Spanish restaurants are probably the best way of getting acquainted with Spanish cuisine and food.
And unless you go for a Michelin-starred establishment, they tend to be inexpensive and good value for money.
The Spanish love eating out and the chances are that you too will acquire a passion for dining out.
While you do, our guide gives you some pointers on what you need to know about Spanish restaurants.
Spanish restaurants in resort areas tend to cater for foreigners’ hours and open for lunch from midday and for dinner from 7pm. Outside these areas, however, you’ll find a very different timetable.
Don’t expect to find many restaurants open before 1.30pm for lunch or before 8.30pm for dinner.
Spaniards eat late so don’t be surprised to find a restaurant empty if you arrive just after opening time.
Top tip – if it’s a popular venue, arrive as soon as it opens to get your table.
Menu del día
One of the best value ways to eat out in Spain is to go for the daily menu (menú del día).
It comprises a starter, main course and dessert or coffee plus bread and costs between €7.50 and €15. You can usually choose between several starters and mains.
The menú del día tends to be available at lunchtime only and during the week. Some restaurants also serve a dinner set menu, although expect this to be more expensive.
Top tip – choose a venue with not too much choice of starters and mains. Few usually means better food and increases the likelihood of home cooking.
Bread and condiments
Most Spanish restaurants serve bread with the meal. This comes baguette-style and sliced in a basket, often with bread sticks as well. Some establishments charge for bread (up to €1.50 per person). If this is the case, the price will be stated on the menu. Check beforehand and if you don’t want bread, tell the waiter when you order.
It’s usual practice to get a dish of olives when your drinks arrive. Some restaurants also serve a tapa or small tasting dish. You may be charged for this – ask if you’re not sure.
Top tip – always check your bill for extras because mistakes are common.
There are no hard and fast rules about how much to tip when you’re eating out in Spain. In general, the Spanish aren’t big tippers, but if the service was good and you enjoyed the food, you definitely should leave a tip in appreciation.
As a general rule, a tip at a restaurant should be around 5% of your bill.
This isn’t an exact science and many people round up or down to the nearest full euro. Service is rarely included in the bill and you won’t be asked to add an amount for a tip at the bottom of the bill as happens in some countries such as the UK and US.
Top tip – it isn’t necessary to leave a tip in a bar or café although many people leave the small change from their bill or a few small coins.
Most restaurants in Spain are family friendly and you’ll see children eating with their parents everywhere except for the most up-market establishments.
Venues make provision for small children and often provide highchairs or booster seats at tables. Many restaurants have children’s menus, although the choice may not stretch beyond burger or chicken nuggets and chips.
Top tip – if there isn’t a special children’s menu, ask if the restaurant will serve a half-portion of a meal instead.
Special dietary requirements
If you have a special dietary requirement or food allergy, eating out in Spain can be a challenge especially if the restaurant is in a small town or village.
However, the situation has improved in leaps and bounds over the last few years and most Spanish restaurants make some concession to the non-meat and non-gluten eaters.
Vegetarians – in a country where not eating cured ham or fish counts almost as sacrilege, vegetarians will find eating out in Spain a challenge, particularly if you don’t eat fish or shellfish either.
However, the situation has certainly improved and many venues now provide some vegetarian options, but don’t be surprised if these rarely venture beyond tortilla española (Spanish omelette) or mixed salad.
Vegans are faced with an even tougher trial, although most large towns and cities have at least one restaurant serving vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Celiacs – until recently, few restaurants took gluten intolerance into account. Gluten-free dishes continue to be a rarity rather than the norm, but at least it isn’t difficult to find a restaurant catering for celiacs. When you arrive at the restaurant, make your dietary requirements clear as soon as you sit down.
Food allergies – when you book a restaurant ask if they cater for your particular food intolerance. Even if they say they do, double-check when you arrive and make sure the staff know you’re allergic to certain substances.
Top tip – many restaurants now provide coded menus so you know what’s suitable for vegetarians, celiacs etc. If you’re not sure, ask the waiter to list the ingredients in the dish you fancy.