Eating out in Italy can be cheap or incredibly expensive, but price doesn't have to reflect quality! You can enjoy delicious meals in any Italian city or destination without breaking the budget by just eating more like the Italians do than the tourists. That is:
* Avoid most restaurants and cafes near major attractions or famous landmarks. You are going to be paying more for the view than for the food and drink if you sit down at a cafe along the Grand Canal in Venice, in the piazza outside the Pantheon, or inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Instead wander down side streets and into residential areas where you will find trattorias and osterias focused more on local residents than the tourists.
* Italians generally only enjoy a small pastry and an espresso-based drink in the morning for breakfast, which you can grab at any bar. But note that if you sit down at a table for service, you will pay perhaps double or triple versus standing at the bar or getting your munchies to take away! Otherwise some hotels offer terrific breakfast buffets with enough choices and hot options to keep you fueled and filled all day until dinnertime.
* Don't feel that you have to order a full three courses (antipasti, primi, secondi) at every meal. In fact it can definitely be too much to eat for most, unless you are dining at a higher-end restaurant offering more tasting-menu style dining. Just keep in mind that meat portions in Italy tend to be much smaller than you might be used to coming from America and secondi generally don't come with sides.
* In most major cities you can find eateries known Tavola Calda, literally "Hot Tables". Like a cafeteria, a Tavola Calda will feature options such as pre-prepared salads, sandwiches, pasta entrees and pizza by the slice. It won't be gourmet dining by a long shot but can be perfectly fine for an inexpensive light bite—and a good choice if you've got fussy or hungry children in tow who want something to eat and fast!
* Unless you're a serious vinophile, just stick with the vino della casa (house wine) available at most trattorias and osterias. It'll be cheaper than a bottle and typically very fresh and typical of the region.
* Have a large lunch? Then you might be able to make a simple, light dinner out of bar snacks! Italians seem to find it inconceivable that you might want to have a cocktail or glass of wine without something to eat at the same time. If you stop in a bar in the early evening and order a drink, you will generally receive a variety of nibbles for "free" to accompany it. It could be as simple as peanuts and chips or as much as a slice of pizza, marinated olives and cheese, fried arancini, tramezzino sandwiches or some combination thereof! Some days after ordering a simple cocktail I had absolutely no room for any dinner afterwards. In Venice, making a meal out of bar snacks called cicchetti is very easy and one of the least expensive ways to enjoy good food in the city.