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Tapas etiquette question

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I'm feeling silly having to ask this but here goes: at a place like El Quim or Pinotxo, where there are very few seats at the counters, how does one "wait effectively" for a seat? Do you look around at people's plates, figure out who's finished eating and stand behind them (without being so close that you are breathing down their necks)? Please enlighten me.

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  1. At Pinotxo you just tell them you want a seat at the bar, and when there's room, they call you over. At least that has been my experience.

    1. It is not a silly question since every culture deal with such differently. For all the places in the Boqueria, just let the people behind the counter (Albert, the owner of Bar Pinotxo, holds court) that you are waiting for a seat and they will acknowledge it. It is quite civilize unless one of their close buddy drops by. One can eat standing up, especially at breakfast. Also, depends on what one is eating.

      8 Replies
      1. re: PBSF

        Thanks SnackHappy and PBSF. "One can eat standing up, especially at breakfast" Do you mean that there are some high counters/tables without chairs and that one could possibly order and start eating before a seat becomes vacant?

        1. re: Aleta

          In those eateries in the Boqueria, often people stand near the bar, next to an already seated friend, and have their meal there, not necessariliy having a bar counter in front of them.
          Once I walked by and saw two friends siting at the counter and eating up a storm. They told me to pull up a chair behind them - I don't remember where my chair materialized - and they kept piling chipis, clams, aspagarus on my plate. One of my happiest eating memories...
          And I suggest that if you see a seat free in one of those eateries and you know you are next, you "move into position" and at the same time motion to the staff, you know, pointing to the chair, meaning: "OK?" Do not stand aside waiting for the huissier to announce you; it's not the Elysée palace!
          And the term "tapas etiquette" makes me smile. Last time at San Sebastian in a small bar by the old market, we had quite a few tapas and were accumulating a littlte mound of those hopless paper napkins, smaller than a cleanex and not absorbant at all. The bar owner actually grunted at me, expressing his displeasure that I was accumulating such unslightly things. Then he made a tapas-for-dummies demonstration: swept the pile of napkins onto the floor. (Don't do that at El Qim or Pinotxo; those two are a class act in comparison.)

          1. re: Parigi

            The problem at the Boqueria is that many tourists don't know the "system". Parigi's advice is sound, ask for a seat, then be positioned when they come free.

            We had quite an unpleasant argument with a seat rival on our last visit, an interesting chap who when seated ordered heaps of food and ate it all himself whilst his wife and child looked on from their seats.

            1. re: PhilD

              Thanks everyone for your input. I'm a bit confused, however. Let's say that someone has arrived before me, given the owner their seating request and taken a position nearby. Then, I come up, give my request and stand to another side (not noticing the other person). Suddenly, the seat close to me becomes available. Naturally, I would be inclined to pounce on it. Will the owner tell me that it's not my turn? Perhaps the answer is: maybe or it depends on the place. Yikes. For the tapas restaurants outside of the Boqueria, my plan is to go early and wait for the restaurant to open. For the Boqueria, I bet there are only 2 speeds at those places: busy and busier.

              1. re: Aleta

                it's quite easy. If there is someone ahead of you the server will tell you, if not just sit down.It isn't a perfect system that is why it is best to use a combination of manners (asking) and rights (positioning).

                For the evening I would chill out, enjoy a drink, grab a tapa from the bar and wait for an opening. Going early sort of defeats the point as you miss out because tapas bars get better as the evening progresses.

                  1. re: Aleta

                    In almost any waiting context in Spain (market stall, shop, doctor's office bar, restaurant, etc.) , you keep track of your turn by finding out who is the last person before you (¿Quién es el último?). When that person/group gets seated or attended to, then you know you're next (and it never hurts to confirm it at that time). At a bar, you put your name in with the bartender. If there are tables next to the bar, there's often a separate person who handles the seating. If there's a separate dining room apart from the bar, there may be a third person handling that space.

                    1. re: butterfly

                      Thanks very much, butterfly, for the clarification.