Why Italians Have Stopped Eating Out

Like most people in Italy, we don’t go out for dinner as much as we used to. We love to eat out, and there are many great restaurants in Italy, but who can afford them anymore?

It started with the euro. The official conversion rate was 1936.27 lire to the euro. In other words, a pizza that used to cost 8,000 lire, if converted correctly, should cost slightly over 4 euros. In practice, many restaurants just lopped off three zeros, so a pizza that used to cost 8,000 lire now costs 8 euros. It almost seems reasonable at first glance, til you realize that you are now paying almost 16,000 lire for a pizza, which no one would have dreamed of doing pre-euro.

In Milan a few weeks ago, we ate at a restaurant that we had frequented for years, and considered good quality at a medium price. This assessment proved to be sadly out of date. Between the three of us, we had three primi (first courses), two secondi (second courses), one dessert, four ¾ litre bottles of water, ½ litre of wine, and one coffee. The primi (first courses) were good, the secondi decidedly less so: Enrico’s bollito misto (boiled meats) was unimpressive – I can buy better mostarda myself! – and my agnello al scottadito (grilled lamb ribs) seemed almost fried rather than grilled, certainly not tender as they should be. And the bill was 98 euros! Definitely not worth the price.

We saw only two or three other tables of patrons while we were there, and the chef spent most of the evening standing around in the hall. Not a good sign, but no more than he deserved for charging us an arm and a leg for a sub-par meal. Until recently, some restaurants might have imagined they could rely on the less-discerning palates of tourists, but, with the dollar in free-fall, many Americans can no longer afford to come to Italy at all, or at least need to eat more cheaply while they’re here. Italian restaurateurs need to rethink their pricing and quality before they go out of business in droves.

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