I’ve been eating out in Florence for nearly 30 years during which time the food scene has evolved considerably. Once dominated by very traditional places, today there is a much wider variety of eateries: modest, family-run trattorie, new-generation osterie, ethnic joints, gastrobars, trendy pizzerie, hole-in-the-wall wine bars and smart, Michelin-starred restaurants. As a visitor, you will find plenty to choose from but do be aware that this city is geared towards tourism and too many restaurants are inclined to rest on their laurels allowing standards to slip. To avoid disappointment (or being fleeced), follow my advice or ask a local. And avoid anywhere with a menu fisso in six languages.
For the best possible eating in Florence, bear the following in mind.
Where to eat
Full meals can be expensive affairs in Florence; even in the most unpretentious trattoria, you are unlikely to get away with a bill that comes in at less than 25 euros per head, and given the euro exchange rate these days, that’s quite a hefty sum if you have to do it repeatedly. Cheaper alternatives include pizzerie, rosticcerie (rostisseries), bars which serve a small selection of hot and cold dishes at lunchtimes and the market for the makings of a picnic.
The bill and tipping
The bill will usually include a cover charge (pane e coperto) which ranges from 1.50-5 euros per person. This covers bread and should reflect the general standard of the place. Service is not usually included in the bill, so feel free to leave a modest tip (between 5-10% is plenty).
Florentine mealtimes normally run from 12.30-2.30pm for lunch and 8-10.30pm for dinner. Pizzerie generally stay open later.
Eating out with kids
Italy is a very child-friendly country in general and the Florentines are no exception. Children are welcome even in the poshest restaurants, and if there’s nothing on the menu that appeals, a chef will always be happy to produce a plate of pasta al pomodoro (with tomato sauce) and a bowl of ice cream.
What to order
Once upon a time, eating out here meant being obliged to tuck into at least four courses. That’s no longer true although it won’t go down very well if you just order an antipasto and coffee in a place that serves full meals. Two courses, however, is generally acceptable. If you do want to go the whole hog, however, a traditional Florentine meal starts with antipasto, moves on to a primo (either pasta or soup), secondo (meat or fish main course) plus contorno (veg) and finishes off with dolce (dessert). Phew!