Translation:You are welcome
I translated this literally as "I pray" -- which I think better captures the flexibility with which "prego" is used in Italian. I have been informed that it can be used in many contexts, including "you're welcome", "what can I do for you?" and "please". It seems like "Prego" can be used whenever you might say "I pray", "pray", or "god be with you", in English. True, I don't see these used much outside of religious communities in America, but I figure since Italy has a long history with Catholicism, the expression "I pray" has stuck around?
edit: when it says that prego translates literally to "I pray", is this in a religious sense, or just in the sense of "I beg"?
Have you ever thought about the literal sense of "please"? Or the actual meaninglessness of "You are welcome?" The general present meaning of "please" is result of a transfer of domain, certainly linked to religion, it has just lost the religious aspect of "humbly asking for".
Interesting conversation here. I find it insightful that the verb «pregare» means "to pray," so «prego» is the conjugation "I pray." This reminds me of in older English polite speech when people asked others to do something using the word "pray," e.g. "Pray tell." I guess Italian took it to the next level by "praying" to everyone that they eat the served food or go in front of them in line, etc. In this way, "pray" is indeed another way of saying "please."
It could be interesting to know that the formula derives from Latin (so NOT from the Church). In the final of the letters it was common to use "sit tibi gratia", "be grace to you", which means just thank, have gratitude; or even "" sufficit tibi gratia mea , gratia Dei tecum " (= my kindness is with you, the favour of God be with you); "precor" (hence please) has the same derivation and means good wishes: "longum diem " a wish of long life. Anyway is a reply to your "thanks", which, to my ears, is not liked with the fact that I am, or not, "welcome"....