I decided to write this post about the cost of dining in Spain because just a block away from the touristy restaurants in Alfalfa Seville, I found a bar from the early 1900’s which serves 1 € glasses of wine and 2.50 € tapas.
I am not talking about the tourist cafes of Barcelona, Malaga, or Seville. Rather, the cafes which service mostly the locals; the ones that people stop at to down a café solo or enjoy a tapa of espinacas con garbanzos.
She got a vermút and I got a vino tinto. I ordered montaditos salchichón and she got montaditos salmón con queso fresco plus another red wine. The entire bill came out to 10.20 €.
We weren’t done for the night and walked over to a standing-only bar for some cervezas and hung out there for 2 hours. We finished the night off by going to the Alameda neighborhood and had a couple of tinto de verano’s.
Total bill for the night was 15.70 € or $19.50 for 2 people.
Cheap food in Spain
Why is the food in the restaurants so much cheaper? The quality isn’t any lower and the taste is on par with food in the States.
Both food and alcohol are cheaper in Spain. I want to understand what makes for this cheap dining-out experience because it’s far more enjoyable than dining out in the US. You don’t feel as though you broke the bank going out for a dinner and there is even less pressure from the wait staff. Plus, you don’t leave a tip – it’s Spain.
I’ve broken things down to a few categories which I’ll discuss below.
1. Food Options
Outside of the touristy restaurants, the food options are limited. Usually the menu is written on a board by hand or there is no menu at all.
The restaurant will often tell you that they are out of a particular dish without being apologetic. I figure that this way there is less food/money waste. No extra ingredients will have to be tossed at the end of the night just to keep a particular item on the menu.
2. Alcohol Quality
It’s not that the alcohol quality is lower, it’s that they don’t serve the expensive shit.
You can certainly find a bar that serves more expensive spirits such as whiskey and microbrews but it defeats the purpose of simplifying your options.
3. Number of Employees
Many restaurants are staffed with 1 person, some with 2. There is a front bar person and maybe a person in the back prepping the food.
At most cafes, you go up to the bar, order your food, take your drink and sit down and wait for your food to be brought out.
It’s rare to find waiters, busboys, chefs, and a restaurant manager. That kind of complexity is avoided which means there is less overhead cost that I have to cover as a customer.
4. Restaurant Experience
The traditional sit-down restaurant or slow-food, as it’s called here, is rare. Most of these restaurants are designed like cafes which makes the dining experience a little less complicated.
You are still sitting down and often getting table-service, but it doesn’t have the accompanying price tag.
5. Wait Time
One thing to understand and appreciate about Spain is that waiting is not a negative experience, unlike in the US where someone is losing their shit because of their untimely Latte order. Or the disgruntled grocery store customer who is inching forward in a line.
You sit down or go to the bar and you are served when you are served. It’s rare to see the barkeep hustling or running around frantically. In fact, if that’s the case, it’s more likely that the patrons will leave – who wants to witness a stressful scene when they are out enjoying a meal?
One way the lack of tipping was explained to me here is that you don’t tip because the waiters aren’t working for you. They are performing their job without the pressure of customer service.
The simplicity of ordering a dish or a drink is worth mentioning. You order a cerveza and they’ll bring you their cheapest beer. Having a selection of more than a handful of beers is, in fact, rare.
You order a dish and you don’t ask for the sauce on the side or the bread extra toasted or for the gluten-free bread.
They have those restaurants as well and, I shit you not, eating at those places brings back the same level of stress you are used to when ordering at a restaurant or cafe in the US. I stumbled on an Americanized cafe which served vegan food and the lady was hounding me to order even though nobody else was in line – no fucking idea why.
7. Customer Expectations
People go to dine out in order to socialize. It’s not a time to show off their new clothes or impress each other with their fine wine knowledge.
People want to enjoy the weather outside. They want to feel the wind on them. They want to sip their drinks and try different dishes. They are loud, they laugh, and they are in no rush to get up from their chair.
No check is ever brought to you. You have to ask for it. There is never a rush to push a customer out of their seat even if they only ordered a 1.20 € beer.
But the food has to be good. You will get slaughtered by word of mouth if the food you make isn’t delicious. Portion size is less important even though customers comment on them.
Simply put, there is no tipping. You aren’t expected to tip and, for the most part, it’s a little weird when you do tip.
There are rare circumstances when it makes sense to tip and even then it’s not a percentage-based fucking math equation. You leave 50 cents or whatever change you might have.
9. Cafe Size
Restaurants and cafes are small. Sure, there are larger ones with 2-3 people working the floor. But for the most part everything is built efficiently. Small enough to keep the costs down for the customers and the owner.
The kitchen space for many cafes is no bigger than the tiny counter space between your stove top and the sink.
Sometimes there is nothing but a toaster oven or a microwave. And they still manage to make incredible dishes in such a tiny space.
10. Display of Wealth
I used to live in Banker’s Hill in San Diego for a couple of years and I could hardly find a cafe where the food and service was devoid of displaying wealth or some sort of status.
You couldn’t just go and sit down somewhere and keep things simple. It seems as though every other new restaurant is trying to outdo the other one. Fancier, more creative, more complicated, and more expensive.
It’s fine for those who crave that but it drives the cost up for everyone. It seems that the local cafes in Spain aren’t frequented by those individuals.