Last updated on November 27th, 2023
Are you looking to book a restaurant or trattoria reservation in Italy and confused about what time they will be open?
Maybe you have found yourself hungry after a mid-day visit to a museum, gone to sit down at a nearby restaurant and realized the kitchen was already closed?
So what time do Italians eat dinner? And what about lunch?
The reason is simple – Italians keep very strict hours when it comes to their eating schedules. For most things, Italians are very fluid, go-with-the flow type of people, relaxed and flexible but not when it comes to food!
In this article, I will go over what time Italians eat dinner and:
- How to say dinner in Italian
- What dinner looks like in Italy and why it’s so late
- The time frames and differences among Italian regions
- Differences between the mealtimes in Italy
- When restaurants are open in Italy
- Other mealtimes in Italy
- Italian dinner habits in Italy
- The importance of dinner within Italian culture and families
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How To Say Dinner In Italian
Dinner in Italian is cena, pronounced cheh-nah.
Listen to the pronunciation of cena:
Dinner In Italy
Dinner in Italy has recently become the largest and most important meal of the day although historically, lunch was always the largest, family-oriented and always multi-course meal of the day.
Throughout history, lunch was the meal when family came together, took an afternoon rest from work and the heat and enjoyed a multi-course meal together.
Today, Italy is part of the G7 and an ever growing economy based on traditional 8+ hour workdays. Because of this, lunch has taken a back seat and dinner is the time when families sit down and eat together. Most Italians are only allotted an hour for lunch and thus, don’t have time to go home and eat.
Mothers also commonly work nowadays, leaving no time to come home and prepare a home cooked lunch for the entire family.
Now, dinner is the time when Italians come together as a family to break bread. It may not even be a multi-course meal as many working parents are out all day, come home to kids with conflicting schedules and only have a small amount of time to dedicate to cooking. Nonetheless, most Italian families still enjoy a home cooked meal together every day.
What Time Do Italians Eat Dinner
Italians generally eat dinner between 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm but this will depend greatly on the time of year, location, weather and region.
|Dinner Time Frame
Differences In Dinnertime Between Northern And Southern Italy
Northern Italy usually eats dinner on the earlier side, as early as 7:00 pm while southern regions such as Calabria and Basilicata eat much later, closer to 9:00 or 10:00 pm. These differences are due primarily to differences in climate, specifically heat, and the level of industrialization.
Southern Italy is extremely hot during the summer, making it difficult to cook and enjoy food for most of the day (let alone do anything else!). They push dinner back towards 9:00 or 10:00, allowing them to cook and eat in ease and comfort.
The heat is also the reason that southern Italy is less efficient and less industrialized. Work is slow-paced, often with a rest in the middle of the day. Northern Italian regions, on the other hand, are more mild and temperate, making it easier to cook and eat at any time during the day.
Northern Italy is also more business forward with face-paced work days Monday-Friday. Northern Italians are home earlier, much more in line with UK or US traditions and standards of work.
And without exception, central Italy falls somewhere in the middle between the north and the south, typically eating between 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm.
Keep In Mind: All these timeframes are rough brackets of time that are affected by summer vacation, weekends, warm weather, time of year, and individual family schedules.
Differences In Dinnertime Between Cities and Rural Italy
Much like the north and south, there are significant differences that set dinner time apart from busy cities and rural areas in Italy.
In rural areas, farming is still a huge part of the local economy, which is dedicated to the seasons and weather patterns. You will notice many rural towns still completely shut down in the afternoon for a rest because it’s much too hot to work in the fields in the middle of the day. In cities, however, temperature-controlled buildings and normalized business working schedules make keeping normal hours possible.
Rural towns and areas in Italy may still consider lunch to be the most important, family-oriented meal of the day. Dinner is likely to be smaller, later and not always together.
While in large cities, people usually only get an hour for lunch and thus, can’t come home and indulge in an afternoon siesta with their family. In this case, dinner is the meal in which family comes together and can be on the earlier side.
Why Italians Eat Dinner So Late
Italians eat dinner so late because of:
- the warm climate
- structure of working days
- the importance of eating as a family in Italy.
Take Note: I am giving general explanations here about Italy as a whole and dinner traditions. It’s hard, however, to apply each rule and time frame to every area in Italy as the country as a whole is still racially divided among regional differences and cultural practices and traditions.
Italy has, from a weather point of view, a very warm climate, making it difficult to cook and eat in the warmest times of the day. This is why, historically, Italy took on the tradition of an afternoon rest or riposo in which stores, shops and offices closed from lunch until about 4:00 or 5:00 pm. This still does happen in the south or in rural areas where farming practices are still very much part of the local economy. Today, in busy cities, most people keep regular business hours.
The workday in Italy is also structured slightly differently than it is in other countries. Shops are usually open later (historically because of their mid-day closing) and thus, Italians don’t get home until later, pushing dinner back to a later time.
And finally, Italy is known for giving great value to meal time shared with family and friends. Even today, when it’s hard to make everyone’s schedules fit precisely together, the dinner time is a sacred one (just as lunch was and still is in rural and southern regions). Usually by 8:00 or 9:00 pm, everyone is home and hungry.
When Restaurants in Italy Open For Dinner
Similar to the household dinner schedule, the restaurant dinner hours mimic the regional and geographical patterns within Italy. Restaurants in northern Italy open a bit earlier, around 7:00 pm while restaurants in southern Italy don’t open until around 8:00 pm. And no surprise, you can count on central Italian restaurants opening around 7:30 pm.
Exception: Restaurants in dense tourist areas will be open all day, serving food 24/7 as they are catering to the tourist industry, not local Italians.
Learn More: Read about the Different Types of Italian Eateries – From Trattorie to Osterie and more!
Difference Between The Weekend And The Weekdays
Usually there are no major changes to meal times in Italy during the weekends and weekdays. What really changes, however, is the length of the meal and the amount that is served.
Big Italian family lunches are still very much part of the Italian tradition, no matter what region you are in on the weekends. The slow-paced lunch with family is slowly dying during the weekdays but precisely because of this, Italians hold this moment sacred on the weekends.
The majority of Italians will enjoy a larger lunch on the weekends with multiple courses, lasting anywhere from 1-3 hours.
Other Mealtimes in Italy
Curious about the other mealtimes in Italy and when they take place? Read on!
Prima colazione refers to the first things that Italians eat and drink in the morning, or breakfast. At home, this is usually a coffee and something small and sweet like a couple of cookies, a toasted piece of bread with jam or nutella.
Read More: For our full Guide to Eating Breakfast in Italy.
Colazione is often interchangeable with the word prima-colazione and basically means snack or breakfast, depending on context. If you are eating for the first time that morning, you are either having prima colazione, sometimes shortened to colazione.
If, however, you are a child at school, your mid-morning snack will be called colazione as well. School snacks will be easy to pack, generally easy to clean up and no-fuss. It also refers to any mid-morning pit stop at a bar for adult Italians who need a little pick me up.
Pranzo or lunch is served between 1:00 pm and 2:30 pm, except during weekdays for blue collar workers who typically eat much earlier, between 12:00-12:30.
Lunch has recently changed significantly in Italy over the years as the country has moved towards a modern business-model working day with 9:00-5:00 weekdays.
Today, lunch in Italy is just one course, either a primo (first course) or secondo (second course) with a glass of wine and a coffee during the weekdays. During the weekends, it’s more likely going to be larger and multi-course.
Merenda refers to an afternoon snack, generally eaten between 4:00-5:30 pm and is generally reserved for kids. It’s true, Italian adults don’t really snack but move directly towards aperitivo before dinner to tie them over.
Time Frame: 6:00-8:00 pm
Aperitivo is Italy’s cocktail hour with a small bite of food, designed as a way to unwind after work and spend time with friends and family before dinner. Because Italians don’t typically snack, the aperitivo serves as a small buffer so you don’t come to dinner ravenous.
Learn More: To know more about aperitivo in Italy, how it works and what to expect, read Aperitivo In Italy – How Italians Do Pre-dinner Drinks + How To Recreate It At Home
The after dinner hour is simply a time frame referring to when Italians gather together to hang out with a cocktail after eating, usually in a different location than where you ate dinner.
Piazze or squares start to fill up with all ages of Italians from 11:00 pm onward as they look to extend their evening in company, especially on the weekends.
Fact: After Italians finish their dinner, they most likely won’t eat again until the next morning at breakfast.
Dinnertime Habits In Italy
It’s all about the family and conversation around the Italian dinner table. The TV isn’t on, music isn’t playing and people aren’t generally on their phones. The table is set and everyone is seated properly as food is passed around and enjoyed together.
The concept of ‘pick up’ dinners and eating when you can manage isn’t really a concept. Families wait for every member to get home before they sit down and chow down. This is why many small children in Italy go to bed late. They eat with their parents, even if that means at 9:00 pm.
Dinner is most typically always a homemade, wholesome meal. Although there most often isn’t time to prepare a multi-course meal, it will be complete with a vegetable and most typically closed with some kind of fruit.
The Importance Of Mealtimes In Italy
Food is the moment when people stop, come together, and pay attention to one another, often engaging in one other’s lives in a way that is not possible during a busy weekday. It’s a moment for parents to ask about a child’s day, a child to share what is happening and to discuss various interests, news and openly exchange opinions.
Fact: Eating is a central part of Italian culture that is ingrained into Italians from a young age. Even teenagers are eager to get home and eat with their families because it’s tradition.
Food goes hand in hand with sharing with one another both on a physical level of feeding those who love you love but also in fostering and sharing love for one another. Italy is so family-oriented and thus, the meal time together is simultaneously just as important.
Italians will often sit down and eat, even when they aren’t hungry because it’s dinner time, mom called, and that’s the way it is. If they are hungry in the middle of the day, they will just wait until they can enjoy food with someone else.
This habit of eating in company or as we say in convivialità is so ingrained in Italians that it seems strange to them that one would eat alone unless absolutely necessary. This is also why Italians are so hospitable and want to always invite you over to eat and offer you more and more and more!
You will often hear hai mangiato? (have you eaten?) as a leading question in the hopes of extending time with a friend and sharing a meal with them.
What Time Do Italian Eat Dinner FAQ
Mealtime is important for Italians because they are very family-oriented. A meal is the opportunity to share their day, talk things over and foster relationships.
Italians eat dinner between 8:00 and 10:00 pm, depending on the location, climate and time of year.
Italians eat dinner so late primarily for three reasons:
the warm climate
structure of working days
the importance of eating as a family in Italy.
This is a bit of a tricky question. It can be offensive if you don’t eat at all what you ordered or what has been served to you because it implies the food is bad. If you leave some on your plate or refuse bis or seconds, it’s not necessarily rude because you could be full or not feeling well.
Italians sometimes nap or rest after lunch known as a riposo when many shops may close midday because of the heat. This is not so much a tradition these days in city centers but rather, a rural or southern Italian tradition..