On the Line / Bar & Nightclub / What is a Trattoria?

What is a Trattoria?

Dependable and casual are words that describe most American trattorias. It is the quintessential neighborhood “Italian” where pasta comes in large portions, and the house wine is served in a carafe.

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1. What is a trattoria?

Dependable and casual are words that describe most American trattorias. It is the quintessential neighborhood “Italian” where pasta comes in large portions, and the house wine is served in a carafe. 

Bustling and slightly crowded dining rooms are overseen by friendly waitstaff who ferry big plates of lasagna, pasta, and other fortifying red sauce standards to customers. 

Trattoria interiors play up their ties to the Old Country, often outfitted with red-checked tablecloths and photos of Italy on the walls. Wine bottles hanging from the ceiling, exposed brick, and other rustic touches are design motifs, although there’s a trend toward a more upscale, modern feel. 

Several successful trattoria chains exist in the United States, but the scene is still full of locally-owned neighborhood spots.

2. What is the history of trattorias?

In Italian, “trattore” is the word for an innkeeper or restaurant owner. In the early 1800s, simple osterias began appearing all over Italy, selling mostly alcoholic drinks with just a few snacks. As osterias started to establish themselves in cities and towns, they expanded their food menus, and the focus shifted away from wine to the chef/restaurant owner or the “trattore.” 

Restaurants serving traditional local cuisine became known as trattorias, and Italian immigrants brought the concept to the U.S. In Italy, trattorias flourished until a slowdown during WWI and WWII. After the wars, they became more popular than ever in both countries.

3. What is typically on a trattoria menu?

The classic menu features a revolving cast of red sauce Italian dishes. Nearly all menus include traditional spaghetti with meatballs and fettucine alfredo. You’ll also find handmade stuffed pasta like ravioli and cannelloni, and specialty baked dishes such as lasagna and baked ziti. 

Protein-based entrees round out the offerings, ranging from filling chicken Parmigiana to lighter fare such as sautéed or grilled fish. Complimentary bread is the customary start to all meals, though many trattorias offer shareable platters of cured charcuterie and extensive antipasti nibbles. 

What would a trattoria be without vino? The wine cellars are typically filled with reasonably-priced bottles from Italy, and most wines are offered by the bottle and the glass.

4. How do you start a trattoria?

Beyond the food, trattorias are known for having a perpetual buzz with service that is effortlessly on the mark. When writing a business plan, priority should be given to your hiring strategy. 

You’ll need to brainstorm ways to attract the friendly and professional staff that helps define the trattoria. It’s not uncommon to see waiters, waitresses, chefs, and hosts/hostesses born and raised in Italy. Hiring people who are knowledgeable about the culture and food adds authenticity to the dining experience. 

Other top considerations for your business plan are viable locations and neighborhoods, obtaining the appropriate liquor licenses, and how you will achieve the design and feel of your restaurant.

5. How much does it cost to start a trattoria?

Startup costs for a trattoria depend on the location, staffing requirements, food costs, and the business license you choose (beer and wine only or liquor). According to FreshBooks, the median price to open a restaurant is $450 per square foot, including all expenses. 

Since trattorias are typically casual, medium-sized restaurants, overhead costs may fall into this average range, depending on many variables, such as rents in your area, staffing needs, and utilities. For instance, purchasing a restaurant going out of business will be significantly less than building a trattoria from the ground up.

6. Most popular types of trattorias

Most popular types of trattorias The most popular trattorias cook authentically Italian food, incorporating fresh homemade pasta, seasonal vegetables, and high-quality meats into their menu lineup. Though customers go to trattorias for comforting pasta and reasonable prices, the most successful trattorias lure people in by adding surprises to the mix. These could be intriguing wines, innovative daily specials, or expertise in a regional style of Italian cooking. 

Italian restaurants are a $70 billion restaurant market in the U.S., and the popularity of trattorias remains strong. They’re often considered local gems and inspire loyalty among their customers.

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