When you sit down in a Lisbon restaurant, you will always be served olives, bread, butter and cheese, without even having to ask for them. Question is, do you have to pay for it or not?
After a morning of sightseeing or shopping, you’ve found a nice restaurant and you’re looking forward to a delicious lunch. You are taken to a table to be seated by the waiter. But look, before your even ordered, there is already something on the table: deliciously juicy olives, some fantastic goats cheese and a basket of freshly baked bread.
Well isn’t that nice?
All that tasty food on the table, you’ll probably think it’s really nice that they give you all those things to eat. You really want everything! Add some wine with it, hmmm! And the menu looks so exquisite. This can’t go wrong!
After the main course you finish up with a mousse de chocolat and a bica. The bill please! And there’s the surprise. What the hell? Are those olives, bread and cheese also on there? Why? I did not ask for those? That was, eh, service from the house or something?
“What a scam!”
You leave the restaurant, irritated. You haven’t left a tip and you are determined to leave a fiery review on Yelp. That’s no way to treat a tourist? Bloody scammers, them Portuguese!
Did you just fall into a tourist trap? How did they notice I was a tourist? (hint: that camera on your neck, the debit card, the language … well, our whole appearance usually just screams “tourist”)
Not hungry? Just leave it there
But guess what? Everyone gets those olives, cheese and bread on their table as soon as they sit down. Including the locals. In Portugal that is just habit. A piece of service to the customer, indeed.
And you know, if you don’t feel like olives, then just leave them. It sounds so simple, and in fact it is. If you do not touch that cheese or that bread, they will remove it as soon as they bring you your first drink. You won’t see anything on your bill.
(unless you walk into an actual tourist trap that is, which you can find anywhere, including in Lisbon)
What does it cost?
Suppose you take some bread, butter, olives and cheese, what does it cost? For pão (bread) you’ll pay about € 1.50 per basket. Manteiga (butter), mostly from Mimosa, (the salted one is delicious!), are relatively expensive, usually between 60 cents and a euro per cup. Those round cheeses shouldn’t set you back more than € 2. And finally, a bowl of azeitonas (olives) costs you about € 1 to € 1.50.
For two people you’ll come to around € 6.50 (or £ 6) for items that you did not explicitly ask for. Because eating in Lisbon is not necessarily expensive, this can be a substantial part of the total bill. So we understand very well that you’d be startled.
But luckily, from now on you know exactly how things work in Lisbon. Not touching equals not paying. Makes all the sense in the world, if you think about it.