aperitivo without make-up is like going to work because you feel like it. You can wear jeans, a dress, or a blazer, it doesn’t matter, but people will see that you don’t wear make-up. Why? Because you go out with friends. In Italy wearing make-up is very important. It shows that you make an effort. So be sure, to quickly go into the bathroom before you join an Aperitivo, even when you just come from work.

Ordering Spritz for dinner

The time for Spritz is during Aperitivo, not during dinner. Because Spritz has a very strong taste, it won’t go along with your delicious pasta or pizza. A wine is much more appropriate, or you can choose to drink water. In fact, I’ve observed that there are only these two options when you have your meal. A coke or Fanta will always contaminate the taste. Therefore, the Italians only drink wine or water along with their meals.


This is something that has come up recently. Italians love it – especially students or people that live alone. Apericena is a word creation. Aperi comes from Aperitivo, of course, and cena means dinner. So, you have it both in one. Isn’t that great?
Yes, I know it contradicts mistake four on our list, but you have to realize that I just explained that you cannot order Spritz for dinner. Apericena is something totally different. For one it takes place during the time of Aperitivo, so you actually have a big Aperitivo that is enough to last past dinner.
Some bars require you to pay more for the drinks, and you can eat whatever you want. Others make it an all-you-can-eat with one drink. Anyways, they always serve pasta, pizza, rice, salad in the form of a buffet.
You should look for Apericena, if you are travelling on a budget. You can simply ask in your hotel or hostel. They know where they the best Aperitivos serve in the surrounding areas.
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