Spanish Restaurant Vocabulary: Words and Phrases You Should Know

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez
April 16, 2020

Learning Spanish and taking Spanish lessons online really pays off when you travel, especially when you want to get the perfect spot in a sought after restaurant. When you finally visit a Spanish-speaking country, all your study time is worth it. Compared to tourists that can’t speak with local people, every successful conversation you have with a native Spanish-speaker makes you feel like a total celebrity. Feeling relaxed on your holiday is all about how fluent you are. 

Just before the pandemic hit, I took a trip to the Mediterranean coast. I spent one week enjoying the sunny weather and tasty seaside cuisine of Málaga, Spain. If you do the same someday, do you know all the words and phrases you need to get through dinner? Let’s walk through what you need to know for your next holiday in sunny Spain.

Here is some intermediate Spanish restaurant vocabulary you should know

Restaurant Spanish to make a reservation

Restaurants in tourist cities like Málaga are often booked on busy Saturday nights. To reserve your table and avoid getting stranded and ‘hangry’, call ahead. Brush up on your Spanish phrases to talk about time and phone. 

Buenas tardes, llamo para hacer una reservación ¿Hay mesa disponible para dos personas mañana, martes, a las 7 pmGood afternoon, I am calling to make a reservation. Is there a table available for 2 people tomorrow, Tuesday, at 7 pm (19.00)? 

If the staff says no, thank them and hang up. If they say yes, follow up. Done and dusted.

Entonces me gustaría reservar ahora mismo, por favor. Gracias.  – Then I would like to reserve right away please. Thank you. 

Restaurant Spanish for ordering drinks

The meal tradition in Spain is to have drinks, order some food items to snack on, and enjoy your sobremesa or time lingering at the table for a chat. This means that for most restaurants in Málaga, you seat yourself and a server will stop by for your drink order. 

¡Perdone!Excuse me! (to call for attention from a server)

¿Tenéis..? – Do you have any… ?

Copa de vino tinto/blanco.Glass of red/white wine.

Agua de grifo/llave o agua de botella.Tap water or bottled water.

Jarra de sangría.Jug of sangría red wine with fruit and juice.

Una caña. – A (tiny, inexpensive) beer.

Un vermút.A vermouth, special fortified red wine from Málaga. Worth a try.

Restaurant Spanish for ordering food

I’ve mentioned my embarrassing moment ordering food in Spain before. I bragged about being fluent when I arrived in Spain for the first time, but couldn’t even read a food menu in Madrid. How was I supposed to know that bocadillos or literally “little mouths” was Spanish slang for a small sandwich? Clearly there are differences in Spanish vocabulary for food. Here are some words and phrases to help you navigate a Spanish menu. 

Tapas. – Small sharing snacks. Traditionally free with a drink but in tourist areas has a small fee.

Ración/media ración.One portion/half portion (sharing option).

Bocadillo/mondadito.Small sandwich.

Boquerones. – Sardines.

Croquetas.Croquettes; meat and potato in fried batter. 

Since it will take you longer than native Spanish speakers to read the menu, remember: Dos minutos más por favor. (Give us) two more minutes (before deciding) please.

Cultural Considerations for Spanish Restaurant Vocabulary

Did you notice that this guide to Spanish restaurant vocabulary didn’t have many long, polite phrases to memorise? In our blog post on Spain Spanish versus Latin American Spanish, we touched on differences in vocabulary. There is one more cultural difference worth mentioning. 

Spanish restaurant interactions, in general, are more direct than in Latin America. You will hear Spaniards say things in an abrupt way. Spanish nightlife has a casual culture. Perhaps the least formal Spanish speaking environment I’ve encountered in the world is a Spanish bar. It is not rare to hear the following demands:

Traeme un vermút de la casa. – Bring me a house vermouth.

Dáme la cuenta. – Give me the bill. 

Págame. – Pay me (from a bartender or even to ask for change on a bill). 

Although it may feel uncomfortable at first, be prepared to hear it. The key to a smooth exchange is not to speak with frilly language but to match the person you are speaking with. When in Rome, right? From drinks to food, short intermediate Spanish phrases are enough to get through a meal in Málaga, Spain.

If you want to check your pronunciation before your holiday, set up a free 7-day trial with a native Spanish-speaking tutor at Lingoda.

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