Barcelona can be an à la carte aficionado’s dream. All those lovely bites stacked up on the bar… Hams, cheeses, mushrooms, omelets, seafood, salads, sausages. Sure, they’re all very tempting, and seemingly cheap, but for the price of two tapas and one beer (about €6), you could enjoy a three-course lunch with bread and wine!
1. Look for “Menú del Dia”
Often chalked up on a board on the sidewalk, the “menú del dia” is a national institution. For a fixed price you’ll be offered a choice of, say, six starters and six main courses.
Although some restaurants offer more adventuresome menus, the first course choices will typically feature a paella or pasta dish, or a salad or a soup. The second course will often feature chicken or a small steak, or fish, served with fries or potatoes and vegetables of the day. And for dessert you’ll likely be offered yogurt or flan (creme caramel), pudding (sponge cream cake), ice-cream, or a piece of fruit. Expect to pay a little more at weekends and on public holidays.
You’ll even find some restaurants offering a “menú del noche” (evening menu) – again, with three or four courses (although often not including wine) for about €13.50 – €17.50.
2. Check before you get the check.
There are often lots of hidden costs that arrive with the bill in Barcelona. Here’s a checklist for avoiding them:
* Tax: Check whether the price includes tax (“IVA”) or not. This will add 7% to the check. (Note, in the photo above, that the tax–”+ 7% IVA”– is not included in the price.)
* Terrace: Check how much the “suplemento“ for eating on the terrace is. (This is sometimes a fixed charge, between €1 and €3 per person, and can add as much as 20% to the check).
* Bread: Check whether the price includes “pan” (bread). (For example, a well-known restaurant on the Passeig de Gràcia once tried to charge me €12.40 for two small baskets of bread!)
* Wine and water: Check whether the price includes “vino” (wine) or “agua” (water) or a beer or “refresco” (soft drink ). Many places will serve you both wine and water (or gaseosa-fizzy flavoured water) at no extra cost.
* Coffee: Check whether coffee is included. Some restaurants allow you to exchange a choice of dessert for a coffee.
3. Pick your smoking preference.
Remember to ask for the “no smoking” section, if this is your preference. Otherwise, you run the risk of being seated next to a diner who might light up a post-prandial cigar just as you’re savoring your starter.
4. Know your hours.
In Barcelona, we eat lunch a bit later than everyone else in Europe–most restaurants do not start serving until 1 PM or 1:30 PM, and finish serving lunch at around 3:45 PM.
5. A few more words to dine by.
* Safety: Do not hang your handbag (or jacket with wallet) on your chair, if eating on a terrace.
* Tip: Don’t worry about the “propino” (tip). Leave what small change you have, or nothing at all. This could be somewhere between 5-10%, but shouldn’t be more than €1 per person.
* Complaints: All establishments are required by law to have a complaints book. If you’re not happy with any aspect of the food or service, ask for the “Libro de Reclamaciones.” If they say they don’t have one, you can legally leave without paying anything!
And, as we say here: “Buen provecho” and “Bon profit”!