Many words to say "restaurant" in Italian

edited March 2012 in Italian
While studying Italian you may have realized that there are many words to mean "restaurant". Given the weight that food has in our culture, history, and economic development that is no surprise.

1) autogrill (owned and managed by the namesake company) is a highway roadside fast food / snack place. Lately they opened places in actual towns -- there is one near the Duomo in Milano... So, Italian call autogrill any roadside restaurant, even if they are in South Africa or Argentina.

2) trattoria, which, in theory, is a medium to low-priced, often family-run eating establishment, usully in the countryside. Note the stem of the word "tractor" (trattore).

3) osteria, it is an informal place, usually very low priced. Note the stem: same as ospedale (hospital), ospite (host), ospitalita' (hospitality).

4) ristorante, well, restaurant.

It is very important to note that while you will see and hear these words many many times while in Italy, the “borders” of these terms and their actual meaning have been blurred significantly in the last 40 years -- autogrill being the only exception. This is a practical example how a language evolves. 

For instance, osteria actually used (until the 60s) to be a place where only wine would be served and you would bring your own food. So, in many cases the actual meaning is totally lost: you can find very expensive restaurants called trattoria or osteria and vice-versa.


  • Una domanda! What is enoteca? 
  • Credo che è dove si beve il vino, non è vero? Come la parola
    “oenophile” in inglese.

  • So it's like a wine bar? And this reminds me of another question. My understanding is that the word "bar" in English and in Italian refer to different things. I remember seeing an example sentence in Essential Italian, "Fa colazione al bar" - so a bar in Italian is sort of like a cafe?  
  • edited May 2012
    In theory, enoteca is the place where wine is served. (Please note biblioteca, discoteca, emeroteca, etc). Nowadays it is actually more related to wine shops. So, you can find both wine bars (this is a scary definition) and wine shops called enoteca.

    Yes, bar (never use a "s" for the plural in Italian, just use the article "i" to make it plural) in Italy is the place where you have breakfast (colazione). Bars in Italy are open all day and sometimes until 9 or so. They also offer alcohol beverages. Bars are real social institutions in Italy, a great deal of socialization takes place there.  A special mention to bars in Trieste, that are different from the rest of Italy. I may write a blog on that. 

    According to many of his interviews, the CEO and founder of the biggest worldwide coffee chain was inspired by the Italian bars, where people can sit and talk and socialize -- I would not comment on the final result. 
  • Got it! Grazie Massimo!
Register or Sign In to comment.