When we returned home from Florence, our friends and family loved seeing the pictures of restaurants that we ate at. But they were a little puzzled about why we would return to some of the same restaurants over and over. Weren’t we missing out on exciting new experiences? Perhaps, but when a restaurant owner or manager goes the extra mile to make you feel like a guest, that’s a powerful way to foster loyalty.
We Didn't Have a Reservation
In Florence, dinner takes place a little later than in the US, with some restaurants doing a soft close during the afternoon, where they serve only drinks and salads. They reopen for dinner, sometimes as late as 7pm, and are often packed for a few hours afterwards. So when we arrived at Ristorante Parione around 9pm without a reservation, we did not realize how busy the restaurant would be.
After a quarter-mile walk, we neared the entrance and saw about 10 people outside, sitting, standing, and crowding the doorway. Chris waited outside while I squeezed through to find a manager.
I approached a tall man in his late 40s who looked like he was in charge as he was passing through. He was the manager, and he had the look of an old-school Hollywood actor.
“Buona sera, parlo un po d’italiano,” I said, letting him know that I speak just a little Italian.
“Well that’s very good,” he replied with a smile, “because I speak a little English.” He asked my name, and assured me that he would fit us in even though we did not have a reservation before returning to the kitchen.
Within 5 minutes, a few patrons departed, and the manager re-emerged soon after to speak to the crowd forming outside.
“Please, don’t anybody leave, we are making space for everyone,“ he said, and began collecting names. He turned to us and said, “I have not forgotten about you, we will be ready for you soon.”
And soon enough, we were ushered to an upstairs table. The restaurant walls were lined with shelves of wine bottles and splashed with large modernist murals.
Parione was the first place where we ordered tagliatelli with wild boar. All of their pasta was homemade and the boar was slow cooked and tender. Chris enjoyed it so much that he ordered it again on our third and last visit to Parione.
On our last visit we also enjoyed tiramisu in an unexpected way: served in a champagne glass! It was so rich that I couldn’t finish it. I tried to ask for a container to bring it home in - but apparently that’s not something that Italians do - so Chris was glad to finish it for me.
Our waitress, who we saw at all three visits, also insisted that we did not leave until she poured us each a shot of limoncello.
One Last Surprise
When we find a restaurant and a manager who go the extra mile to serve their diners, and the food is that good, it’s hard not to come back. And Parione had one last surprise for us.
After our third and final visit, Chris and I were exiting through the still-crowded restaurant, but when I got outside, I realized he was not with me. In a moment, he reappeared with a smile and a tote bag.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The manager pulled me aside as I was leaving, and gave me a bottle of champagne," Chris explained. "He said, 'Enjoy this with your lady tonight.'”
So we were glad to return again and again to places like Pensavo Peggio, Irene Firenze, and Ristorante Parione.
Check back tomorrow, when I’ll share my strategies for finding the best food in Florence. Then on Thursday, come back to hear all about our favorite coffeeshop, which became part of our daily ritual.