Dining Differences Between Spain and the U.S.

*****All photos were provided by @bri_cheezy*****

Dining out. We’ve all done it, more often than not. Obviously, while I was in Spain I dined out plenty. I had everything from simpler meals at any hole in the wall I could find, to fancier dinners at the oldest operating restaurant in the world.

Bri and I dining at Casa Lucio. Follow her blog—readbri.com

As someone who has worked in the service industry for over 5 years, I am hyper aware of everything going on around me when I sit down to eat anywhere. I pay attention to the seating process, the menu layout, “is my server agitated?”, “why is the music so loud?”. What can I say… the waitress in me just can’t help herself.

Dining out in Spain was a whole new experience. The way we dine out in the states and the way people share meals in Spain was really somewhat of a culture shock.

Here are some things I noticed:

  1. You shouldn’t expect to be seated right away. When you walk into a restaurant in the states, you are normally greeted within seconds. That, or there is a sign telling you to seat yourself. In Spain, it isn’t so clear. I dined at a couple of the fanciest restaurants in Madrid, and in both, the staff took a moment to finish whatever they were doing before asking if I needed anything. As rude as this may seem to many of us, I assure you, they aren’t being rude. 
  2. There is no free water. This is my least favorite thing about traveling. In many countries, Spain in this case, it isn’t the norm to be greeted with a glass of water as soon as you sit down. You can order one…but expect it to be bottled, and to be charged for it.
  3. They don’t seem to give out drink menus. I sat at my fair share of bars, and instead of having a cocktail list, they simply ask what you would like. To be fair, most Spañiards ask for vino tinto (red wine), sangria, or beer. The mentality seems pretty simple— whatever you see behind the bar, you may ask for. But if you really need a menu, ask for one.
  4. They don’t order wine based on type. I noticed while looking through wine menus, many don’t specify the kind— pinot noir, merlot, etc. Now, I am a not a wine snob (I’ll drink just about any kind of wine) but since in the U.S. most people order wines based on the kind they drink, or what pairs well with their food, this was surprising.
  5. The service is….not like in the US. Many times when you dine out the service is what would be mediocre to the standards of any American. But here is the thing, the staff at restaurants make a set wage. They do not work off tips like we do in states. By that definition, they don’t need to be super nice to customers to pay their rent. They simply just have to do their job.
  6. You don’t need tip. This was hard guys. REALLY hard. I am used to tipping for everything. I am used to over tipping for everything because once again, this is how I live in the states. However, after a few times of dining out with so-so service, you start to get it, the server is not expecting a tip. (Feel free to leave a small something though, there is nothing wrong with being a nice human being.)
  7. Vegetarians might have trouble finding something to eat. Spain loves their meat. You’ll see whole pig legs hanging from all kinds of shops. They especially love their ham. Most entrees will be meat based. There are plenty of seafood options, so pescetarians are in luck. But to my fellow vegetarians, and vegans…good luck.
  8. Food is relatively cheap. Food in Spain isn’t expensive. This isn’t where the bulk of your expenses will come from when you are traveling through the beautiful country. Even in fancy restaurants, our tab rarely surpassed $90. In one place in specific, after over 8 tapas ordered, two bottles of wine, and two gin & tonics, our grand total was $85.
  9. Most restaurants offer “El menu del dia” for lunch. “El menu del dia” typically includes a first dish (appetizer), entree, dessert, and a choice of beverage (water, soda, wine, beer). Most of the time it is some ridiculous price like  €10 or  €12. In Toledo, I even found one for €6.50. Take advantage of this! It is a great way to try a lot of food, at a wonderful price.
  10. They love tapas. Tapas are little plates of food. Sample size. In many restaurants and bars as soon as you order a drink, they bring you a tapa. It’s quite heavenly. They are keeping traditions alive, even if it is just a basket of chips.
  11. Spañiards eat later than we do. Try it out. The Spanish eating schedules is something like this, breakfast around 10 a.m., lunch (a much heavier lunch than in the states) somewhere around 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and dinner closer to 9 p.m.  On the weekends, I saw people start to dine closer to 10 p.m. in preparation for the long night ahead of them. I actually really enjoyed this schedule.
  12. They eat for hours. This was my favorite thing. I think we should adopt this habit here. I noticed that when I was dining with people, meals extended for up to 3 hours, sometimes even 4. Of course, this can be excessive when you have places to be, but for times you’re just dining with friends, eating is a ritual. You share multiple bottles of wine, always ask for dessert, and share after dinner cocktails. I LOVE it.  It gives eating a new meaning. It puts emphasis on the conversation, socializing and the time shared with one another. I think this way food goes down with a lot more pleasure and satisfaction.

Eating in Spain is such a big part of the culture. Whenever you visit, soak it up. 




**The beautiful lady in my photos is Bri. I met her in Madrid. Check out this post to read more about how our friendship blossomed. She’s cool and funny. Go check her blog out and modeling portfolio—readbri.com.**