How to Order Gelato in Italy

by Jessica on July 14, 2008

by | July 14th, 2008  

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve studied my vocabulary list of Italian gelato flavors and you’ve taken notes on my tips to finding good gelato in Italy. Now comes the best part – actually trying the gelato. But believe it or not, you’ve got a little learning left to do for this part, too, so here’s my primer on how to order gelato in Italy.

I will say that although these guidelines are generally still in practice almost everywhere I’ve ordered gelato, there are bound to be exceptions. As always, when in doubt about the process, watch someone else do it first and then copy them accordingly. As an added bonus, this waiting and watching gives you more time to check out the flavors in the gelato cases!

Ordering Gelato – The Vocabulary

First things first, we’ve got more vocabulary words to master. I know, you thought you were done with all that when you memorized your favorite gelato flavors, but unfortunately there’s a bit more to think about. Do you want a cup or a cone? One scoop or two? (Or three!) It’s a short vocab list, so don’t worry too much. Besides, the end result is you’ll get Italian gelato, so it’s not all bad.

  • Cup or cone? – Not every gelato shop will offer both cups and cones, but the vast majority will. The word for cup is “coppa” (KOH-pah) and cone is “cono” (KOH-noh). You’d ask for either “una coppa” or “un cono,” but the fun doesn’t end there. Sometimes, you’ll see several different kinds of cones on display, so be prepared to point to the one you want.

  • How many scoops? – Unlike in some ice cream shops outside Italy, the size of the cup or cone you’re getting doesn’t pre-determine how many scoops of gelato you’ll get. I’ve seen people cram three flavors into even the smallest cups. So after you’ve chosen the vessel for your gelato, you’ll need to say how many scoops you’d like. In Italian, the word you’ll use is “gusti” (GOO-stee), which literally means “flavors.” So technically you’re telling them how many flavors you’d like, and they’re going to give you one scoop per flavor. Make sense? Good!

How to Order Gelato in Italy

In most gelato shops in Italy, you’ll need to pay for your order before you’ve actually ordered it. This is because the person who takes your money and the person who actually scoops your gelato can be two different people, and sometimes they’re even in two different parts of the store. It may seem like an extra step, and it may seem like a hassle, but think of it this way – money is dirty, and by not handling money the people who are in close proximity with gelato that’s destined to be in your mouth are keeping their hands clean. This, in my estimation, is a good thing.

So here’s how it works – you pay first, then you choose your flavors and get your gelato. Let’s use a scenario to help illustrate the steps.

Pay First
Let’s say I want two scoops in a cone (because, as it so happens, I do want two scoops of gelato in a cone right now) – I don’t need to know what flavors yet, I just need to know the quantity and the container. I’d go up to the cashier and say, “Un cono con due gusti, per favore,” or “A cone with two scoops, please.” I’d then pay for my gelato and I’d be given a receipt showing the paid amount.

Browse Flavor Options
Now that I’ve got my receipt, I mosey over to the gelato counter and start perusing the flavors. Be aware that if you’re holding a receipt and not gelato, you’ll probably be asked pretty quickly if you can be helped by someone behind the counter – especially if the place isn’t that busy. If you’re still browsing, you can say, “un attimo, per favore” (oon AH-tee-moh), meaning “just a second, please,” or “non sono pronto” (non SOH-noh PRAWN-toh – for men; it’s “non sono pronta” – PRAWN-tah – for women), meaning “I’m not ready.” Or do what I do and just don’t make eye contact until you’re ready!

It’s important to note here that while you’ll line up to pay for your gelato and get your receipt, you won’t be waited on in a particular order at the actual gelato counter. This does give you time to look over all the flavors, so you don’t have to feel pressured to come up with your order immediately, but it also means that you can’t get upset if someone who paid after you did knows what they want and walks out with their gelato before you do.

Order Your Flavors
Okay, so now I’ve decided which flavors I want, so I make eye contact with the next available gelato scooper, who may say any number of things, including “prego” (PREH-goh), meaning “please,” or “dimmi” (DEE-mee), meaning “tell me.” Whatever it is, if they’re lookin’ at you, you’re on. I’ve chosen raspberry and dark chocolate (a particular favorite combination), so all I need to do is hand my receipt to the person behind the counter – so they can see how much I’ve paid for – and it’s at this point that I’ll say, “Lampone e cioccolato fondente, per favore.” (see the gelato flavors post for those, and other, pronunciations!). Depending on the way the shop is set up – if the prices for cones and cups are the same, for instance – I may have to repeat that I’d like that in a cone, which would be, “Un cono di lampone e cioccolato fondente, per favore.”

And a few seconds later, after saying a hearty “Grazie!” to the kind person who gave me my gelato, I’m happily walking out of the shop with my treat.

Practice Makes Perfect
As with basically every new skill, it’s best to practice often in order to get really good at it. In this case, that means ordering – and eating! – lots of gelato in Italy. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. Why not have it be you?

Buon appetito!


And for a bit more of a look-see into what you can expect before you arrive in your first gelateria, check out this video from Florence:

{ 13 comments }

Cristina July 14, 2008 at 2:24 am
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Now you made my mouth water! I’ve got a lovely gelato place right near my apartment (and yes, it’s the real Italian thing)! YUM! Awesome guide but surely makes me crave a scoop of melone

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michelle of bleeding espresso July 14, 2008 at 3:17 am
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So true about practicing…mmm….

The most frustrating part about this (and bars in general) is the different rules at each place (pay first, sit and be waited on, etc.); I’ve finally realized though that even Italians who haven’t been there get just as confused as I do, so I don’t feel so bad :)

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Jessica July 14, 2008 at 8:38 am
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I agree, Michelle, it’s always tough to know what the rules are in a bar or gelateria – which is why I tend to be a wallflower for a bit & watch what other people are doing. That might be considered cheating, but I’m okay with that. :)

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Milanese Masala July 15, 2008 at 11:23 pm
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I still remember the first time I ordered ice cream in Italy, way back in ’91. It was a coppetta with 2 flavours. Delicious but most of it ended dripping down my arm because it melted in record time. I guess that’s the price you pay to eat authentic “artigianale” gelato. With all the preservatives they put in North American ice cream, it would be able to survive a nuclear explosion intact.

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Jessica July 21, 2008 at 7:59 am
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Ha! So true. In the U.S., I’m used to having to take the ice cream out of the freezer for 10 minutes to soften it up so that it’s even scoop-able… No such worries with the gelato in Italy! :)

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AZ-FCO August 28, 2011 at 6:19 am
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Hi Jessica, I am Italian and it was interesting to me how you wrote a guide for ordering gelato, and on some things I laughed (making eye contact when ready), because without thinking about it, it is exactly what we do! :-)

But let me “correct” you on one thing (not that you really need it). But normally, you are not required to say how many flavours you want. You pay for the size of the cone or coppa/coppetta, and then all the flavours you want you can add. Obviously more flavours means less amount of each flavour. Sometimes you see that they say “this cone is for 2 flavours”, but that is mostly a suggestion, because if you ask to add another flavour, you will get it.
Plus, you can freely add wheap cream on top of your gelato.

But be prepared, if you are in a touristy area, they may go for the number of scoops, or the other thing I hate is that they give you gelato balls (this way, which is more international, you get less gelato that you would normally get). In that case it’s a tourist trap and that “gelateria” won’t see me again. Always about tourist areas, they charge the wheap cream €0.50, it’s not normal. But in this case it goes by the region. In Rome, the wheap cream HAS bo to be free. In Sardinia, you get charged for it.

Ciao ciao!

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Jessica August 31, 2011 at 2:50 pm
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Thanks for the comment! And yes, you’re right – it’s about the size of the container, not the number of flavors, but we tend to think of “one flavor = one scoop.” I have seen some people get a larger coppetta with just one flavor, but that seems like such a waste to me! I want as many flavors as I can get! :)

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Caitlin September 29, 2011 at 11:35 am
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I’m traveling to Italy – for the very first time – in about a month (the first 2 weeks of November) and I’m so looking forward to the gelato! I have a question though: Do the gelateria allow you to sample flavors (either before or after you pay, if it’s a place that you pay first), and if so is there a limit on the number you can sample (whether imposed by the shop itself or imposed by decorum)?
Thanks! I’m loving your blog, it’s been so helpful!!

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Jessica September 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm
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You might find that some shops get impatient if you’re sampling lots of flavors and there’s a line building behind you, but I’ve never had a problem sampling a few flavors before choosing. I wouldn’t try going through the whole case, of course, and you might also try asking the person behind the counter for their opinion – if they seem friendly & helpful, ask what “marries well” with a flavor you already know you want. It’s like asking a well-trained sommelier what wine pairs well with the meal you’ve chosen. Have fun!

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Giovanna April 22, 2012 at 3:31 am
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Hello, I’m Italian and I found your blog very interesting and helpful for non-Italian travellers!
I’d like to suggest you to come to Sicily to taste the best artigianal “gelato” in Italy,in particular in MESSINA you find the best Sicilian tradition of ice ccream production.
If you are in Messina, go to Bar del Sud (Via Garibaldi, opposite Banco di Sicilia, not far from the Cathedral) to enjoy the best COFFEE flavor ice-cream in Italy. other fantastic flavors are BACIO (nougat and chocolate ) and PISTACCHIO.
At Bar del Sud they produce ice-cream in the traditional way, without chemical additives!

You can also have brioche con gelato! It may be a good short lunch or snack!

if you come to Messina, please try and write here how was the experience.
Bye,
Giovanna

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Nupe2 June 1, 2012 at 11:49 am
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I don’t know whether to comment on the Gelato, or the beautiful woman in the video! ;0)

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Max July 28, 2012 at 3:03 pm
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I like this article a lot, except I never encountered anyone who collected your money first before you got your gelato. Always you order it, they make it, then you pay. It was like that everywhere we went in Italy.

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SB September 3, 2012 at 11:37 am
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This is very helpful- wish i’d read this before ordering gelato today! I was just pointing mutely and couldn’t understand what the cashier was saying and I could see he was getting impatient…tomorrow I’ll surprise him! Domani!

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