The simplest type of restaurant is something known as a comedor (dining room) which is often a room at the back of a bar or dining room. Traditionally they are family – run and aimed at locals who want lunch and they will usually offer a straightforward set meal at a set (budget) price. The other equivalent are ventas or mesones and are usually found a lot main roads between towns and cities, like services that you find on UK motorways. They have been serving people for centuries and you will always recognise the best places by how many cars or trucks are outside or waiting to go in. Restaurants to the standard of what we are usually familiar with come in a myriad of guises; from rustic tiny village restaurants to the stylish Michelin – starred eateries.
Almost all of the restaurants on the mainland serve a weekday, fixed-price lunchtime menu – known as menú del día. This generally consists of three courses, including the house wine for €8–15 and can occasionally be cheaper dependent on the region. This is mostly just a lunchtime deal, but sometimes will be made available of an evening but the price is usually higher and the food will be of a higher calibre for weekends. The cheaper places to eat will rarely have a written menu and usually a waiter will just tell you what the dishes available that day are.
In the bigger cities and resorts the menú del día may still be available but drinks are usually excluded and won’t compare to the other dishes that are on offer; however it is a way of eating at a restaurant that usually may be out of your price range. More popular will be that the top restaurants in the cities feature the opposite, menú de degustación – a tasting menu. It can be excellent value, as it allows you to try out some of the country’s finest cooking for anything from €50 to €100 a head.
In bars and cafeterias their speciality is something called plato combinado which is a combined dish. It will consist of a one – plate meal of something along the lines of steak, egg and chips or calamares and salad with complimentary bread basket and a drink. The price is between €5–9.
If you want a menu in a restaurant, ask for la carta; menú refers only to the fixed-price meal. In all but the most rock-bottom establishments it is customary to leave a small tip, though five percent of the bill is considered sufficient and service is normally included in a menú del día. IVA, the eight-percent tax, is also charged, but it should say on the menu if this is included in the price or not.
Spaniards generally are late eaters and the time period for each meal is usually reflects this. Lunch will be served from 1pm – 4pm with dinner being from around 8:30pm – midnight. Rural areas will dine slightly earlier but making a later dinner reservation is considered perfectly normal. Most restaurants will close for one day a week; usually a Sunday or Monday.