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Café culture on a budget in Florence, Italy

June 25, 2013

What is it about outdoor cafes that makes us feel okay about overpaying for our morning joe? In Florence, Italy, the answer is simple. Outdoor cafes are often next to piazzas with the best people watching in the world.  And what’s not to love about relaxing in the sunshine with coffee and a croissant?

cafe in italy

Me sitting outside, but paying dearly for it.

Paying for it, that’s what.

I, too, was once enchanted by the vision of a sun drenched morning in Italy – until I paid €14 for a tiny single shot of espresso and a croissant.  Flabbergasted, I asked my sister Gina (who has been living in Florence for years now) what happened.  Was I so obviously American that the shop owner felt obligated to overcharge me? Did I accidentally say something rude to a waiter?

According to Gina, the difference between spending €4 and spending €14 is all about where you sit.  Outside on the patio (with the delightful seating) is going to cost you about 3 times what it costs to just have your breakfast at the bar.  Since to-go cups for espresso haven’t exactly taken off yet, you’re usually left with the decision to have your coffee at the bar, or sitting down at a table.  Sitting down will cost you.

Intrigued, I went back to the same cafe and ordered approximately the same thing: espresso and una pasta crema (a pastry with custard inside, and arguably better quality. I also expected to pay a bit more for it instead of what I had gotten last time, the regular croissant).  Armed with knowledge, I asked for my espresso at the bar, and was rewarded by paying €4 for better products.  As an added bonus, the shop owner treated me like a local – asked where I lived, complained about the heat, and generally smiled at me a lot more.  Go figure.

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