Why do we eat so late in Spain?

  • 15 July 2020

When visiting Spain you will undoubtedly notice that time ticks differently here, as if we are not in sync with the rest of humanity. Well, actually, that's true for Spain!

If you don't do your homework before you travel, you might quickly find yourself in a totally different time zone and are constantly looking at your watch to see if something is wrong. You might end up having lunch at 1:00 pm and dinner at 7:00 pm in totally empty restaurants, then try a little shopping and you will find all the shops closed. You will soon realize that you are always two hours away from a "normal" schedule that you are used to. Welcome to Spain!


A little history

First of all, the country is in the wrong time zone. It is geographically so far west that we have to share the time zone with London or Lisbon (Greenwich Mean Time), while we are currently on Central European Time, and share time with Budapest, which is more than 2,500 km east of Madrid! This peculiarity goes back to the 1940s when dictator Franco decided to set the clocks an hour ahead to be in line with Nazi Germany. Because the Spaniards are tenacious in the way they do things and they were worried about other things, such as a big Civil War, they never changed their old habits, so the 13:00 lunch was simply moved forward to 14:00 in line with the time zone change and the same goes for the mealtime. This change, purely for strategic and political convenience, never changed back after the war, so essentially our official time does not coincide with solar time.

Moreover, most of the men, who were the primary suppliers, had to work several jobs in those times of hardship, one in the morning and a second in the afternoon/evening. And, of course, the family waited until Daddy came home for dinner, which was often not before 9:00 p.m..

To complicate matters, it can get very hot in this part of the continent, so it is not practical or healthy to work during the hottest hours of the day, hence this long break from 14:00 to 17:00.

A typical Spaniard's day

From a late breakfast after a short night we basically start on the wrong foot and from that moment on it all goes downhill. Because we only have a late lunch, we tend to have a second breakfast in the middle of the morning and an afternoon snack to hold us until dinner. At 17:00 we force ourselves back into the working groove until 20:00 or 21:00; this means that we don't start watching our favorite series or movie until 22:30, which ends at midnight or later. Then we go back to the vicious circle. So if anyone's out of line, don't worry, it's not you!

Lunch, dinner, and everything in between.

Lunch in Spain normally takes place between 14:30 and 15:30 and dinner between 21:00 and 22:00 on weekdays, but often later in the weekend. Don't be surprised if you walk past cafes and eateries at 10:30pm and they are full of families and young children who have just sat down to eat.

It's also not uncommon to see a Spanish family finish a late lunch on a weekend at the same time as a British family arrives for their early dinner, everyone looking at each other as if they were out of place!

In summer, this is made worse when families take advantage of the long days they spend on the beach until after 9pm, when the sun goes down, to eat even later.

Office hours

Our particular lifestyle affects every aspect of life, including office hours, dividing the working day into two. With a very long lunch break, often misunderstood as a "siesta" or nap time (which sounds great in theory but is not practical in reality), it is difficult to be productive for so many hours.
Figures speak for themselves: almost half of the country is still at work after 6pm and 10% is still at work after 9pm.

But the Spaniards always find ways to work around the system, that's in the DNA. However, this can be quite frustrating when you walk into an administration office at 09:30 and half the staff are "gone for breakfast" when the office is literally opened just half an hour earlier! That hour that is wasted on a second breakfast should go home an hour earlier.

Negative effects

Current business practices show that Spaniards suffer negative health and economic consequences from this outdated tradition. Compared to the rest of Europe, we sleep on average one hour less and work longer, which of course has a direct impact on our health, productivity, social and family life. In short, we live in a permanent state of jet lag!

Back to the Future

Most Spaniards would actually prefer to switch to a more standard European "9 to 5" day. Every year there are numerous proposals on the table to either ignore summertime or bring the Spanish clocks back to the natural GMT hour. However, it is easier to change the clock than people's habits, so it doesn't look like anything is going to change soon. When visiting our country, we advise you to keep this in mind to avoid feeling as "jet-lagged" as we do!
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