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How to order like locals in Spanish restaurants

Spanish Food

Spanish Food

¿Para comer ?  (will you be eating ? ) is the first thing most Spanish waiters ask people entering their restaurant.

Sounds like a silly question right ?

Of course, you want to eat. What else would you do in a restaurant ?

See, Spanish culture involves a lot of going out to eat and drink with friends.

It’s not unusual to have before-meal beers and tapas in a place and then go to another restaurant to share a real meal.

In that case, the waiter who welcomes you is trying to figure out if you will stand at the bar for drinks and tapas or if you’re willing to seat at a table and order a whole meal.

In many ways, restaurants codes are a bit different in Spain. Let’s detail some of the local habits.


1. Sharing is the key in popular Spanish restaurants

Spanish people like to share dishes at restaurants like they do at home.Click To Tweet

Unless they’re eating in a Chef’s restaurant, the Spanish tend to share plates, as they would do at home.

They can share everything or decide to share the appetisers and then order a main dish for each one.

Of course, you can order your own dish and have it all by yourself too.

When placing your order, just inform the waiter you’ll be sharing (para compartir = to share) and he’ll bring you individual clean plates with your dishes.


2. Adjust dish size

In many Spanish restaurants, dishes come in 3 sizes: Tapa, half portion and whole portionClick To Tweet

In traditional Spanish restaurants, you can see one dish with 3 different prices on the menu. They come in different sizes.

Tapa is the smallest serving size. Appetiser size. Perfect if you want to try a lot of different dishes or if you’re just looking for a snack to have with a drink.

Then media ración (half portion) would be starter size and ración (portion) would be main dish size.

If you are afraid to be short or order too much, feel free to ask for advice. Waiters are usually honest about it and will tell you if they think you’re ordering too much.

Be aware that in that kind of restaurants dishes are meant to be shared so they don’t always come with a side.

This means if you order a  whole ración of fried calamari for yourself, you’ll be eating A LOT of fried calamari. And nothing else.

It’s ok if you LOVE fried calamari.

Unless specified, consider food comes with no side.

In case you’re sharing, the waiter will bring you individual plates with the food. And if you’re eating a lot of different foods, he’ll likely bring you clean plates at one point in the middle of your meal. Don’t hesitate to ask (politely) for a plate change if needed.


3. Dealing with menus


Menú del día is a tradition in Spain - Cheap lunch including in some Chef's restaurantsClick To Tweet

It’s not as frequent in the Canary Islands but in peninsular Spain, there is a strong tradition of menú del día (=menu of the day). Many Spanish restaurants offer a menu for lunch including starter, main, dessert, bread and drink (including table wine) for between 8€ and 15€ per person.

Menus you don’t have to share. They’re designed for one.

In higher level restaurants, you’ll find menú degustación (=gastronomic menu) with or without maridaje (=pairing wines).

When you’re eating at a Chef’s restaurant, international codes apply.


4. You may be charged for the bread

Some Spanish restaurants charge for breadClick To Tweet

It’s not a majority, but you might encounter one or two during your trip in Spain and its islands. In this case, bread price should appear on the menu.
If the server asks you if you want bread – good chance they’re going to charge you for it.

But sometimes, the server puts it on the table and, unless you clearly specify you don’t want the bread, you get charged for it.

The law allows it. Basically, you just need to check out if bread price appears on the menu. If it doesn’t, it means it’s free.

Remember if you have a bad experience, you have the right to ask for an hoja de reclamación (= complaint form).


5. Be aware of the eating schedule

Spaniards tend to eat later than most Europeans.Click To Tweet

Restaurants are filled with locals between 2pm and 4pm for lunch and between 9pm and 11pm for dinner.

In big cities and very touristic places of Spain, you don’t need to adapt your eating schedule because restaurants will serve all day to have everyone covered.

But in smaller towns, you can have trouble getting a place to serve you lunch before 1pm and dinner before 8pm.

Quick guide to local habits

6. Tipping or not tipping

Service is included in Spanish restaurants. Tip only if you were happy with itClick To Tweet

Service is included in Spanish restaurants. This means you leave a tip as a thank you to the server for attending you nicely.

We’re talking about a few euros. My feeling is that if you are leaving something, it can’t be less than one euro.

Tip what you feel is right, and you’ll be fine.

7. What’s with the end-of-meal chupito?

The end-of-meal chupito is always on-the-house at Spanish restaurantsClick To Tweet

It’s a classic in Lanzarote and the rest of the Canary Islands.

The famous Spanish chupito. While the rule with the bread may be a little unclear, end-of-meal chupitos are always on-the-house.

You’re even allowed to repeat. That’s why the bottle stayed on the table.




Are there other things that surprised you while eating at Spanish restaurants ? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

1 thought on “How to order like locals in Spanish restaurants

  1. I love this site. It’s an great read.

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