Eating Out

Breakfast spreads in Switzerland tend to include coffee and a selection of bread, marmalade, lunch meat, and local cheese. If you prefer a lot of milk in your coffee, ask for a renversé in French (literally, upside-down) or a Milchkaffee in German. The signature Bircher muesli—invented by Dr. Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner at his diet clinic at the end of the 19th century—is available in most supermarkets (such as Migros and Coop) and can make a hearty breakfast or lunch, especially when served with plain or fruit yogurt instead of milk.

Many restaurants close after lunch (as of 3 pm) and reopen for dinner (about 6 pm). In remote regions it may prove difficult to find kitchens open past 9 or 10 pm, so plan ahead. It's not unusual for restaurants to close on Sunday; those in Ticino may close for the entire month of August, and resort restaurants may close for a month in the late spring and fall. Bars generally close at 1 or 2 am, although clubs continue serving into the wee hours.

Children's menus are available in many restaurants around Switzerland; otherwise, you can usually request a child-size portion and the prices will be adjusted accordingly.

Paying

Credit cards are widely accepted. Euros are sometimes accepted, though change will come in Swiss francs. Note that service is included unless indicated on the menu. It is customary to leave a small tip in cash (up to 10%, depending on how pleased you are with the service).

Reservations and Dress

Regardless of where you are, it's a good idea to make a reservation if you can. For famed restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (often 30 days), and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. (Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy.)

Wines, Beer, and Spirits

Quality and diversity are the hallmarks of Swiss wine, celebrated in annual festivals where everyone samples the year's harvest. They may not be widely exported, but Swiss wines are generally available in restaurants, and you can also get to know them in wine cellars (often with delicious local cheese)—though be aware that because they're usually produced in small quantities, prices can be quite high. All of Switzerland's 23 cantons produce wines, but six areas outdo the rest: Valais, Vaud, Geneva, the Three Lakes region in western Switzerland, the German-speaking region of eastern Switzerland, and Ticino. Red wines are dominant, with Pinot Noir, Merlot, Gamay, and a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir called Dôle (in Valais) or Salvignin (in Vaud) the most successful. Top white-grape varieties include Chasselas, Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and local varieties, including Petit Arvine and Humagne.

Switzerland counts more than 700 registered breweries. Many microbreweries have popped up in the last few years, along with the more traditional breweries that produce lager, Spezialbier (slightly stronger and a touch more bitter than lager), and Festbier (strong, dark holiday beer produced at Easter and Christmas and sometimes sold as Bockbier or Märzenbier). Specialty beers include the amber Altbier, the corn-infused Maisbier, and Weizenbier (wheat beer).

Switzerland is brimming with spirits—most notably kirsch (cherry spirit) from Zug and the Lake Luzern region, which has gained worldwide recognition. Plums are used to make Zwetschgenwasser. The tiny damassine plum, supposedly brought back from Damascus by a crusading knight, is distilled into the delightfully fragrant Damassine, available in Saignelégier. The many apple spirits include Träsch and Gravensteiner; pears and apricots from the Valais give their spirit to the redolent Williamine and Abricotine. A unique variety of grappa is up for grabs in the grottoes of Ticino; this potent firewater gets its name and taste from the skins of the grape. Prohibited for 90 years until 2005, absinthe is a specialty of the Val de Travers in western Switzerland, the spirit's birthplace.

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