The Aperitivo: How to Order a Drink at This Italian Ritual

Learn Italian vocabulary and phrases for ordering drinks

Barman pouring drinks during aperitivo
Barman pouring drinks during aperitivo. Caiaimage/Chris Ryan

One of the most delightful Italian traditions is meeting up somewhere with friends for a pre-dinner drink. Known as an aperitivo, taking place between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in bars throughout Italy, this is a civilized way to wind down from the stress of the day and to whet your appetite for dinner.

Aperitivo and Happy Hour

An aperitivo is actually the drink itself—traditionally considered to be any bitters-based, aged wine-based, or amaro-based drink that is thought to stimulate the appetite. Now the term applies to any kind of drink had before dinner and to the ritual itself, more properly referred to as prendere l'aperitivo. Andiamo a prendere l'apertivo? your new friends will say, inviting you along.

Traditionally, in sophisticated cafés, and, more recently, even in less sophisticated cafés, and even in small towns, the aperitivo includes some form of stuzzichini or spuntini (snacks or refreshments). They can range from nuts to little mozzarella balls to mini-crostini. Now, in cities from Rome to Milan this previously simple tradition has expanded to a full happy hour extravaganza—called happy hour—with piles and piles of food for a set price between certain hours, usually straddling dinnertime. If you're into the bar drinking scene, you can pretty much make it your dinner.

Key Words for Ordering a Drink

The essential verbs for your aperitivo in Italy are:

  • assaggiare (to taste)
  • bere (to drink)
  • consigliare (to suggest)
  • offrire (to offer someone something/pay for others)
  • ordinare (to order)
  • pagare (to pay)
  • portare (to bring)
  • prendere (to get/have/take)
  • provare (to try)
  • volere (to want, best used in the conditional tense when ordering)

Useful terms are:

  • un bicchiere (a glass)
  • una bottiglia (a bottle)
  • il ghiaccio (ice, which is no longer a rarity in Italy)
  • l'acqua (water)

Expressions for the Aperitivo

A few useful terms or phrases for your aperitivo:

  • Cosa le porto? What can I bring/get you?
  • Vuole bere qualcosa? Would you like to drink something?
  • Cosa prende/i? What are you getting? What would you like?
  • Buono! It’s good!
  • Non mi piace. I don’t like it.
  • Il conto, per favore. The bill, please.
  • Tenga il resto. Keep the change.

If you want to order another round, you say, Un altro giro, per favore!

Italians, as hospitable people, are big on taking turns buying drinks (you use the verb offrire rather than pagare, which is more tasteful). When you want to buy, you say, Offro io (I'm buying). Often you will find that you will go to pay and the bill has been taken care of.

  • Ha offerto Giulio. Giulio bought.

Ordering Wine in Italian

In terms of wines (il vino, i vini): rosso is red, bianco is white, rosé or rosato is rosé; dolce or fruttato is fruity/less dry, secco is dry; leggero is light; corposo or strutturato is full-bodied.

A few useful sentences:

  • Prendo un piccolo bicchiere di bianco. I will have a small glass of white.
  • Vorrei un bicchiere di rosso leggero. I would like a glass of a light red.
  • Avete un bianco più morbido/armonico? Do you have a white wine that’s smoother?
  • Mi consiglia un bianco secco? Can you recommend a dry white wine for me?
  • Una bottiglia di Orvieto classico. We would like a bottle of classic Orvieto.
  • Vorrei assaggiare un vino rosso corposo. I would like to try a full-bodied red wine.
  • Vogliamo bere una bottiglia di vino rosso buonissimo. We want to drink a bottle of really good red wine.
  • Prendiamo un quarto/mezzo rosso (or bianco) della casa. We’ll take a quart of red (or white) house wine.

A bar might have a house wine that is a favored bottled wine, but a restaurant will likely have a local bulk wine that they serve by the carafe (and might be delicious).

You might want to read up on the wines/grapes of the region you are visiting so you can make the most of the local selections: in the North, Barolo, Barbaresco, Moscato, Lambrusco, Nebbiolo, Pinot, Valdobbiadene, and Valpolicella; if you are in Centro Italia, Chianti, Sangiovese, Bolgheri, Brunello, Rosso, Montepulciano, Nobile di Montalcino, Super-toscani, Vernaccia, Morellino, and Sagrantino. If you are in the South, Amarone, Nero d'Avola, Aglianico, Primitivo, Vermentino.

Learn to ask:

  • Ci consiglia un buon vino locale? Can you recommend a good local wine?
  • Vorrei assaggiare un vino del posto/locale. I would like to taste a wine of the region.

All of the above phrases are useful for ordering wine in a restaurant, too, while you are ordering food. Una degustazione di vini is a wine tasting.

Ordering Beer in Italy

The beer scene in Italy is quite rich, with a great variety of beers coming not only from Italy but from surrounding European countries known for their beer cultures. Of course, the old mainstay Italian beers known to Americans are Peroni and Nastro Azzurro, but since the late 1990s the Italian artisanal beer scene has exploded: You can find everything from the very hoppy to the round and light, made particularly in small boutique (and now famous) breweries in Northern Italy.

Important terms for ordering beer are birra alla spina (on tap), birra chiara (light/blond beer) and birra scura (dark beer). Artisanal beers are birre artigianali and micro-breweries are micro-birrerie. Hops are luppolo and yeast is lievito. The same as for wine, leggero is light, corposo is full-bodied.

Some sample sentences:

  • Cosa avete alla spina? What do you have on tap?
  • Una birra scura, per favore. A dark beer please.
  • Che birre scure/chiare avete? What dark/light beers do you have?
  • Vorrei una birra italiana. I would like an Italian beer.
  • Vorrei provare una birra artigianale italiana. I would like to try a nice Italian artisanal beer.

Other Drink Options

In addition to wine and beer, popular drinks during the aperitivo hour are the Spritz, the Americano, the Negroni, plain Campari, and, of course, prosecco. The bellini, a popular drink made of peach juice and prosecco, was invented in the 1940s in Venice by Giuseppe Cipriani, owner and head bartender of the famous Harry's Bar, and named after the Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini. The Americano, contrary to its name, is made of all-Italian ingredients.

Un liquore is a liquor, a cocktail is just that, un cocktail. Una bevanda is a beverage. Con ghiaccio, with ice; senza ghiaccio, without.

Some sample sentences:

  • Vorrei un digestivo. I would like a digestive.
  • Prendiamo due Bellini. We’ll take two bellinis.
  • Per me una bevanda analcolica, grazie. A non-alcoholic drink, please.
  • Prendo uno spritz. I’ll take a spritz.
  • Due bicchierini di Jameson. Two shots of Jameson.
  • Una vodka con ghiaccio. A vodka with ice.

Over-Drinking or...Basta!

In the past, over-drinking in Italy was not a common practice; in fact, it is generally considered distasteful and is frowned upon.

If you will be driving in Italy, note that alcohol testing is common as are posti di blocco (checkpoints). The Italian police need no reason for pulling you over.

With that in mind, prendere una sbornia or ubriacarsi is to get drunk.

  • Sono ubriaco! Ho bevuto troppo!
  • Ho preso una sbornia. I got drunk.

There is no exact word for hangover: i postumi della sbornia (the after-effects of drunkenness) or un dopo-sbornia are the closest.

If you have had enough, you need one simple, magical word: Basta, grazie!

Buon divertimento!