Food / Restaurants – Andrew, Nia, Selina
Environment: On this trip I had the opportunity to visit a plethora of dining establishments. As a monetarily challenged college student I had to be conscious of the amount of money that was going in and out of my wallet. No where we went could really be considered excessively expensive. The food we ate was still extremely delicious, but Andrew can tell you more about that in a little bit. I want to talk about the environment the restaurants set up for the experience. Part of the service they provide is to optimize your eating experience as best they can. In many of the places we ate there was a vibe that welcomed relaxing and resting for awhile.
Most of the restaurants that allow patrons to come and sit were designed to make them stay awhile. There were booths at almost every table. Rather than the larger conservative booths that I was used to, there were like extended couches that were made for the most optimal comfort seat.The chairs that surrounded the seat were reminiscent of the family dinner table (Not the large cushy chairs, the wooden ones that were sturdy but nap inducing). The lights weren’t so high as to give you a headache but they were warm and well structured to give off a more homey feel. I don’t want you to think that all of the restaurants used the same decor and ambiance. Just like every family home there were very distinct feelings in each restaurant. You know how you can go to your friends’ houses and it’s comfortable, it just feels different and none of their houses feel the same, but they’re a home. It became understandable to me how people could spend hours at a time in these restaurants relaxing and catching up with each other. While people go out and spend time together and eat in America, that’s usually just a part of your time, hence ‘dinner and a movie.”
We also spent some time down by the beach. The only time I really had carryout service was for Gelato from my new favorite place Dino’s. Their store was designed to brighten and highlight the colors of their offering. You were able to walk through the doors and be directly at the counter. They didn’t have chairs outside or inside. This was truly a grab and go experience. This made the most sense for them. Why waste money on chairs and waste the little space they had on seating that was probably rarely used. This environment didn’t encourage any type of long term meal commitment but it did let the product speak for itself to persuade you to return. (Who wants to eat ice cream at the shop when the beach and waterfront a up the street and directly across from you anyway)
Food : As you can see here, we had an array of different foods here in Spain. For starters, the way breakfast, lunch and dinner differed from how we eat in NY. A typical American breakfast may involve eggs, waffles, pancakes and several meats, or be as simple for NYers as a cup of coffee. Nearly every breakfast in Spain had a few staple items; tomato bread either plain or with a cheese/meat, orange juice, a croissant/pastry and cafe con leche. While we only experienced breakfast inside the residence, many local cafes and small restaurants featured specials for coffee and pastries, or coffee with bread for a small morning meal.
Following breakfast, lunch is seen as the largest and most important meal in Spain. Through the many restaurants we visited, experiencing several different types of lunch foods allowed us the opportunity to understand the benefits of eating a larger meal in the middle of the day. Typically, lunch involves multiple tapas (small dishes) and a main course. This often can finish with coffee as well, or even a small desert. Ideally a siesta would be after such a large meal, and everyone would return to work/school a little after. In comparison to NY, a typical lunch may be a hero, soup and salad, or a slice or two of pizza before returning to a busy day at work.
For dinnertime, the meal was often similar to the portions of breakfast. A few tapas along with vegetables would finish off the day, varying from meats and seafoods to papas bravas (spicy potatoes). Restaurants typically close for a few hours after the lunch crowd, and do not open up again for service until 7 or 8 because of the siesta. For NY, dinner is often the largest meal of the day, and can be a night out following work at 5 or 6, or Seamless in at home. This can involve a large portion of a main dish, with some smaller sides as well. The food comes in an array of cuisines, but typically has oils, salts and fats mixed in with the diet. Instead of the typical large, small, large meal in America or small, small, large, Spain follows a small, large, small pattern to provide stronger energy to last the day. Timing usually is around 8 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon and then 8 at night.
In addition to the way and timing meals work, it should be noted that the food here maintains a much fresher taste than in America. Rather than using preservatives, preparation is from fresh foods grown in local areas. As we saw at Esade and breakfast every morning here, there was freshly squeezed orange juice along with tomatoes cut and sliced for the tastier bread. The meats tasted fresher, the potatoes never deeply fried and the guacamole like the avocado grew in the back kitchen. The refreshing change in taste was present at all establishments we visited, from the nice lunch together with views of the port, to the mom and pop places spread throughout the city. In addition, even inside grocery stores milk and eggs do not have to be kept cold all the time, as they have been brought in fresh without antibiotics and chemicals.
Waiting staff: Based on our observations, we found strong similarities between all the restaurants especially when it came to the waiting staff. Before even entering an establishment, there is almost always one person ready and waiting to greet you or pull you in from the street. They’re usually lively and can easily detect the language, between Spanish or English, to be able to communicate with you as much as they can. They then escort you straight to a seat because typically there’s always available seating when you pick restaurants that aren’t populated by tourists. They typically leave after this point and its not more than a few minutes before you’re greeted by another waiting staff in the seating area with menus.
After handing out menus the two questions asked are “what would you like to drink” and “would you like bread?” The thing to watch for at this point is clarifying what you want. If you say yes to both then be prepared to be charged for the cost of bottled water and fresh bread. The way to lower the cost is to clarify that you want tap water in order to get that for free. After those are brought to the table you are left to your own demise for about five minutes in order to decide what you are going to eat before ordering to your heart’s desire. After everything has been ordered the waiter disappears while your food is being prepared. It is at this point that you can finally pay attention to your surroundings and notice the little details.
The part that I picked up on pretty quickly was the fact that there is a short waiting staff, typically comprised of 1-4 people depending on the size and popularity of the restaurant. I found this to be quite interesting because unlike the states, they seem to have just enough staff instead of a surplus. To us as Americans it was quite unusual to see the same person covering a bunch of tables all at once, but the work that they do is not so stressful so while it may seem odd, it’s not as drastic as we might think. They can handle the crowd with no problem, which helps to keep low stress in the environment.
The staff brings out the food right when it is ready and you’re left again to enjoy your food in peace, which personally I found to be relaxing. In comparison to servers in the US who hardly ever leave you alone, it was refreshing to just pay attention to your meal and the company that you’re with instead of being constantly interrupted to make sure that the food is okay. The interesting part about this however, is the fact that once they leave you after the food has been served, you have to call them over for anything you might need including water refills, bread refills, to order more food etc. They will absolutely not come over unless they are called for something and even on top of that they disappear from the dining floor from time to time so as a foreigner you’re left wondering if they will even come back to help you. But fear not they eventually come back so that you have a chance to get their attention for whatever you might need. This includes the check which you have to make sure to ask for because they will not bring it to you at any point in time unless you ASK. Then you’ll be free to leave and go about the rest of your day or night with no problems.
Overall, as long as you go in confident and know what you want then the experience of service in these restaurants will be positive. Of course there is always the possibility of running into that one rude server from time to time, but it is not a consistent thing to be worried about in Barcelona.