Monday, January 28, 2013

Tips for eating at restaurants in Spain

A few weeks ago a friend of my grandma's said that her niece was going to study abroad this spring in Madrid, could she ask me some questions about it?  Of course!

I linked her to some past blog posts, but also ended up writing a rather lengthy email.  I realized there were many topics I had yet to cover on the blog, so I'm going to begin tackling them one by one.  Today's focus is eating out in restaurants in Madrid (or Spain).

Tips for eating at restaurants in Spain via Oh No She Madridn't

Whether you're studying abroad in Spain, moving to Spain to teach English, or perhaps you're going to vacation there soon, these five tips will help you have a great dining experience in Madrid's (or Spain's) restaurants.

Pamplona, Spain restaurant
Behaving ourselves at a restaurant in Pamplona, Spain -- there for a frisbee tournament, of course

1. Order from the Spanish menu

Especially in more touristy cities like Madrid, many restaurants have an English menu and a Spanish menu.  More often than not, the prices on the English menu are actually higher than the prices on the Spanish menu.  Hence, if you can speak Spanish - or if you've got a English/Spanish dictionary with you - order from the Spanish menu!  It'll save you some euros.

2. A glass of tap water will not come with your meal

It's not custom to give everyone a glass of ice water when they sit down at a restaurant, as it is in the states.  And if you order water (agua), they'll bring you out a glass bottle of water and charge a few euros for it.  They might ask you to specify with carbonation or without (con gas / sin gas) when you order it.

If you want a (free!) glass of tap water, ask for un vaso de agua del grifo.  If you're eating at a typical Spanish restaurant, this glass of water won't come with ice.  Tap water in Madrid is completely safe to drink.  If you're on the east coast though, I would stay away from the tap water.  Once while eating out in Málaga, I forgot that I wasn't in Madrid anymore and ordered a glass of tap water.  The waiter made a face at me and said, "Really?!  No, you don't want to drink that.  The tap water's bad."  Glad he saved me from that mistake!

3. Ask for the bill when you're ready to pay (La cuenta, por favor)

The lifestyle in Spain is more relaxed than in the states, and the Spanish value their time with family and friends around the lunch or dinner table.  Take your time when you're eating out at a restaurant, because no one is going to rush you.  The waiters will leave you be after they've delivered your food, and you can sit and chat for hours if you'd like.  The only time I've ever been asked to leave was when I was still at my lunch table at quarter to six in the evening -- the waiter told us that the restaurant had closed at 4.30pm.  Whoops!

When you are ready to leave though, you'll need to ask for the bill.  "La cuenta, por favor" is all you'll need to say, once you grab your waiter's attention.

4. Check your bill before you pay it

Once you get the bill, take a closer look at it before you leave some money.  Make sure you were only charged for what you ordered, that extra items weren't added on for no reason.  And this doesn't just apply to visitors, some restaurants may do this to locals as well!

5. Don't tip like you would in the states

Waiters and waitresses in Spain make full wages with benefits.  It's not like in the states where they make $2 an hour and work for tips.  Some Americans will say that this difference is reason for better customer service in the states: The better the service, the better the tip.  Since Spanish waiters and waitresses aren't working for tips, they don't care so much about the quality of their customer service.  That's just a conjecture though.  Regardless, my study abroad advisor told us in orientation that if we receive wonderful service, we might want to tip 10 or 20 cents.  The most I tip in Spain is probably around a euro or two, but it depends on the total cost and service.  Tipping is another area where restaurants can profit from unknowing tourists.

Not sure what to order at a Spanish restaurant? Look no further, check out Hannah Kennell's in-depth guide to Spanish food: Top Spanish Eats!


  1. So glad you mentioned tipping and that servers don't hurry you so the table can be free for another guest. Interesting about the water... all things good to know!

    1. Glad it's helpful! Will you be traveling to Spain soon?

  2. Thanks for your tips, it is very useful

  3. I'm going to travel to Spain next week. I'm so glad to find this post before my trip. Thanks, thanks

  4. Thanks for tips. Great to know about the tap of water, the bill, everything.

  5. Hi Rebeca,
    Interesting tips. I love Madrid. I'll take care from now on.

  6. Thanks. I love your post, it really good and interesting.

  7. Great info thankyou. I remember in Barcelona I ordered a glass of hot water (i had a terrible sore throat and had developed a cold) in a restaurant and was charged €5 eek! Won't make that mistake again.

    1. You're welcome! Oh no—that sounds pricy! Glad you'll watch for it now :)

  8. I am actually going in spain and this comes really in handy! Thanks for sharing!

  9. I dont have any idea what should I do there. lucky me I stumbled upon your post. Thanks for sharing