11 Restaurants Rules You Need To Know In Spain

Know the restaurant rules in Spain

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By Nancy Todd

You’re in Spain. Things are different. When eating out, keep these rules in mind.

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 in most restaurants. And believe the Scoopettes, you want to buy it.  Some people drink the water here. We don’t (we live in Barcelona – this may be different in other parts of Spain).

You’ll get olive oil, not butter, for your bread

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.

We love that no one hurries you out to turn tables in Spain

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 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Three or four courses. Wine included. The Scoopettes love Menu del Dia.

Menu del Dia – the best deal for lunch in Spain

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 (and in some cases undercharge).

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?

32 Responses

  1. 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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

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

  5. 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 says:

    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. Fiona Watson says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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!)


  10. admin says:

    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.


  11. admin says:

    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.


  12. admin says:

    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.


  13. 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. Andrea says:

    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. James Scott says:

    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 says:

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

  17. admin says:

    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. Tomás says:

    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. barry says:

    Great tips, but you forgot the most important CHECK YOUR BILL! I’ve been in sevilla.for 8 years and waiters still try and pull a fast one. Also never had problem getting tap water in restaurants, only bars and clubs!

  20. admin says:

    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?

  21. Linda says:

    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.

  22. admin says:

    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!


  23. This is funny. Don’t forget when you order a salad, you won’t likely have dressing choices. Olive oil and vinegar it is. Don’t excpect to eat dinner at 6 or 7pm either, it is best to go between 8-11pm.
    Heidi Wagoner recently posted…Through the Eyes of the Traveling Child, Jamie & Felicia – An Epic EducationMy Profile

  24. The Spain Scoop says:

    Thanks Barry. Where in Spain are you based?

  25. The Spain Scoop says:

    Good point. Olive oil and vinegar on salads and even 8pm is a bit early to go to dinner. Thanks.

  26. The Spain Scoop says:

    Thanks for your advice Tomas. Do you leave a tip when you eat out in Granada?

  27. mo anthony says:

    I just love going out for tapa and a wine or two taking about 2 hours asking what the local tapa is for today and chatting to the locals my idea of a good time and I always leave a tip as I enjoy the company and the food. We can drink the water in Nueva Andalucia but I still prefer to buy bottled just in case. Late dinners are great as can have lots of chat and a few wines before hand and get into, the atmosphere of the restaurant.

  28. The Spain Scoop says:

    Where in Andalusia are you based?

  29. Marisa says:

    I have been living in Spain for the last 7 years. We love good food and go out for lunches and dinners on regular bases. Something that still annoys me after all these years is that most of the times you get charged for bread…also if you did not order it. When it comes to butter, even here, inland (between Valencia and Alicante) more and more restaurants get used to serve it…and mayonaise…but that’s my Belgian roots! Lol.

  30. Cafetero says:

    Thanks! I am planning to open a coffee shop in Spain in 6 months, this really helps!
    Cafetero recently posted…Aumento en el consumo de cafe en EspañaMy Profile

  31. Kat says:

    No, please don’t snap your fingers. It’s rude and there’s plenty of ways of politely getting a servers attention without doing it. Signing the air for asking for the tip as Tomas said is acceptable. But snapping fingers is rude and demanding worldwide. This is my BIGGEST PEEVE working in Barcelona. Also yes please do tip, as rent is high, we work long hours for a very basic wage and we also have to pay if a customer decides to leave without paying which I’m pretty sure is illegal.

  1. February 19, 2011

    […] Restaurant Customs In Spain thespainscoop.com […]

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