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Italian Business Meals - What to Expect

Italian Business Meals – What to Expect


Italian Business Meals – What to Expect

Ah! Magnificent! What a great experience this can be, Italian Business Meals! After your successful business meeting, it is very common to go out for a meal. A little forewarning though, it can last a long time, be full on the stomach, but completely enjoyable!

Pizza can be a meal for lunch

Pizza can be a meal for lunch

If you are traveling for business to Italy, you may well make a friend for your career life, or just life in general. Cultivating friendships is an important part of business etiquette in Italy. Be patient and genuine, and learn a bit of Italian, so that you will appear gracious. Oh, thins one was a problem for me as I had been wanting to learn Italian for so long. I can’t say that I’m very good, but it was a problem for me, and maybe it’s a problem or desire for you, too? This solution worked really well for me and I’d totally recommend checking it out: learn Italian.

Italians prize education, intelligence, imagination and inventiveness. They maintain personal relations scrupulously, with an especially high value placed on loyalty. This is especially true in families. The most important affiliation for Italians is the family.

Meeting and Greeting

When you are introduced for Italian business meals, shake hands with everyone, including children.

You will also shake hands before you leave. Ladies extend their hands to men, first. Friends may be greeted with kisses on both cheeks.

Use business associates’ last names and proper titles until your host or the colleagues themselves invite you to use their first names.

Maintain strict eye contact when you are speaking with potential business associates. Otherwise, your hosts may feel that you are trying to hide something from them. Italians use body language a great deal, probably more than most other Europeans.


Italian Business Meals – The Discussions

Business conversation is avoided at breakfast, but brought up at lunch, in Italy. Guests should not pour wine – this is for the hosts to do. Dinners are opportunities for social networking. If you invite your Italian business counterparts for lunch or dinner, be expected to pay.

The beginning of the meal is reserved for chit chat and catch up. Business talk is reserved until later.

Early dinner conversation consists of small talk, about sports, culture, wine and food. Business entertainment usually takes place in a restaurant, at dinner or lunch. Dinner entertainment is usually more social than business-related. But, be prepared, dinners can start early and end very late, with course after course of food being served.

Cocktails are not often seen in Italy. Eating almost always accompanies drinking. It is not normal nor appreciated to drink heavily. Even a mild case of intoxication is considered to be ill mannered.

Dressing for Success

Conservative business suits work exceptionally well in Italy. Choose sedate colors for your suits, ties or dresses. Even casual dress should be well fitting and sharp. As you enter a building, remove your head coverings.

Old-Fashioned Niceties

In Italy, it’s common to practice niceties that Americans would consider old-fashioned. Stand up for elders and avoid asking questions that are personal. Be prepared for gifts by bringing something for your hosts. Corporate gifts, music and wine are acceptable gifts.

Large lunches or dinner parties begin often with an aperitif (campari, vermouth, cinzano, etc.). They will end with the hosts’ after dinner drinks, like sambuca or grappa (prepare for an intense rush from that!).

As mentioned above business meal in Italy may start early and end late!

But that’s because of all the courses, great food, and conversation. There generally is an order that’s followed and normally goes like this:

  • Antipasto – This includes appetizers, such as pates and fruit or prosciutto.
  • Antipasta - Tomaten Mozzarella

    Antipasta – Tomaten Mozzarella

  • Soup
  • Minestrone, italian vegetable soup with pasta

    Minestrone, italian vegetable soup with pasta

  • Pasta
  • Carbonara Spaghetti

    Carbonara Spaghetti

  • The Main Dish
  • Salad
  • Cheese
  • Dessert
  • Cannoli


  • Fruit
  • After-dinner drinks and espresso.
    cafè espresso

    cafè espresso

Etiquette for Business during Dining

Much depends on how developed a relationship you have with your Italian colleagues. As a rule, business decisions are not made during meals. Take your cues from the Italians at the table.

Corporate Culture

English is a commonly used language in business in Italy, but always be sure whether you will need an interpreter or not. It is polite to interject Italian phrases when you are speaking with your hosts, as long as your pronunciation is acceptable. However, the meals are also supposed to be “fun,” a time away from the office. Don’t be shy in trying out a few Italian words and never fear in asking for help. Italians love to help when it comes to there language and if they laugh, it’s because they’re enjoying the moment.

Italians love to show off their homes, so if an invitation is extended during a business meal, oblige them by visiting their home.

Without question Italian business meals is a social event, used to get out of the office, get away from the scene and an opportunity to build that relationship. Take the lead from your host, they’ll be open about asking you what is appropriate or not to discuss at the table. Family is important to Italians so they may want to ask how your family is.

While American’s tend to keep personal and work topics separate, sometimes the lines are blurred. And when the meal is wrapping up and you’ve downed your grappa, make sure to have an espresso, it’ll help make sure you get back to your room that night.



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