Venetian dining etiquette

This is an excerpt from the Eating chapter of Lonely Planet's guide to Venice & the Veneto.

Flattery never hurts, but you’ll win over your server and the chef with these four gestures that prove your mettle as una buona forchetta (‘a good fork’, or good eater):

Image by Son of Groucho

1. Ignore the menu – solicit your server’s advice about seasonal treats and house specials, pick two options that sound interesting, and ask your server to recommend one over the other. When that’s done, snap the menu shut and say, ‘Allora, facciamo cosi, per favore!’ (Well then, let’s do that, please!). You have just made your server’s day, and flattered the chef – promising omens for a memorable meal to come.

2. Drink well – bottled water is entirely optional; acqua del rubinetto (tap water) is perfectly potable and recommended as an environment-saving measure. Fine meals call for wine, often available by the glass or half-bottle. Never mind that you don’t recognise the label: the best small-production local wineries don’t advertise or export (even to other parts of Italy), because their yield is snapped up by Venetian osterie (pub-restaurants) and enoteche (wine bars).

3. Try without condiments – your server’s relief and delight will be obvious – Venetian seafood risotto and pasta are rich and flavourful enough without being smothered in Parmesan or hot sauce.

Image by Julie, Dave & Family

4. Go with local, seasonal seafood – no one expects you to order an appetiser or secondo piatto (second course), but if you do, the tests of any Venetian chef are fish antipasti and frittura (seafood fry). Try yours senza limone (without lemon) first: Venetians believe that the delicate flavours of their seafood are best complimented by salt and pepper. In lieu of lemon, try washing down seafood with citrusy Veneto white wines that highlight instead of overwhelm subtle briny flavours. Sadly, cod for the local speciality appetiser baccala mantecato (creamed cod) is now scarce, and imported cod from Norway is a less sustainable option. But on the bright side, locally netted shellfish and line-caught fish are delightful and more-sustainable alternatives.

More dining tips can be found in Lonely Planet's Venice & the Veneto guide.