Barcelona’s sense of time and, say, Boston’s are entirely different. The day here starts at 9am (at the earliest) and ends at 4,5,6am. This means that breakfast is at 10am, siesta from 2-5pm, and dinner begins at 9pm at the earliest (and lasts until the bars close). It also means that the day revolves around food and conversation: gossip over cafe con leche, banter and bocadillos, life stories with churros con chocolate, and flirting between sips of cava.
(Dear Let’s Go traveler, if you try to find breakfast at 7am, lunch at noon, and dinner at 6pm, you will fail. Adopt a “When in Rome” mentality, and carry snacks.)
What does each meal typically consist of? For breakfast, locals will have a Café con Leche and several Maria cookies (thin, sweet crackers) or toast. In any tapas bar-cum-cafe, you can get this simple breakfast, along with fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Lunch is the main meal of the day and if you eat out you’ll probably get a menu—a three-course, fixed-price meal consisting of a soup or salad, a hot entrée, and a dessert. The menu will almost always come with a glass of beer, wine, or water. This is true even if you eat at an ethnic restaurant; the menu is so expected that even Indian, Pakistani or Sushi restaurants will present one.
Dinner is extremely light (much like we Americans think of lunch) and usually means cereal, a salad, sandwich, or a few tapas. Some Spaniards skip dinner altogether.
TIPPING is not customary (5% suffices) and neither is good service. Don’t take offense—your waiter is probably working for next-to-nothing.
A side note: it is considered culturally un-cool to order a Café con Leche after 10am. If you want coffee with lunch or dinner, go for a Café Cortado, which is much like a Café con Leche but with a little bit less milk.
One more side note: Barcelonans rarely eat on the go. The one exception to this rule is Doner Kebob, which is eaten in the streets after clubbing and fills the late-night-food niche (read: drunk food) much as, say, mozz sticks or pizza do in the United States. However, if you break out your lunch on the metro, you will get funny looks. (I know this for a fact because I did it when I was first here. Barcelonans react as Americans might if someone set up a folding table, complete with place mat and silverware, and began eating thus on an American subway.) Take the time to sit down and eat, even if you’re only sitting on a park bench or in a plaza.