Before I moved to Spain, like many foreigners, my first thoughts when someone said ‘Spain’ were flamenco dancing, beaches, bullfights, and sunshine. Just as stereotypical in my mind were the tapas and sangria enjoyed outdoors. I simply imagined that every day in Spain started with a cafe con leche enjoyed at an outdoor table at some quaint cafeteria and ended with a local wine at an open-air bar. And while that’s not the reality of the average Spaniard on every single day, there’s certainly SOME truth to it!
During my time living in Alicante, Malaga, and Granada, Spain I’ve enjoyed my fair share of outdoor eating. And while there are certainly some bars that attract a more touristy (or as they say here ‘guiri’) crowd, this time of eating is also a Spanish norm as well. I have SO enjoyed the Spanish breakfasts of tostada de tomate that turned into wanders of the town till late afternoon and the afternoon tapas meet-ups that have turned into all-day events. Each time I’ve gone out for a meal or a beverage in Spain I’ve known that I would be greeted with a lively atmosphere—more often than not outdoors—and a plan that may easily expand into much longer than I originally anticipated. This is simply the Spanish way and I think it is based on three main factors.
As we’ve talked about previously, the weather plays a big role in the culture of a country and, in Spain’s case, the long summer and generally sun-filled days lead to a lot of time to enjoy food and drink outdoors. This leads to a general norm that bars and restaurants will have a designated section for outdoor seating—often on the sidewalk out front, lined with tables right up to the curb or literally in the street if it’s a pedestrian area. In many cases, these areas will be covered with retractable canopies or umbrellas, often with a misting system installed underneath.
At first, these bursts of air and water used to surprise and/or annoy me, but when you’ve spent enough time in the heat of a southern Spain summer you come to appreciate them. These areas in the shade will quickly be scooped up by the locals, with tables in the sun (generally) only enjoyed by the guiris who are willing to endure the heat.
As you can imagine from the picture painted above, the availability of outdoor dining areas in Spain is abundant. I was actually unappreciative of the true abundance of this until I returned home to the US to find that the amount of tables outside in Spain is much higher than what can be found in my home country. Whereas outdoor seating is generally avoided in the US during the winter for being too cold and during most of the summer for being so hot, the availability of this type of seating in Spain is plentiful because there is generally a demand for it year-round.
Which brings me to the final point—the culture in Spain causes outdoor eating to be commonplace. When there are so many people who are not only willing, but eager to sit outdoors this also fuels the needs and normality of outdoor dining. The need for this is based on three main factors that our cornerstone to the Spanish culture, at least as I see them.
Firstly, many people in Spain smoke and are therefore looking for a place to enjoy a drink, tapa, or meal where they can also light up. Secondly, many Spaniards both own dogs and live in apartments, meaning that they are eager to have Fido join them for a meal eaten out and therefore have to opt for outdoor seating. Finally, the norm in Spain is not to hire a babysitter but to instead bring the kids along with you for a night out. Thus, many Spaniards will opt to sit outdoors so that their children can run around enjoying the playgrounds and other areas, even if it means accompanying mom and dad until midnight or later!
For me, the combination of these factors has lead to many great outdoor eating experiences. It has allowed me to be sitting in a spot where friends have wandered past, noticed us, and then decided to stay. It has led to many four-legged encounters in which I’ve bonded with dogs, dog-owners, and dog-lovers as well. It has led to many Instagrammable photos with beautiful Spanish architecture as a backdrop.
I don’t mean to exaggerate or promise you anything unrealistic if you choose to eat or drink outdoors, but I feel like there is simply a different ambiance that exists at an outdoor terraza. People are louder, more friendly, and more outgoing. You’re more likely to meet a new pal and may even get invited to something interesting following the pub or restaurant that you’re patronizing if you choose to socialize. Personally, this is one of my favorite aspects of Spanish living!
Have you enjoyed the outdoor eating scene in Spain, too?