Can the Spanish government intervene in menu del día?

by Lorraine Williamson
menu del día
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MADRID – The ‘menú del día’ has made headlines after the Ministry of Health plans to ban the supply of alcohol there. Now that the proposal has been withdrawn after a major protest, the question arises: can the daily menu be regulated? 

The answer is yes, although the competence to do so rests with the autonomous communities. This arrangement can be better understood by looking at the origin of the daily menu so ubiquitous in Spain. 

According to the newspaper NIUS, that origin is unknown even to the owner of Sobrino de Botín, according to the Guinness Book of Records the oldest restaurant in the world in Madrid. “No, I didn’t know that the menu of the day comes from the Franco era”, answers the owner, who is also a historian, when asked about the origin of the ‘menú del día’. 

He assures, that in his restaurant they never offered a menu of the day as such. Instead, a seasonal menu, just like his father used to do. 

The origin of the Spanish daily menu 

Seasonal menu, menu del día, house menu, and tourist menu are some of the names given to the menu that restaurants in Spain serve at lunchtime. They find their origin in a publication in the Spanish Official Gazette BOE, number 161 of 6 July 1964. 

See also: Spain wants to ban alcohol from daily menus 

In the context of booming tourism in those years of the dictatorship, the regime wanted to get restaurants to charge and publish fixed prices for tourists. In doing so, they had to keep their dining rooms clean and instruct their staff to treat customers in a ‘friendly and courteous’ manner. 

Mandatory “tourist menu” 

For example, the Ministry of Tourism came up with the obligatory “tourist menu”. That had to consist of at least a starter or soup; three main courses with garnishes based on egg, fish, or meat, and a dessert based on fruit, sweet, or cheese. As a drink, a quarter litre of local wine, sangria, beer, or other drink was offered and bread was included. 

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This tourist menu had to be presented in a “highly visible and prominent place”. It also had to be “served with the greatest possible speed and preference”. In addition, cooks had to offer typical local dishes of Spanish cuisine. The award was to be clearly published and maintained until October 30 each year. 

From the tourist menu to the menu del día

Years later, the menu of the day was introduced. But in the early 1980s it was renamed the house menu, says Marta Valdivielso, a culinary journalist at NIUS. That house menu no longer had a mandatory character in first-class and luxury restaurants. 

Jurisdiction to Autonomous Communities 

It was only in 2010 that “several state regulations governing access to tourism activities and their exercise” were repealed. This included those surrounding the tourist menu. Since then, it has been every autonomous community that legislates on this. Most regions don’t do it anymore. However, Aragon, Asturias, and Navarre still maintain the obligation by law to offer a daily menu. 

Home menu in Asturias 

In Asturias, for example, according to the Official Gazette of the Principality, it is “mandatory to offer the house menu for restaurants of the third and fourth categories. For other restaurants it is voluntary. A house menu here comprises “the joint offer under an overall price of at least two dishes, bread, a drink, and dessert”. 

Daily menu in Aragon 

Aragón also maintains the compulsory nature of the menu through a 1999 decree in the regional official journal BOA. This stipulates, among other things, that restaurants with one, two, and three forks “must offer below a global price; two dishes, bread, dessert, and drink”. In restaurants with one or two forks, “a jug of water will be available at the request of the customer, even if the daily menu is not used,” the official text reads. 

Menu of the day in Navarra 

In Navarre, Article 18 of the Regional Decree 56/2013 stipulates that the menu of the day is considered to be the joint offer at a global price of at least two dishes, bread, a drink, and dessert. The daily menu is compulsory in Navarre in second and third category restaurants. 

Prices of daily menus 

The prices of daily menus vary but are generally quite low compared to ‘normal’ three-course meals. The cheapest daily menu, according to the culinary platform Directoalpaladar.com, is offered for €5 in Málaga in Cafetería – Bar Mercado de Huelin. But don’t be surprised if you’re offered a menu del día for €15 or more in the more touristy areas or city centres. 

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