Italians like to take their time; it’s just a fact of life. In Italy, when you go to a restaurant for dinner you “own” that table from the moment you take your seat until the moment you pay the bill. No waiter or manager will ever rush you out the door because someone is waiting for a table or it is getting close to closing time. Dinner should be leisurely and without stress. There is something to be said for this slice of Italian culture, but it is clearly something that we have not adopted here in the States.
Vapiano, the self-proclaimed “fast and hip” casual Italian restaurant is a European concept that landed in Washington DC in 2007. The concept came from the first McDonald’s franchise owner in Germany, and everything about the experience screams commercial.
Upon entering, diners receive cards that contain a computer chip. Each time you order something, you press your card to a reader so that you only pay once prior to leaving. This makes jumping from the pizza station to the pasta station to the bar relatively easy, especially knowing that you aren’t pulling out cash or your credit card every few minutes.
The food at Vapiano is customizable, giving each patron plenty of options. The chefs behind the counter won’t yell at you for ordering your Bolognese on top of spaghetti (Italians tend to frown upon putting heavy sauces over thin pasta) or ordering an unusual combination on top of your pizza. But, since the food is made to order, it’s bound to be good, even if it isn’t true to Italian tradition. Each dish is also served with hot bread, which can (and should) be dipped in the balsamic and olive oil that flows freely in the restaurant.
One of the best things about Vapiano (which is Italian slang for kicking back and relaxing, ironic though it may be) is its happy hour. It runs Monday through Saturday, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and then on Sunday from noon until close. The long time range isn’t even the best part! You can enjoy a Peroni or a glass of wine (both red and white) for a mere $4. This deal has made all of the DC locations a hot spot for happy hour lovers. I know many people who are happy to camp out there for an entire evening.
One more word to the wise – if you are in the mood for some tiramisu or panna cotta go online and sign up for Vapiano’s e-mail list. They will send you a coupon for a free dessert as soon as you're entered.