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  • Writer's pictureMegan Lawrence

A "Chain" Reaction? Fast Food vs. Small Restaurants in Italy

Updated: Apr 1, 2022

By Megan Lawrence, Culinary Editor


After living in Italy for a while, you grow to notice the lack of chain stores that exist. Of course, there are a few like supermarkets or shopping brands such as OVS, but all of these things are kept separate. A separate store for food, clothes, household materials, and more, nothing like the convenience of a Target or Walmart. Unlike other European countries, Italy prefers this way of slow living, and intentionally avoids chains, especially involving food. For Italians, food is a precious piece of life, whereas chain brands, especially those involving coffee, lack uniqueness, individualism, and the charm of a family business.


The Preservation of Slow Food Culture in Italy

The slow food movement started in Italy in 1989. This movement was a response to all of the food chains taking over the industry and advocated for eating cleaner, healthier foods. It was also started to help preserve uniquely Italian traditions such as the certain times of the day they eat and homemade food. So many people, myself included, are very quick to pass up a family owned restaurant and instead choose a chain to eat at because it is fast, cheap, and convenient. But for every Big Mac or pizza you order from a chain, it is putting family-owned slow food restaurants out of business.

As many students on campus know, there are no Starbucks in Rome, and there is only one in all of Italy, which is a Reserve Roastery in Milan. Why is this? Italians have an extremely personal and intimate relationship with their coffee, much more than Americans do. When you visit a coffee shop in Italy, you see people speaking at the bar amongst themselves or with the workers about topics like family or plans for later. The coffee is very simple with very few additives, and many people have the same order and coffee shop every day. The quickly produced, sugary drinks from Starbucks simply wouldn’t survive in Italy, and that’s just another example of how slow food is appreciated here.



The luxurious exterior of Italy's lone Starbucks, located in Milan. Image courtesy of starbucksreserve.com


The Exception

Although there are some burger joints around Rome, many under cook their burgers and it does not taste the same as a traditional American one would. So where do people go to get a taste of home? McDonalds. McDonalds is one of the very few chains that has lasted in Italy. It opened its first shop in 1980 and has been around ever since in all main cities. While there is little evidence on why McDonalds has stayed alive, I believe it is because of tourists and the different menu it has, involving Italian classics. You can get the same burger from across the world here and some unique menu items that are strictly found in Europe. Here you can order a tiramisu for dessert or experience a more extensive coffee bar than you would ever find in the states.

Italians are not after speed; rather, they are about authenticity, health, and personal connection. Some chains stay and others go, but ultimately what you choose to eat could make or break a business. So next time you are craving your Domino’s from back in the States, or eyeing a one euro milkshake from Italian McDonald’s, see what else is around, because I can almost promise you, the local taco or kebab joint is definitely going to be better and cheaper. The appeal to fast food, especially among Americans, is how cheap it is, but that is not always true in Italy. A Big Mac Meal will put you out roughly 9 euro, whereas a kebab alone is usually four euros and has meat, fries, vegetables, and sauces all mixed into one. Even if you are looking for a nice cheap meal with friends, a margarita pizza costs between 7 to 9 euros, and if you split that with someone, the price goes down significantly more.

Even if fast food is sometimes more convenient, breaking that barrier and involving yourself with the culture you live in can be a lot more impactful. I recommend if you have not tried it yet, to eat slowly. Order the big three course dinner meal. Enjoy the time you have with your friends in Rome, surrounded by delicious food. It is an experience no food chain will ever be able to create.



Enjoying a pizza margherita at a local Italian trattoria




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