Eating out is a major activity in Spain, and you’ll find fabulous cafes and restaurants to suit all budgets. You have probably seen a set-price meal advertised in many restaurants and bars, labelled the ‘menu-del-dia’ or menu of the day.
The menu of the day is a great Spanish tradition which is offered in many eateries whether you are in a resort town, in a city or even a tiny village in the country. A typical menu del dia will give you a choice of a couple of starters, main courses, and desserts and will be offered at a low price which usually includes wine, bread. Sometimes a coffee will also be thrown in but you can usually expect to pay extra for the coffee or other drinks.
You’ll find the menu of the day is typically served only for a few hours a day, often between 1 pm to 3 pm, though some places will also offer an evening version, from around 8 pm to 10 pm – the time workers will be looking for something to eat. Traditionally, the menu of the day was for laborers who couldn’t get home for lunch. Some believe General Franco began the tradition of the menu del dia, others credit it to his Minister of Information and Tourism, Manuel Fraga. It seems whoever had the idea originally designed a set-price tourist menu in the mid ’60s, but in the early 70s replaced it with the menu del dia, so it was designed as a tourist attraction as opposed to an idea to lower-paid workers. Whether for tourists or workers, or both, today, it still suits its original purpose of providing a complete three-course nutritional meal that is excellent value for money.
If you are on holiday and on a budget, taking advantage of the menus of the day is a great way to get your money to go further. It’s also a good way to find some of the best food places in town as the number of locals eating in an establishment demonstrates the food is good even if it is a low price.
Like in any country, pay attention to where you choose to eat in Spain. If you see a menu del dia advertised on a chalkboard it is likelier to be made with fresh and seasonal ingredients than if advertised on a permanent printed menu. Look for the menu del dia places that are full at 1:30 p.m. it shows people are hurrying to be served because it is good. If it’s 1:30 or 2:30 p.m. and there are few diners chances are, that restaurant is not the best option.