Nearly every region of Portugal has a variety in shapes and sizes when it comes to restaurants. It can be a lowly "Tasca" (Tavern), a "Casa de Pasto" (a set three-course Tavern meal), a "Cervejaria" (Beerhouse with food), a "Restaurante" (offering a choice of dishes), a "Marisqueira" (specialising in fish and shellfish), or a "Churrasqueira" (spit or grilled food). It is not unusual for some small cafés to serve a "prato do dia" (dish of the day). Depending on location and style, prices are very reasonable when equated with other European countries and the servings are normally plentiful! Choosing the place is sometimes confusing until you acquire local knowledge. You may see smart businessmen eating in what appears to be a scruffy "Tasca". They are there for the quality of the food, the price and the friendliness of the owners - and not just for the décor!
Hours of Eating
Generally speaking, lunch is eaten between 12.00 and 14.00 hours. Dinner is from about 19.30 to 23.00 hours. However, it is not uncommon to see a small group of people arriving for lunch at 14.30 hours, as they know the owners and what they are going to eat. In the cities in smarter restaurants it is advisable to make a prior reservation.
In the tourist areas it is usual to see restaurants offering a "ementa turística" that is a three-course meal served with a drink and all at a lower price than from the menu. Also, in tourist areas you will find that the menu has been translated into more than one other language. As soon as you have taken your seats it is normal in Portugal to be served with bread, olives and often some assorted appetizers for which you are charged. You may pay for what you eat but often it is also used as a form of cover charge. There is a good reason for these items to be placed in front of you. In all Portuguese restaurant be prepared to wait. The chef will all start cooking after your order is placed and normally only using fresh food.
Vegetarians are not particularly well catered for although there are in major areas a limited number of specialized restaurants. However, as the vegetables grown in Portugal can be excellent we recommend some careful directions to the chef may produce very satisfying results.
Wines and Other Drinks
The grapes in Portugal produces some very satisfying wines and especially in the case of the red. White wine is also bottled in quantity and is very palatable but their grapes do not generally produce any spectacular results. After eating it is a must to sample the two most famous Portuguese fortified wines and known throughout the world, Port and Madeira. It is normally quite safe to order the "vinho da casa" (house-wine) to accompany your meal – however, please remember that it can be fresh country wine and although good, not necessarily pleasing to your personal palette.
Portugal is an ideal holiday location for families with children. In restaurants the children’s misbehaviour may be completely accepted as the Portuguese love children to the point of spoiling them! Often the menu will indicate half-portions or a child’s plate, and if not, reduced amounts and prices can be normally requested.
Smoking is normally generally accepted in all eating establishments. Recently there has been a Act published in their Parliament to introduce no smoking zones. If you see the sign "proibido fumar" (no smoking) you will this means "No Smoking" - and please respect this sign as heavy fines can be incurred.
One of the main problems in Portuguese restaurants is obtaining and paying the bill. The attitude of every waiter seems to be that once you have eaten you should sit and digest your food! Remember this is a Latin country and the pleasure of eating is taken seriously! A suitable remedy for too long a delay maybe to stand up as though you are leaving.
Somewhere in the greyness of distant times a tip was used as a reward for good service. When tipping at the table the Portuguese tend to leave either nothing or 5% as a reward. It is generally expected for a foreign tourist to leave 10%. There is no law stating what percentage you should use as a tip. When tipping, bear in mind that today the sum of € 1.00 does not buy very much and good service helps to make the meal. Your meal price includes Tax so request a "Factura" (Bill), as many restaurants may wish to pocket this money that you will be paying as an slice of extra profit!