Italians are social. Extremely social. So going for an "aperitivo" - going for a pre-dinner drink - is more than an opportunity to simply open the stomach for dinner; it is a time to sit back and relax with friends while slowly sipping a cocktail or a glass of wine. Instead of alcohol prices being reduced as they are for the American happy hour, they are usually a bit higher, therefore the incentive is not to drink more but to linger and enjoy your company.
And since getting drunk is usually frowned upon by Italians, aperitivo is always served with something to nibble on so as not to drink on an empty stomach. This can be anywhere from potato chips to various panini to an entire buffet spread with everything from pasta to vegetables to fruit - all at no extra cost. The last has become a particularly popular way to “dine out” for those looking to spend less for dinner, as it is usually fully acceptable to get refills without paying for another drink and can cost anywhere from 5 euros to 15 euros.
So, good food, cocktail, and good company - now who's ready for dinner?