How to order like a local at restaurants in Portugal
Eating in restaurants in Portugal is usually a very enjoyable and relatively straightforward and affordable experience. Even so, there are ways of getting even better value for money and making sure that you avoid leaving with a nasty taste in your mouth.
Here are my top tips for meals out in Portugal
Many restaurants serve a menu turístico / menu do día / diária (set menu) at lunchtime. This is usually great value in that you get a starter, which is often soup; a main course; a drink which may be a glass or even a jug of wine; and sometimes coffee and a dessert for a set price which can range from €5 to about €15 depending on the restaurant. If you head away from the touristy areas and find out where the locals are having lunch, you’ll get a better deal.
Dish of the day
Make sure you check what’s included and what isn’t before ordering. I’ve been caught out by ordering the prato do día (dish of the day), assuming that it was part of a fixed menu and merrily stuffing my face with olives, bread, soup and dessert only to find that each item has been charged á la carte. Instead of the cheap €14-for-two lunch I thought I was having, it cost me nearer €30.
The first time I went to a restaurant in Portugal, I remember thinking how lovely it was that the waiter kept bringing little dishes of olives, cheese, octopus salad and other tasty treats to our table without being asked. I was with a group of people from work and we all happily tucked into them without thinking. Luckily, our company was footing the bill. It hadn’t occurred to any of us that we would be charged for food we hadn’t ordered but that’s the norm here.
If you’re not having a set menu, consider whether or not you want to pay for the extras. If not, send them back untouched to avoid any unpleasantness when the bill comes. The olives and bread are usually quite cheap but presunto and seafood aren’t.
Visitors to Portugal often say that the portions are huge but if you look around at Portuguese diners, you’ll probably notice that they are sharing the main course(s). You too can order one portion (dose) between two, unless it’s part of a set menu. If you prefer to keep your food to yourself and don’t want enormous amounts, look out for items that have a 1/2 or meia dose (half-portion) option on the menu.
It’s not essential to tip, although waiters will certainly appreciate it. As a guide, 10% is fine but it’s also okay to just round up the bill.
Self-service restaurants are becoming more popular, especially in shopping centres and motorway service stations. Look out for menus (meal deals) and check that what you are putting on your tray is from the right section, i.e. part of the deal. If they offer a menu that includes coffee, you may be given a ticket for your coffee when you pay for the meal, which you then hand over to the serving staff to claim your drink later.
Have you got any other useful hints and tips for ordering in restaurants to add? Please share them in the comments.