According to National Geographic, Italian restaurants comprise 100,000 of America’s 800,000 restaurants, compared to just 40,000 Mexican eateries. Whether you’re at chains like Olive Garden and Maggiano’s or your local pizza joint, look out for these aesthetic choices that help create the Italian-American “package.”
Italian-American restaurants rarely have bare walls. Instead, you’ll find imagery that furthers what Girardelli calls the “myth of Italian food”: photos of big Italian families, rustic farm scenes, and celebratory meals, often in black-and-white or sepia tones. The website Restaurant Furniture recommends hanging kitchen tools, displaying vintage tin signs for Italian groceries, or even employing a faux wall finish that recalls old Italian stucco.
Decor-wise, Girardelli notes the ubiquitous Italian flag colors of green, white, and red. He also mentions decor that makes the restaurant seem “down-home,” like bricks, wicker baskets, and “soft, dim” lighting. Restaurant Furniture similarly suggests checkered tablecloths, “faux grape vines,” and “decorative olive oil jars.”
Referencing tourism scholar Dean MacCannell, Girardelli suggests these restaurants act more like tourist attractions than anything. They may not be authentically Italian, but they’re what Americans want Italian to be. And as the saying goes, the customer is always right.