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yk Feb 11th, 2008 08:52 AM

Solo Dining in Spain
I'm heading to Spain in a few days on my own. I'm a mid-30's female and I have traveled a lot in Western Europe solo. I don't mind dining alone at all, and actually had some great time chatting with locals in various cities.

This will be my *first* time in Spain (unless you count my real first time when I was 9), and I understand eating customs are quite different there.

I'm not too concerned about breakfast or lunch, but for dinner, I am leaning towards mostly eating at tapas bars rather than restaurants.

I've read trip reports where people say these bars are really packed and it can be difficult to even get in, let alone grab a bite. I also read that smoking is very common. Am I doomed?

At these tapas bars, are there actual seats (chairs or barstools) or do I have to stand the whole time?

What about beverages? I am not an alcohol drinker. I guess I might order (the smallest) beer every now and then. What about water? Do Spainards drink tap water or do they drink bottled water? Will I get frowned on if I order tap water?

What about tipping? I read that service is included in the bill, but one can leave up to 5% at a restaurant. Does the same apply to tapas bars? I assume one tip less at the bar?

Any words of wisdom will be greatly appreciated.

cruiseluv Feb 11th, 2008 09:27 AM

Hi yk,

I have traveled by myself in Spain several times. I'm also a female but some years older that you.

You are right, I find dinner the most "troublesome" time to have a meal alone. There were times that I would show up at the restaurant and you can see the maitre D looking behind me in disbelief that i was by myself. Other times they were very pleasant and the waiters would make me feel at home. Last time I was traveling in Spain by myself I found out that it was a much more pleasant experience to go to tapas bars instead for dinner. With regard if there are seats or not, it depends on the place . The places I went to did have tables, sometimes outside.

I found that I felt more at ease eating by myself in Italy that in Spain. I am a native Spanish speaker so I don't think language was an issue.

Spaniards are not big on tap water. I usually drink wine so for me that was not an issue.

Regarding tipping, I always leave some coins even in a tapas bar where I had table service.

Where in Spain are you headed to?

Robert2533 Feb 11th, 2008 10:28 AM

The busier the tapas/pintxos bar, the better it is. Don't feel intimidated. Just join the crowd. Also, most restaurant have a stand-up bar and tables for tapas, at least in the north.

Tap water is quite common as the water in Spain is very good. You can even order it with ice, again, mostly in the north.

Service is always included in the bill. We sometimes leave the small change, but not all of the time, and never tip more than 5 euros for the most expensive meal at the best restaurants. Just watch the locals and follow their example. You'll find that most leave nothing.

kenderina Feb 11th, 2008 10:43 AM

This is the experience of a Spaniard : usually you will be fine alone at restaurants or bars but there are some IDIOTS everywhere, who will look at you thinking about what is wrong with you that you don't have a couple, fortunately each time there are less of them. Feel free to leave if you are not comfortable, that's not the way people uses to be.
For the smoking thing, you have to look before getting in the place the sign at the entrance says if the owner lets patrons smoke or it is a non smoking place.
It the restaurant is big , it will be no smoking.
I always go to bars with chairs because I cannot seat on barstools or eating standing. So yes, there are :)
I don't drink alcohol either. But yes, it's not well regarded asking for tap water. All bottled water here is mineral (not tap water bottled) and it's cheap.
And if you happen to come to the Mediterranean coast where I live...tap water tastes awful.
I don' tip here normally. Sometimes I round up to the euro but that's all.

Christina Feb 11th, 2008 10:53 AM

I dined alone in Spain a lot in the south and in Madrid, and didn't find it uncomfortable at all, nor did I ever notice any waiter or maitre d' looking at me with a funny look. I think people are more concerned about themselves than others are, who really don't care about them.

I would not eat dinner in a tapas bar, though, for several reasons -- if you find it odd to dine alone, I'd think you'd find it even more uncomfortable in a bar setting where you do not see women going in alone a lot. The tapas bars I noticed were mainly people standing around, and very very crowded. Not to mention hectic, so the protocol and way to get served are going to be very different than in a regular restaurant where you go in, sit down, order from a menu, etc. I also have no desire to eat standing up, I like to enjoy my dinner.

I don't think they are very big on ordering tap water in restaurants in Spain. It's not like some countries, where it is common. IN fact, I think Spain is one of the biggest consumers of bottled water. I don't remember ever getting tap water in a restaurant in Spain.

Unless you have a real desire to eat all your dinners in tapas bars (why was that?) I would suggest you go to regular restaurant, certainy at least some.

kja Feb 11th, 2008 11:23 AM

Hi, yk -
I had no problem eating dinner alone in Spain - in fact, I LOVED dining out in Spain!. I almost always ate at restaurants rather than tapas bars because - as others have noted - the tapas bars were generally more crowded and so less comfortable for me.

yk Feb 11th, 2008 12:38 PM

Thanks for the replies! I guess I'll try to eat at restaurants instead then and visit tapas bars once or twice.

FWIW, I'll be in Barcelona, Madrid, Granada and Sevilla.

CathyM Feb 11th, 2008 01:34 PM

I visit Spain twice a year and most of the time it's solo. I'm just a little older than you (but won't say exactly how much!). I like to eat a large lunch and then generally for dinner I just want tapas.

I've never had an issue with smoke in tapas bars (and I wear contacts). Tapas bars are not "bars" in the sense they are nightclubs.

Some tapas bars have seats and others do not.

Robert is correct, though - don't be intimidated. Sometimes it can be a little scary going into a crowded place solo but it is definately worth the effort. People are generally very friendly and curious about you. I've met the nicest people by dining in tapas bars. They are very interested in why you are visiting their city and proud of their local dishes. If you go to the same place several times it also makes it easier. In Cordoba last year I fell in love with the Berenjas con miel (fried eggplant with honey) at one particular place. When I walked in on my 3rd night, the waiter had my tapa and wine waiting for me when I got to the bar! I mentioned it was my last night and the owner came over and hugged me goodbye (along with the 2 cheek kiss).

I've really never had an issue with guys being idiots. In fact, I feel much more comfortable in a tapa bar in Spain then a bar at a restaurant in the US.

Tapas bars can be crowded at times. I just wait for an opening at the bar and jump in right away (or someone else will!). It's all part of the experience.

Barcelona is a little different with tapas bars. Many of them are sit down places - very different from Madrid, Granada and Sevilla.

If you're not an alcohol drinker I'd order water, but not tap water.

Also, be sure to read Maribel's guides. Her restaurant and tapa recommendations are excellent.

kenderina Feb 11th, 2008 02:28 PM

Oh, I was not talking about guys when I said "idiots" !!!
I meant the maitre or waiters in restaurants !

By the way, I have a language question about this...when I say "bar" I say it in the Spanish sense of the word and I'm beginning to think that it is what you call "tapas bar". And what you call a "bar" (something like a nightclub) it's what we call a "pub" here in Spain...
I mean here a "bar" is the place where you eat tapas, or have a drink, or a coffee, sometimes they have also a restaurant with a menu and people (usually elders) goes after lunch to play cards or domino with friends while having a coffee. When I say bar to you..what do you understand ? :) You know, nuisances of the language.

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