The origin and decline of the Spanish daily menu – menú del día

by admin
Asturian Fabada on a menú del día
ASSSA

For generations, the ‘menú del día’ has been a cornerstone of Spanish cuisine and society. These hot meals are mainly consumed by employees who cannot return home for lunch at noon because they live too far away.

Bars and restaurants often serve such a daily menu and almost always for a very reasonable price. In those restaurants you don’t sit down for an aesthetically pleasing environment, but you pull up your plastic chair to eat unpretentiously and well. You eat while enjoying a lot of noise, a blaring television, stacked drinks crates in the corner and conversations that usually extend beyond individual tables. For a price ranging from €8 to €15, you get a complete meal on weekdays between 1.30 pm and 4.30 pm consisting of home-made dishes: a starter, a main course, bread, a drink and a dessert.

Lunch is the most important of five meals

For Spaniards, lunch is the most important meal of the usually five meals they eat per day. They have breakfast early in the morning before leaving home. This will be followed by a toast and coffee around 10.00 am. Lunch is usually consumed around 2.00 pm. Then follows around 6.30 pm with ‘merienda’, coffee or chocolate milk with cookies or a sandwich. Finally, dinner is served late in the evening, usually around 9.00 pm. In the south of Spain you can safely add half an hour to the above starting times.

Franco’s tourist menu

In some regions of Spain, restaurants are still required to offer a menú del día. This and the fact that the phenomenon is so widespread in Spain is thanks to the former dictator Francicso Franco. Amid the tourist boom of the 1960s, his regime introduced the ‘menú del día’. Spain grew from 2.9 million visitors in 1959 to 11.1 million in 1965. One of Franco’s measures to attract large-scale, cheap tourism was the creation of the daily menu in 1964. The millions of tourists who visited Spain every year would be presented with Spanish culinary standards and an affordable meal would be within reach of all Spaniards.

From August that year, all eateries were obliged to offer a menú del día consisting of a starter, soup or salad; a main course of fish, meat or eggs with a side dish; a dessert with fruit, sweets or cheese; bread and a quarter litre of local wine, beer, sangria or other drink. For people with long working days split by a two-hour lunch period, eating a daily menu in a neighbouring bar was a godsend.

Opposition

However, not everyone was happy with the introduction of the daily menu. Restaurants discouraged their guests from ordering the cheap menus by claiming that they were of lower quality than the other dishes on the menu. However, the rules required that the menu be displayed in a prominent place and served “with the utmost preference and promptness.” You still often see the menú del día clearly announced on signs in front of restaurants. Additional rules were introduced in 1965. This meant that restaurants were obliged to compose the tourist menu with dishes from the regular menu. There was also a maximum price depending on the category in which a restaurant was classified.

Cogesa Expats

The demise of the Spanish daily menu

Based on the European Directive 2006/123/CE, tourism laws in Spain were revised in 2010. Many Spanish regions thus abolished the obligation of the daily menu and many catering establishments stopped offering it. The regions that still enforce it for restaurants of lower categories are Aragon, Asturias and Navarra. Also in Madrid, the 1985 regulations that established the daily menu still remain in force.

Changed working hours

Another reason for the fact that the daily menu is offered less often is that working life in Spain has changed. More and more companies are significantly shortening the traditional, long lunch breaks of sometimes more than two hours. They realise that an hour is long enough for lunch. Moreover, they adapt their working hours to international customers and relations. There is also increasing opposition because of the intrusion that such long working hours have on the combination of work and family.

Moreover, an increasingly smaller percentage of Spaniards have a full-time job, or any job for that matter. Unions estimate that 33% of jobs created since 2012 are temporary, with many part-time. Deliveroo riders and others in the gig economy will not get paid lunch breaks.

Significant inflation

And then there is the price. With the introduction of the euro in 2002, a typical menu cost 1,000 pesetas, or €6. This already increased quickly to €10 and now amounts to €12-€14, an increase of 100%. The average price for a daily menu in Spain was €13.20 in 2023. That is an increase of 3.4% compared to 2022.

Make more effort for a good daily menu

If you want to continue eating the traditional daily menus, you have to make a little more effort than before. You will find them less in the centres of cities and villages popular among tourists. Move to the neighbourhoods next door or go to the real working-class neighbourhoods. In the local restaurants there you can often go during the week for a good quality, home-cooked meal that usually consists of traditional Spanish or regional dishes. You get a clear guarantee of good quality food if you arrive a little later than the Spanish lunch time dictates and the restaurant of your choice is already full of locals. Good daily menus are also often served in restaurants (ventas) along main roads or even along the highway.

Also read: In these Spanish cities you pay the least and the most for a daily menu

Baycrest Wealth

You may also like