What you should know about eating in Spain


The Spanish eat much later than other Europeans, with lunch ( comida or almuerzo) usually being taken between 2 and 4pm and dinner ( cena) between 9 and 11pm. People in Barcelona tend to eat dinner around an hour earlier than those in Madrid, while in tourist resorts, dinner is usually served from 7 or 8pm.

Most establishments serve meals from 1 until 4pm and from 8pm until midnight, and outside these hours the only restaurants that may be open are those catering to foreigners (or those serving ‘snacks’ rather than full meals). Most restaurants close one day or evening a week, usually Sunday evening and possibly also the whole of Monday or Tuesday. Many restaurants close for holidays in January or August for at least two weeks and some also close for a few days at Easter and over Christmas. In resort areas, many restaurants and bars close for the whole of the winter.


Breakfast ( desayuno) isn’t usually an important meal in Spain and is often skipped altogether. When eaten it’s generally of the continental variety consisting of coffee or hot chocolate and rolls ( bollos), toast, croissants ( croisantes), fried fritters ( churros) or small sponge cakes ( magdalenas). However, most hotels and many cafes and bars serve a cooked breakfast ( desayuno completo), particularly in resort areas.


Lunch is the most important meal of the day in Spain and is usually eaten between 2 and 4pm. It consists of an appetiser or starter ( entrada) of soup or salad, a first course ( primer plato), possibly followed by an entrée or second course ( segundo plato), often consisting of egg dishes (e.g. omelettes) or vegetables, a main course ( plato fuerte) of fish or meat with vegetables or salad, followed by fruit or cheese and occasionally a dessert. Often, you must to order vegetables separately and in small family restaurants a salad may be routinely served. Note that modest establishments expect customers to use the same knife and fork for all courses.


Dinner is normally served from 9pm until midnight, although it’s usually served earlier in resort towns, and in Spanish cities many restaurants remain open until well after midnight. Usually dinner is a lighter meal than lunch, although judged by international standards, it’s certainly no snack. There’s often little difference between lunch and dinner menus, except that there isn’t always a set menu in the evening and rural establishments may serve dinner only by prior arrangement. A meal eaten late in the evening, perhaps after visiting the cinema or theatre, is called supper ( cena) and is often eaten in the early hours of the morning in major cities.

It’s advisable to book for high class restaurants or any restaurant in a popular resort during the high season. Note, however, that many budget restaurants don’t accept reservations and may not even have a telephone. Legislation regarding smoking changed and all restaurants must now provide non-smoking sections. Restaurant bills usually include a 15 per cent service charge (plus 7 per cent value added tax or 16 per cent in 5-fork restaurants), usually shown on the bill as servicio incluido. Even when service isn’t included, the Spanish rarely tip much and may leave only a few small coins. However, many foreigners follow international practice and tip as they would in other countries. Not all restaurants accept credit cards, particularly budget restaurants, so it’s prudent to check in advance.

There are many excellent guides to Spanish cuisine and restaurants, including Guía Peñín de los Vinos de España by José Peñín (Pi & Erre) and a number published (in Spanish) by the Spanish Club de Vinos Gourmets ( ), including a monthly magazine entitled Club de Gourmets. Vinoselección (Guzmán el Bueno, 133, 28003 Madrid, 902-253 525, ) is Spain’s largest wine club and publishes the gourmet food and wine magazine Sobremesa. The club also organises wine tasting trips several times a year.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
Click here to get a copy now.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: