Spain is very different from most other countries around the world in one specific respect, and questioning it could result in a few funny looks, or even going hungry.
When wondering about things you shouldn’t say to Spaniards, a few choice phrases immediately spring to mind. ‘What side was your family on in the Spanish Civil War?’ is not the most diplomatic conversation starter, while associating Spain only with its beaches can result in locals passionately selling the country’s fantastic history, gastronomy, culture and sporting prowess. But there is one seemingly innocuous phrase that is worse than all the others, mainly because it could result in you missing out on experiencing one of the country’s most well-known assets.
Foreign visitors who have little experience of Spain are often surprised at the country’s late mealtimes. Suggesting grabbing dinner at 6.30pm to a Spaniard will be met with – at the very least – a raised eyebrow. Most Spanish restaurants do not even open their doors until around 8.30pm, and many Spaniards will only just be finishing up work at 6.30pm.
In Spain, lunch is usually eaten at around 2 or 3pm, while dinner is eaten from around 9pm to 11pm. Spain’s eating patterns can take a bit of getting used to for those unaccustomed to eating late – many foreigners who come to work here will recognise the feeling of that aggressive midday stomach rumbling that signals it’s time for lunch… and then have to wait another two hours before Spanish lunchtime rolls around.
Of course, some restaurants will be open at 6.30pm or 7pm, but these tend to be the kind of establishments that have waiters lurking outside, menu in hand, waiting to pounce on passing tourists. We have all seen those tourists, sitting in an empty restaurant, far too early; no one wants to dine alone and miss out on the energy and excitement of diving into Spain’s food scene, from its tapas bars to its (probably) most beloved food, jamón.
The ideal way of getting used to Spain’s later mealtimes is to just try to adapt as soon as possible. Instead of stopping for lunch at midday, have a snack to tide you over and enjoy a leisurely lunch at 2pm instead – preferably a menu del día, a fixed-price, three-course lunch menu that most Spanish restaurants offer for between €10 and €15.
When it comes to evening dining, you don’t have to be tucking into your meal at 11pm, but even shifting times slightly and eating at around 8.30pm will mean you are more in line with Spanish mealtimes.
Discover how to eat like a local in Spain.