It is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with local customs and etiquette when dining in another country. Spain has a distinctive food culture where main meals are considered a time to socialize, relax, and enjoy some spectacular cuisine. Here are three tips for navigating the dining scene in Spain.
Know when meals are eaten
Breakfast is generally the lightest meal of the day. It is served between 7:30 and 10:00 a.m., depending on your work or leisure schedule. A cup of coffee with milk, café con leche, is often accompanied by a pastry or toast with jamón (ham).
Lunch is served between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. Locals will often take lunch at home as their main meal. Braised or roasted meats and seafood paella are some common fares. It is considered fine to have a glass of wine with lunch. And, a nap after the meal is not frowned upon. As a visitor, do not expect to get a cooked to order meal between 11:00 and 2:00. Many restaurants close midday. You can, however, find some cafes that will serve pre-prepared dishes such as ham sandwiches or egg & potato frittata.
Dinner is at the very end of the day, usually between 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM. This is lighter than lunch with a variety of shared small plates or tapas, salads, bread with olive oil, and seasonal fruits for dessert. This is the time to meet with friends, have a cocktail, and linger until you retire.
Paying the bill
Unlike the States, waiters do not hover over you waiting to turn over the table. When you have placed your fork and knife on the right side of your plate, this indicates that you have completed your meal. The waiter will generally ask if you are finished and will clear the table. He or she will not automatically bring you a bill. Order an after dinner drink and relax. When you want the check, wave the waiter over and ask for it.
In modern Spain, it is a myth that the wait staff garners a fair wage and does not rely on tips. Tipping is fine unless service is abysmal. Be mindful that quick table turnover is not customary, so the staff is not getting much gratuity from high volume. It is perfectly acceptable to add a 10% tip. Most locals will leave just a few Euros on the table as a gesture of appreciation.