11 Restaurants Rules You Need To Know-Customs In Spain

By Nancy Todd

l.  Butter?  Fuggedabuttit.  There is no butter served.  And aren’t you lucky?  You get a bottle of olive oil on your table.  Drizzle it on your bread and anything else that doesn’t walk.

2.  Water is not served.  You have to buy water with your meals.  And believe the Scoopettes, you want to buy it.  Some people drink the water here.  We don’t.

3.  You may have to ask for salt and pepper.  Some restaurants consider that an insult.

4.  As of January 2, 2011, smoking was banned in restaurants.  And it was about damn time.

5.  The Scoop on the best deal on food is the Menu del Dia.  Look for the chalkboard in front of restaurants.  These bargains can be eaten between two and four.  Three or four courses.  Wine included.  The Scoopettes love Menu del Dia.

Menu del Dia

6.  If you ask for a doggie bag, the servers will think you belong back on your cruise ship.

7.  Service is slow.  Really slow.  There will not be a chirpy server asking,   “Everything okey dokey here folks?”  If you need something, flap your fingers in the air and say, “Por favor.”  (Please)

8.  You will have to say “Por favor” to get your check.  Servers don’t hurry you.  You can sit for two hours over one cup of coffee.   Hopefully, you can leave your Type A personality at home.  Review your check. They often overcharge.

9.  Tip 10% in a really good restaurant.  Coffee and sandwiches, no tip.  A euro or two for a regular meal.

10.  Watch your purse.  Put it in your lap.  Not on the floor or hanging on your chair.  Theft is a big problem in tourists areas.

11.  And, por favor, have another bottle of great Spanish wine.

What other rules would you add to our list for dining in Spain?

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21 Comments

  1. Posted September 12, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    My experience has usually been there’s salt on the table, but no pepper. One of the first Spanish phrases I learnt was ‘Tiene pimienta, por favor?’

  2. Sylvia Carmichael
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I am currently on holiday in USA at the moment and reside in the UK. I must admit that I do prefer the Spanish attitude to eating out. Very relaxed; no upselling and no expectation of a huge tip, and finally no trying to get you through your meal and out the door again in an hour.

  3. admin
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Yes, for the most part I love the leisurely pace. But if you need to step up the pace when you are eating, it is difficult to get fast service. Where have you traveled in Spain?

  4. admin
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Hi Keith, I rarely see salt in Barcelona but certainly see lots of olive oil! Where have you traveled in Spain?

  5. Posted September 13, 2012 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    Madrid and Salamanca … brief stops in Barcelona and Malaga (cruising). Mainly I do the Vaughantown thing out in the sticks … La Alberca, Barco de Avila, Carrion de los Condes, Valdelavilla (near Soria) and Monfrague. I’m going again next month; near Segovia; I hope we have time to see something of it!

  6. Cheryl
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    We are on our way to Spain next Friday from Australia. First stop a conference in Madrid, then on to Rioja for a bit of wine and fine food.
    Next stop Barcelona… we will have an extra week to fill in around this area, our last day is in Girona with a meal at ‘Celler de can Roca’. Any suggestions??

  7. Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    Service in good tapas bars is fast, and I’ve never had a problem with getting a glass of tap water – just remembering to say “agua de grifo” (tap) as opposed to “grifa” (spliff, marijuana cigarette, joint, or whatever you prefer to call it).

  8. Dana Tucker
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Love the article, Love the Scoopettes! Fuggettabuttit! and oh so true….I’ve tackled a few waiters trying to get service, the bill, etc, and at least in Barcelona when I do get a server who’s cheerful, I’m bowled over and Then leave a tip! Keep on writing, Please!!

  9. admin
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    The rule is the following for me:

    no ‘hello’ or attention for 10 minutes after sitting down – I leave

    if I ask for the bill more than 4 times, and don’t get it, then they want me to have dinner for free (Ok, I’ve never walked out on a restaurant, but have walked out on taxis!)

    R

  10. admin
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Good point on the tap water, though this is uncommon to ask for. And, in Barcelona I’ve asked for it and saw it come out brownish from the tap…I told her I’d just buy a bottle after that! Depends on where you are and what you think the building’s pipes are like.

    R

  11. admin
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Hi Cheryl,

    In Rioja check out the cellar Tierra or Agricola Labastida in Labastida. Call ahead to get a tour. This is an excellent and very personal place. Also make sure to stop off in Laguardia (we have a post on it coming up later this week). Liz C, one of our guest experts lives in Logrono, so check out her posts.

    As far as Barcelona, it’s a big city, what are you most interested in?

    In Girona, well close by, make sure to see the Dali Museum in Figueres.

    R

  12. admin
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    There may be pepper and salt if you get a salad. It usually comes in a little container with oil, too. But, you may have to ask for it. Super spicy food (lots of pepper) is not common in Spain.

    R

  13. Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    Tipping isn’t that common in Spain, especially at bars and cafes, but at a nicer restaurant, it’s not unheard of. If you’d like to leave a tip, leave the change up to the nearest Euro, or tip up to 5 – 10%.

  14. Posted September 24, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I could see myself on a hot lazy summers afternoon somewhere in Spain sitting in a little restaurant with that second bottle of Spanish wine and not caring that the waiter never comes :)

  15. Posted September 24, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    10% tip for a good meal sounds very steep, a few euros is usually plenty. As for no pepper, well I’ve never wanted pepper on anything except for pizza here in Spain, most good food just doesn’t need it.

  16. admin
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    Yes, could be a good way to spend the afternoon!

  17. admin
    Posted September 28, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Yes, James, most people leave coins or nothing. But in a nice place 10% is OK. I sometimes leave a tip if the service is good, as it is often dicey in Barcelona.

  18. Posted October 22, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I am from Spain and I have to say 3 tips:

    - If you want home-made fast food, go to a bar and ask f with or a tapa with your drink (in my city, Granada, it is free); if you go to a resaturant it is to enjoy the food and stay talking
    friends or family (not to be hurry).
    - In the restaurant, while you are waiting for your dishes, you can put salt and oil in a piece of bread (you will look starving, but…)
    - Like in other countries, if you sign in the air looking to the waiter, it like asking for the bill

  19. admin
    Posted August 9, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Yes, that’s an issue here in Barcelona as well. Always check the bill. To be fair, I’ve been undercharged as well as overcharged. Mostly overcharged. Maybe it’s easier to get tap water in other parts of Spain, outside big cities?

  20. Posted August 10, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I’ve only just seen this. Two things occur to me. One is that here in the Canary Islands the tap water is perfectly fine to drink so far as germs go, but because the rock here is highly porous there is an incredible amount of lime scale in our water. It’s natural, but it is very bad for some people. I have friends with kidney problems on account of this, but I speak of local folk, who drank it from infancy. I don’t suppose it you’re vacationing it would harm. Nevertheless, bars etc are required to make ice from bottled water. Personally, I don’t drink it because I don’t like the taste, but I do use it for cooking and cleaning my teeth.

    The second thing I only found out of late. Butter is quite common (but not always) brought with the bread here. I’d assumed it was because so many tourists have asked for it over the years, but apparently not. A Canarian friend says she always remembers having it, and then it dawned on me that there were, until recently, no olive trees around here, but there were goats and sheep, so I guess the butter was made from their milk.

  21. admin
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    That’s really interesting Linda, about the butter. I’ve never seen that in any other part of Spain. I wish it was more common. Then again, I don’t need the calories.

    I agree about drinkiing water. You can drink and use the tap water in Spain. However – in Barcelona anyway – many bars will not serve tap water. I’m not sure if this is because they want the money or their pipes are bad!

    R

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