Last updated on January 22nd, 2024
It’s not a feeling you have, it’s true: Italian bars (coffee shops) are crazy!
They are so busy, everyone is shouting, there are 28 different kinds of coffee drinks to order (but they all look similar) and you don’t know where to pay or how you are possibly going to nudge your way up to the front of the bulging “line” that has formed behind the counter.
Every visitor to Italy feels this way at some point and so have I. After learning some simple tricks, I have worked my way to the front of the line and love ordering coffee now!
Let’s walk through exactly how to order coffee at a bar, both standing and sitting and then in a restaurant. We will go over vocab, what to expect, and how to get to the front of the line without a fight breaking out. By the end of this you will be able not only to order coffee like an Italian but drink it like one too.
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Ordering Coffee at A Bar in Italy – Standing Up
- You will first need to order and pay for what you would like at the cash register, Vorrei un cappuccino, per favore (I would like a cappuccino please). Hang on to your receipt.
- Put your receipt on the counter and say what you have ordered once you make eye contact with the barista. If you are having trouble try saying Mi scusi which should get their attention. Then proceed by saying your order un cappuccino, per favore.
- Fix your coffee as you like it with sugar and milk that you will find on the counter. If you don’t see it, kindly ask Posso avere un po’ di zucchero/latte, per favore? (may I have some sugar/milk, please?).
- Italians drink their coffee fairly quickly. You should too!
- Always say goodbye and thank you before leaving, Grazie, arrivederci.
- Hit the bathrooms while you can! You can ask by saying Dove sono i bagni? (Where is the restroom?).
Tips for Drinking Your Coffee Standing Up at the Bar
- Leave a small coin on top of your receipt when ordering if you want faster service.
- Pay with coins or at least cash for small amounts. Many don’t accept cards for a single coffee.
- Italians don’t have the concept of a line (although they are getting better). You have to just push your way through to get to the front of the bar. If you are having trouble, try and find someone on the corner who is finishing up and wait right next to them. The moment they finish, make your move and sneak in. Then try and make your way to the center if you can.
- If you are standing at the bar you are expected to be in and out. Drink your coffee and then make space for others.
- If you are also ordering a pastry, order that first and then make your way to the coffee counter. Please don’t lose your receipt from one to the next!
Ordering Coffee at A Bar in Italy – Sitting Down
- Pick your table. You do not need to ask what is free. If you would like to be sure, however, you can ask by saying posso sedermi qui?/possiamo sederci qui? (Can I/we sit here?). Even if a table has dirty dishes on it you can go ahead and sit. They should clear it for you shortly.
- The waiter will bring you a menu. If you would like something that is not on the menu such as a macchiatone, don’t hesitate to ask. Generally speaking you can say vorrei… for “I would like…”.
- Once your waiter has brought you your drink, take your time and enjoy your coffee! This is the place where you can sit as long as you like and enjoy the great people watching. The waiter may or may not bring the bill or conto straight away. Some bars prefer you pay it right away (you will be able to tell because they will just stand there and wait for the money) but most will just have you pay when you leave. You can either nab their attention and pay sitting down or pay at the cash-register as you leave.
Tips for Drinking Your Coffee Sitting Down at the Bar
- Paying with a card for anything under 5€ is not the most common practice. You can certainly do it but they prefer cash or small bills.
- Take your time sitting down at your table. Don’t feel rushed. You are paying a surcharge for this exact reason.
- Don’t hang your bag on the back of your chair and I don’t think I need to explain why!
Ordering Coffee at A Restaurant in Italy
- Always order your coffee after your dessert. If you are not having dessert, order it right after your meal. The waiter will come back and ask Vorrebbe/Gradisce un caffè (stasera)? (Would you like a coffee (this evening?)).
- Order your coffee, Vorrei…
- Drink your coffee in 1 or 2 sips as the Italians do. Italians don’t typically chit chat over their coffee. They drink it and then chit chat. No one likes cold coffee.
- If you are not having a digestif you can ask for the bill, Posso avere il conto, per favore?
Tips for Drinking Your Coffee at a Restaurant
- It’s customary for Italians to drink coffee last as it clears their pallet, so if you want dessert and coffee the waiter will first take your order for dessert and come back for coffee orders afterwards.
- Italians don’t drink anything but espresso or espresso with a drop of milk (macchiato) after a meal. The restaurant will be able to make you a cappuccino but they won’t approve!
- Sometimes restaurants will bring a cioccolatino or small chocolate with your coffee after the meal.
- You can always ask for a caffè corretto
General Tips for Ordering Coffee in Italy
- Bars (and stores in general) in Italy are always short on coins. They love exact change and the 1 and 2 euro pieces. Use them if you can and try not to break a 50 euro bill with a single coffee, it will only get you a raised eyebrow or an attitude!
- You are not expected to tip and baristas do not expect it whatsoever but you can leave small coins on the counter if you like.
- The counter space is not for hanging out, generally speaking. Drink your coffee and be off.
- Don’t worry about asking for sugar, it will come on the side. If you want milk on the side you will need to ask Posso avere un po’ di latte da parte, per piacere?
- Always use the restrooms before leaving a bar or restaurant.
- Remember, latte means milk so if you say Vorrei un latte, per piacere you will be getting a tall glass of milk instead of a latte as many know it to be, espresso with steamed milk.
For even more coffee information for your Italian travels, read:
Coffee in Italy – Types & How to Order + Printable Coffee Checklist!
40+Ways to Drink Coffee in Italy + Pronunciations
Italian Breakfast – A Traveler’s Guide
Order Like a Pro in Italy: Be sure to read How to Order Food in Italian.
Helpful Vocabulary for Ordering Coffee in Italy
- Sugar – zucchero
- Counter – il banco
- Where do I pay? – Dove posso pagare?
- May I pay with a card? – Posso pagare con una carta?
- May I have a bit of milk on the side please? – Posso avere un po’ di latte da parte per favore?
- Receipt – scontrino
- The bill – il conto
- Take-away – da portare via
- Small spoon – cucchiaino
- Napkin – tovagliolo
- Milk – latte
How to Order Coffee in Italy FAQ
No, you cannot. Coffee comes in one size. If you like a lot of hot liquid ask for a caffè americano or caffè latte.
In Naples there is a tradition of paying for two coffees, drinking yours and leaving one for another customer who cannot afford it. Then, whoever comes by next can ask if there is a caffè sospeso (as the tradition is called in Italian) and they would be served a coffee free of charge.
Illy is Italy’s best coffee on the market because they use 100% Arabica beans which lends itself to a more delicate and “sweet” flavor. It is also good for making both espresso and filtered coffee.