Food and Beverage Tips:
MAKE RESERVATIONS: Many European restaurants, including wine tasting rooms, only serve 1 party per table per night. In other words, if they open at 6 and there is an 8pm reservation for that table, no one gets it until the reserving party shows up. Further, if they have a 7pm reservation, they expect that table to be reserved for that party for the night. As a result, if you don’t have reservations ahead of time, it’s unlikely you’ll be eating there. While this is almost a certainty for any higher end or more popular restaurants, even many casual places, if well-reviewed, will often work this way. If you want to be sure you don’t miss a bucket-list dining experience, double check the hours and make reservations!
CHECK OPENING DAYS AND HOURS: In the US, we’ve gotten accustom to everything being open almost all hours, every day of the week, every week of the year. In Europe, most restaurants are only open 5 days a week, and many are closed at different times during each day. Further, many restaurants close for 2-4 weeks at a time for vacation or even are closed for an entire season. If the restaurant is open, it will typically post hours in two blocks. For example, 12:00-14:00 and 19:00-23:00. This means you have to arrive for lunch between the hours of noon-2pm but you don’t have to finish your meal within these hours. In other words, we had lunch reservations for 13:30 (1:30pm) but didn’t leave our lunch until 4:30pm (16:30 – after they had “closed” for lunch). Do your research and make reservations!!
HOW TO EAT GREAT AND CHEAP: Eat at the food markets! A lot of times they are listed under “things to do” or “shopping” on TripAdvisor, and not “restaurants”, but they are in fact usually my favorite places to eat in the city. The food markets in Europe are my museums. They are works of art! In the US, our food courts are typically some combination of the same 15 cheap, commercial vendors with mostly pre-prepared, processed food under heat lamps. In Europe, food markets are a source of immense foodie happiness, quality, variety and are truly an attraction in themselves. Obviously we don’t “shop” at these markets, but form some – including myself – it is fun to walk through and see their selection of produce, meats, seafood, etc. However, the best part, and what can be enjoyed by all, are the vendor stalls full of local, fresh, beautiful, well-priced, gourmet food options…and when I say options, I mean more options than you could try in a month. Go!Go!Go! Eat lunch at the food markets, or have lunch and dinner there…everyday! You’ll always find something new and delicious, and you’ll spend a fraction compared to any restaurant with comparable fare.
HOW TO STAY HAPPY: Avoid getting “hangry” or (even worse) wasting a meal at a crappy place by always having a light snack on you at all times. You tend to walk more during a European vacation than you do during a typical day at home, and while it’s always preferable to swing into a little café or grab some local street food for a snack, sometimes if hunger hits it’s good to have immediate access to something. This is especially true in countries like Spain or France where places to eat have weird and unpredictable hours so it’s easy to end up hungry with nothing open . We always have two Snickers or two health bars (we like RX bars) with us at all times. We also carry a few 100 calorie bags of cashews or almonds. They can be life savers!
FIND A PASTRY! Almost every city in Europe has a pastry they are known for, that you WILL want to try. Whether it’s Trdelnik in Prague, Pasties de Belem in Lisbon, Goxua in San Sebastian, or even baklava or Bougasta in Greece, you should find the local pastry specialty, and enjoy!
DON’T RISK EATING BAD FOOD! I always have a map/list on my phone of 2 or 3 good places to eat in each district/area that we plan to visit. Just in case we get hungry early/late, or if we have a change of plans and end up somewhere unexpected, having a list of recommended/highly reviewed places in each area has proven to be a lifesaver. After you do your restaurant/café/food research, simply look up each place on Google Maps and click the star icon to save it as a favorite. When you download Google Maps for your trip, your starred favorites will be included. Then, if the place you planned to go turns out to be unexpectedly closed or you can’t get in for some reason, you’ve got a map directly to high quality back-up options.
SEEING IS NOT BELIEVING! Never eat at a restaurant where there are pictures of the food on displays outside the front of the restaurant; or, if a restaurant employee is standing outside the restaurant trying to lure you in with specials. A sure sign of a tourist trap! The worst offenders here are Rome (specifically the Vatican), downtown Brussels, Greece and Turkey. There are occasionally exceptions, but be careful! Pictures usually mean poor quality and high prices!
DON’T THROW AWAY MONEY! Always Google Search the tipping protocol for the city/country you’re visiting before you get there. Some European cities only expect you to leave change or round up to the nearest dollar, others expect 10% – 15% if the service is good. We’ve not been anywhere that expects 20%, so even if it feels immoral, don’t do it! While that sounds easy, it can be surprisingly difficult to get out of the habit of tipping generously, but save your money as it really isn’t expected in most places!
ORDER WISELY! In Europe, don’t expect a freebee if you don’t like your order. In Europe, if you order something and they get it right, you just don’t like it, for the most part, either deal with it or pay for something else.
BACON SUCKS! Europe has the best ham products in the world. Prosciutto de Parma, Jamon Iberico, and other ham products will have you cursing at your local deli when you get home. However, they can’t make bacon, or anything close to it. Order bacon at breakfast and I guarantee you will be disappointed! The only exception we’ve found is the Angleterre in Copenhagen.
THE COFFEE AT A CAFÉ IS AMAZING, THE COFFEE AT THE BREAKFAST BUFFETT TASTES LIKE BACON! This phenomenon has vastly improved over the past few years, but it’s still true, especially in Italy. Of course, if your room or the hotel has a Nespresso® machine, or equivalent, you’re fine, but we’ve been disappointed often by the “house” coffee at hotels