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To Tip or not to Tip? What to Expect in Spanish Restaurants

15 Nov

Your Guide for Dining out in Spain Presents: Customer Service in Spanish Restaurants

 The Scenario…

My family and I have been sitting at our table for ten minutes now, trying to catch our waiter’s eye and order something to drink. Meanwhile, he darts around the dining room, seeming to ignore our every attempt to get his attention. Finally, he arrives. “Ready?” he asks, “What do you want?” We order our drinks, but before being able to request dinner menus he disappears in a flash.

A few minutes later our conversation is interrupted by “thump, thud, thump!” Five beers are slammed down on the table, dripping condensation, and the waiter has again disappeared. Is he angry with us? Eventually, he returns and we are able to order both food and another drink. Yet when the food comes (plate by plate) we’re missing forks and one of us has to get up and grab them or we risk eating a cold steak.

At the end of the meal the waiter clears about half of the table and we spend another half of an hour trying to obtain, revise, and, finally, pay our check. In the end we leave, frustrated, and leave only a 10% tip to let the waiter know we were unhappy.

Waiting for the Cheque...

The above situation is my overly dramatic (though not at all improbable) version of what many tourists experience when dining out in Spain. Customer service in Spain often seems lacking when compared to the standards we have set in the US. “The customer is always right” isn’t quite the motto here. Let’s address this issue with a few common questions I’ve heard about the service here in Spain.

Why are the waiters so rude?

They aren’t. They are busy, overworked, and underpaid. They can’t make conversation when they have to serve a dining room of 15 tables alone, so they work quickly without stopping to chat. The also do not work for tips (explained below) and therefore have much less incentive to suck up to patrons.

The Happy Waitress doesn't exist in Spain...

Why didn’t my check come at the end of the meal?

Unlike in the US where waiters are trained to drop the check immediately (to make it convenient for the customer to pay when they are ready) in Spain you must ask for your check. Here, it would be considered rude to bring the bill before being asked. People often continue talking well after they finish eating and only ask for the check when ready to pay and leave.

How much should I tip my waiter?

When dining out tipping is almost never necessary, and usually not even expected. The waiters work for a monthly salary (of about 1,000 € for full time) and do not depend on tips like the waiters do in the US. However, if you go to a restaurant where you’ve made a reservation, a 5% tip would be considered a nice gesture. In all other cases you can just round your bill up to the next euro when feeling generous. It may seem strange to leave only 10 or 20 cents, but Spaniards do it all the time. Of course, as someone who spent 7 years as a waitress, I’d say that leaving a tip is never a bad idea, especially in Spain where the waiters work long hours for very little pay.

I'll leave 4,00€ (twenty cent tip)

Suggestions for Dining out in Spain:

Some of the best eateries in Spain don’t take reservations. Show up early to get a table, or be prepared to wait. Some may put your name on a list while others leave it to patrons to sort out who came first. Key phrase: Perdona, quién es la última? (Excuse me, who is the last in line?)

A Very Crowded Bar

Don’t be afraid to sit down at a dirty table. This may be rude and even unthinkable in the US but it’s fairly common here. Claim your spot and then wait awhile until the waiter has a chance to come clean off the table. Never rush him over, however!

Grab that table while you can!

Don’t expect English. Many menus are not even translated, those that are still prove difficult to make sense of, and most waiters do not speak very good English. Do your research beforehand. I’ll never forget going to a nice restaurant when studying abroad, desperately craving a steak, but thinking they didn’t have any after seeing the menu. I ordered something else and then watched as the entire table next to ours received big juicy steaks. That night I learned the words solomillo and ternera!

Please check out the translation for "Callos" (TMI?)

Be patient. Dining out here is a longer experience. Enjoy it. You’re not in the US for a reason— embrace the Spanish culture. And enjoy the delicious food!

Pulpo a la Gallega: A Reason to "Aguantar"

What do you think of the customer service in Spanish restaurants? Would you prefer great service and high prices, or mediocre service and low prices?

Spanish Mealtimes: When do Spanish people eat?

24 Oct

As the second part in my Dining Out in Spain series I present the difficulty of the Spanish mealtimes, a challenge I was faced with when I first arrived in Spain but (luckily) have been able to adjust to in the past few years!

I love to eat, but when? and where?!

 Lunch at 3:30 and dinner at 10:00?

When I first arrived in Spain as a language assistant it was really difficult to adjust to the new eating schedule. Although I’d studied in Spain before, I just couldn’t get used to eating the Spanish way on my own.

So how do the Spaniards eat? Well, it really depends on whom you ask. But I take the following to be a general consensus. Let me know if you disagree!

Breakfast (El Desayuno): Around 7:30 am. Right before going to work a typical Spaniard might have a cup of coffee and perhaps a small piece of toast with butter and jam or a small bowl of cereal. Some don’t eat at all.

Mid-morning Snack/The “Real” Breakfast: Most companies give their employees a break around 10:00 am in which the average Spaniard will go have their “real” breakfast or at least another coffee. They usually eat a piece of toast with either butter and jam, or olive oil and tomato. Some prefer a croissant or pastry, and in Andalucía olive oil, tomato, and Serrano ham is a delicious and popular choice. The strangest tostada toppings include colored lard and strange pates. You can read more about Spanish breakfast at Hayley’s blog!

A typical Andaluz Breakfast

Lunch (La Comida): Most Spaniards still think of lunch as the main meal of the day, whether or not they have the option of going home to eat with their families. Lunch is almost always a hot meal and many bars offer a menu of the day (menú del día) that consists of an appetizer, main dish, beverage, and dessert.

Iberian Pork

Afternoon Snack (La Merienda): As I explained previously this is like Spain’s “fourth meal”. Usually people have it between 5:00 and 6:30 in the evening, although it can be eaten just about any time before dinner. Typical afternoon snacks can be on the sweet side, such as coffee and a pastry, a yogurt, or fruit, but can also be savory snacks like a small sandwich and soda, or some cheese and Serrano ham or chorizo.

Any of these will do for your merienda!

Dinner (La Cena): Depending on who you ask, dinner ranges from light fare like a yogurt and some fruit, salad, a bowl of cereal, or some cheese and crackers, to heavier meals similar to what one might eat at lunch time. In the south people love to go for a tapa or two for dinner which will definitely fill you up without being too heavy (if you stop at one or two that is!).

An amazing tapa

I personally appreciate each and every Spanish meal and what it offers.

What I would order:

Breakfast: I love a hearty breakfast of a tostada con jamón, tomate, y aceite.

The Spanish style breakfast sandwich

Lunch: An ideal menú del día would be a bowl of refreshing salmorejo followed by solomillo al whiskey or secreto ibérico (a delicious cut of Iberian pork).

Creamy Salmorejo

Merienda: A café cortado and a dulce árabe (like baklava, common in Spain due to its Moorish past).

Another merienda or breakfast option-- churros!

Dinner: Tapas for sure although exactly what depends on my mood! Croquetas are always delicious, fried eggplant with honey, baked goat cheese with jam… there are endless possibilities!

Fried Eggplant with Honey

What do you guys order when you go out? For the expats—do you cook “Spanish style” or do you make your own creations at home? Was it difficult for anyone else to adjust to the Spanish schedule?

Sometimes I just need to cook "American style"

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