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How to spot the Italian restaurants to avoid
Italy's famed cuisine is one of many reasons people love the country so much, but not all restaurants do it justice. To make sure you avoid disappointment, here are a few of the sure signs of a tourist trap.
Published: 1 November 2021 10:00 CET
Updated: 2 November 2021 12:34 CET
Not all restaurants in Italy live up to expectations. (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP)
Dining out in Italy is an integral part of living in or simply visiting Italy. The regional dishes, the high quality ingredients and the faithfulness to culinary heritage are just some of the reasons Italian food is so famous.
OPINION: Want to eat well in Italy? Here’s why you should ditch the cities
Coming to Italy for business, pleasure or even to live, then, should mean you get a slice of that mouthwatering magic no matter which restaurant you step foot in, right? Not so fast.
Cities can be especially tricky places to choose a spot for lunch or dinner. Unfortunately, mass tourism means menus and recipes are often adapted to suit international tastes – and some of them charge eye-watering prices.
There are some obvious red flags for restaurants anywhere – people trying to coax you inside, dishes of congealed food on display in glass cases – but here are a few more Italy-specific tips for spotting the eateries best avoided.
Italian dish? Seems suspicious. Photo: Rob Wicks on Unsplash
Pictures of food on the menu
As in any other country, this is a dead giveaway that the restaurant is geared towards tourists and not locals. People living there wouldn’t need a visual description of the dishes, would they?
It’s not always true that all tourist traps serve sub-par dishes, but compared to where the locals go, you’re likely to get dumbed down versions of Italian classics – or versions completely adapted to international tastes.
In this case, it’s not even going to be Italian cuisine anymore, as far as Italians are concerned.
So if you see those giant laminated signs with various lascivious photos of alleged Italian specialties, maybe walk on by and see what’s around the corner.
Menu in multiple languages
This is another red flag. While it’s clearly helpful to know what there is to choose from as a tourist, a rule of thumb from experience is, the more languages the menu is translated in to, the worse the quality is.
And if you see a place with pictures of food and menu in multiple languages together? Keep walking.
Red and white chequered tablecloths
The classic, traditional chequered tablecloth is quintessentially Italian. At least in movies like Lady and the Tramp, anyway. Italian restaurants in other countries love to use this prop, complete with candles stuck in Chianti bottles and breadsticks on the tables to complete that ‘authentic’ Italian experience.
But in Italy, it can sometimes be an alarm bell that you are entering a tourist hotspot and mediocre food awaits.
Of course, it’s not always true. Lots of agriturismi The Local’s writers have been to have been adorned with such tablecloths and the food has been abundant and delectable.
But in cities, at least, see them as a sign that you should proceed with caution.
READ ALSO: The words and phrases you need to decipher Italian restaurant menus
Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash
Condiments on the table
Don’t get Italians going with the topic of sauces. Aside from burgers and fries, which obviously isn’t Italian food, condiments are not appreciated in Italian restaurants.
Leave the ketchup, mayo and – heaven forbid – mustard, in the cupboard. You won’t need them in Italian cooking. And equally, if you see condiments on the table in an Italian restaurant, you can be pretty sure you’re not eating in the best restaurant in town.
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If your meal requires olive oil and vinegar, these will be brought over to you by the waiter- not left sitting on a table, gathering dust.
Spaghetti bolognese and other Italian ‘adaptations’
If spaghetti bolognese is listed on the laminated picture food menu with descriptions in English, German and French, run for the hills.
This is one of several dishes that are thought of as ‘Italian’ abroad but don’t exist within Italy.
And while you may not be about to order it yourself, its inclusion on a menu is a bad omen. Like ‘fettucine alfredo’ or dubious versions of spaghetti carbonara made with cream, it’s safe to say no self-respecting Italian chef would serve this dish in Italy.
If you’re looking to try the authentic version of this dish, bolognese sauce in Italy is called ragù bolognese and is usually served with the flatter tagliatelle pasta, as it’s better at picking up together with the meaty sauce than spaghetti.
These distinctions might seem petty and pointless from the outside, but pasta shape – and which sauces they go with – is serious business in Italy.
With around 600 shapes known across the country, Italians really are passionate about their pasta-sauce pairings.
Have you picked up some tips while eating out in Italy? Let us know in the comments below.
The Local Italy
Is Venice about to introduce long-awaited entry fees for tourists?
Reader question: What are the longer-term alternatives to car hire in Italy?
Is Venice about to introduce long-awaited entry fees for tourists?
Nearly three years after it first broached plans for a 'tourist tax', the city of Venice says it will soon make day-trippers pay for access to the city centre.
Published: 21 April 2022 11:48 CEST
Updated: 23 April 2022 07:52 CEST
After a two-year-long slumber, it seems the winged Lion of Saint Mark is roaring again. Venice saw the return of pre-pandemic numbers of visitors over the Easter holidays, with some 160,000 tourists thought to have poured down the city’s calli on Saturday alone, according to local authorities.
Though the return of international tourism to La Serenissima is welcome news for many, it also brought renewed concerns about the floating city’s ability to support such large numbers of visitors and the previously chronic problem with overtourism.
It was no coincidence that, on Monday, the city’s mayor announced he would go ahead with long-discussed plans to regulate access to the city by means of an entry fee 
“Today many have had the chance to appreciate that a booking system is the most appropriate course of action to achieve a more balanced management of the city’s tourism,” Mayor Luigi Brugnaro wrote on Twitter:
“We will be the first in the world to carry out this difficult experiment,” he said.
The idea to charge day-trippers a contributo d’accesso (entry fee) had first been mooted back in early 2019. But the plan was delayed indefinitely by the second-worst flooding in Venice’s history in November that year, followed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
OPINION: After flooding and coronavirus, is it time Venice stopped relying on tourism?
Now that international tourism is gradually picking up again in Italy, Brugnaro’s plans seem to be finally set to materialise.
The city plans to bring in the first measures by this summer, Venice Tourism Commissioner Simone Venturini told newspaper La Repubblica.
“We will start with an ‘experimental’ phase wherein day-trippers will be encouraged to book their visit through a website,” he said.
Tourists arriving in Venice in July 2019. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP
During this phase, entering the city’s centro storico (old town) will remain free of charge, but those registering their personal details on the relevant online platform will receive a reward “such as discounts on museum admissions”, he said.
Only after this initial trial phase will the city council introduce the much-touted entry fee.
The expected start date will be announced in the coming weeks, but it will most likely be sometime in early 2023. 
People who visit Venice just for the day will pay between three and ten euros for entry depending on the season, according to reports. This is expected to mean €3 in low season, €8 in high season and €10 on days of exceptional overcrowding.
The fee will not apply to those staying overnight in Venice.
City residents will be exempted from paying the toll, though people travelling from other Veneto provinces might not.
READ ALSO:  Dress up and pay up: Venice mayor announces updated plans to control tourism in the city
Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP
Venturini also said the number of daily visitors should be capped at either 40,000 or 50,000, or “roughly one tourist per city centre resident”. 
The measure will reportedly be enforced with the help of a state-of-the-art control tower located in the Tronchetto area, where the main car park for tourists is located, and at turnstiles at the city’s major entry points.
Those entering Venice without having paid the relevant fee will be liable to fines, with the amount expected to be specified in the coming weeks.
As could be expected, Brugnaro’s plans have already attracted plenty of criticism, with opposition parties questioning the efficacy of the toll gate system and vowing to oppose the proposed measures.
“Turnstiles won’t solve Venice’s problems; only a conscious, preemptive handling of visitors’ inflow would,” Leader of the left-wing Partito Democratico (Democratic Party) in Venice, Monica Sambo, wrote on her Facebook page on Wednesday.
The council should have a comprehensive tourism management project by now but they don’t and now everything is pretty much like it was before the pandemic.”
Criticism aside, the mayor, who was re-elected for a second term in September 2020, enjoys the support of a solid majority within the city council.
As such, the leading party’s propositions are likely to come into effect rather seamlessly and, after a three-year delay, Venice should finally have its entry fee system up and running by early 2023. 
With that being said, whether the planned measures will actually help the city (and its disgruntled residents) cope with its notoriously large waves of tourism remains to be seen. As ever, chi vivrà, vedrà.
Giampietro Vianello
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