Eating out in Spain is as much about the food as it is about socialising. The overall atmosphere of the place will vary depending on the clientele, the day of the week and the time of the day.
With its customers nearly all regulars, a bar-restaurante in a rural area will inevitably be a place where everybody knows your name and you are greeted with a smile.
In villages, where the waiters and the clients practically grow up together, mutually enquiring after someone’s ailing parent, the progress of a pregnancy, or the whereabouts of children and grandchildren, will be very common.
The mess the Spanish will leave on the bar floor is a shock to all foreigners. Toothpicks, sugar sachets and crumpled up servillettes everywhere. And the day has only just begun.
This lot (comprised of men in their working clothes) is then replaced by their female counterparts. After dropping the (grand)children off at school, stopping at the street market and buying groceries, the ladies will meet for a lively chat at the local bar or churrería.
They will take their time and dissect every possible topic. Don’t feel bad if you call it gossip. It’s a mixture of facts and made-up details, of genuine interest, natural curiosity and good old envy, all blending together and satisfying their craving for a little excitement. There are giggles, loud name-calling, literal and not, but all in good humour. Around 11 o’clock, this crowd will disperse (time to start lunch), only to reunite again the next morning.
And if you are a vegetarian, well, you might have to skip this one. The concept hasn’t quite penetrated the traditional, rural parts of Spain.
During the week, the restaurant’s menu del día will mostly attract the working people. At weekends, however, it’s groups of friends and families, all nicely dressed, who come to lunch. They will order the pricier, weekend version of the menu del día, or maybe a plato combinado (set dish) or a ración (big helping) or two to share. Nothing too fancy. Local restaurants don’t do fancy.
With the siesta in full swing, afternoons tend to be the quiet part of the day. If there is a park with a playground nearby, mothers will sit down for a drink while their little ones run and cycle around, or kick a ball.