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Why is Spain cracking down on Spaniards cooking meals for tourists?

In recent years ordinary Spaniards have been capitalising on their country’s much admired cuisine and culture to sell ‘Spanish eating experiences’ to tourists from their own homes. But things are about to get a lot stricter for this unregulated occupation.

Why is Spain cracking down on Spaniards cooking meals for tourists?
Photos: Deposit Photos

What’s it all about?

With more and more tourists in Spain on the lookout for authentic local experiences, normal Spaniards have started exploiting their innate ‘Spanishness’ to make a quick buck, thanks in large part to the help of platforms such as Airbnb Experiences and Eat With.

The concept is simple. The ‘home chef’ posts an online ad in which they invite strangers (often foreigners) to come dine with them and experience what Spanish food culture is all about, at a price.

Once the guests have paid for their homemade meal, usually costing between €30 and €80 per person, they are given the address and join the host at their home.

Given Spain’s well-established outdoor eating habits, many of these ‘gastro hosts’ don’t actually get their hands dirty in the kitchen, but rather act as guides on food tours through their towns and cities, selling their inside knowledge on the best hidden gems to culture-hungry travellers.

Why does the Spanish government have a problem with this?

Tourism is big business in Spain, and in much the same way as the influx in short-term home rentals has shaken up the hotel industry status quo, this increasingly popular strand of the digital world’s so-called collaborative economy is starting to get noticed by the Spanish taxman.

Hosts get charged roughly 20 percent by the platforms for every homemade meal sold, but the remaining 80 percent goes straight into their bank accounts.

That’s because this new industry remains unregulated and unrecognised in Spain, with hosts under no legal obligation to register as self-employed even though monthly earnings can be upwards of €3,000 for popular hosts.

So is Spain’s tax agency just after its cut of the tortilla?

Well, yes, but that’s not the only reason for the planned crackdown.

As with other new and initially unregulated digital industries that have allowed normal people to make some extra money on the side, the lack of rules means things have the potential to go wrong or unchecked. 

The primary focus of the Spanish government is to ensure that health and safety standards are enforced for these homemade food services.

Spain’s Ministry of Health is currently drawing up a new decree that will regulate the practices, ensuring that similar hygiene and quality standards to those for restaurants and bars are met in each host household.

According to Spain’s Food Safety Agency, the current limbo would mean that if any home visitor or customer were to get food poisoning, “the responsibility would always fall on the shoulders of the company in charge”.

That means that currently any host or chef is completely exempt of any guilt if their guests suffer the consequences of their potential negligence. 

What next for this trend in Spain then?

It seems highly likely that once Spain’s ‘homemade meals for tourists’ trend is enshrined in labour laws, hosts will have to start declaring their earnings along with having to abide by official food standards.

Back in January Spain’s Hacienda tax agency sent letters to 120,000 property owners in Spain with their homes on Airbnb and other platforms, warning them they had to declare what they were making from the short term rentals.

The vast majority complied.

“We could have sent them letters telling them they had to paid for everything they hadn’t declared but what we prefer is to increase the amount of voluntary taxpayers before acting on that,” Agencia Tributaria head Jesús Gascón said at the time.

Something similar could well happen to Spain’s rogue food hosts in the coming months, especially given the increase in claims by Spain’s restaurant and hotel industry that they represent unfair competition for them.

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The surprising connection between Spanish sherry and the British and Irish

The southwest of Spain may be known as the sherry capital of the world, but it in fact has a surprising connection to England, Scotland and Ireland.

The surprising connection between Spanish sherry and the British and Irish

Spain’s sherry triangle sits in the southwest of the country in the province of Cádiz and lies between the cities and towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.

It’s a Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) region, meaning that only the white fortified wine grown and made here can be called sherry.

Sherry is predominantly made from the white palamino grapes and the region’s chalky albariza soil full of limestone, it’s hot summers, mild winters and high humidity make it perfect to cultivate them.

Jerez de la Frontera is the capital of this wine region and its streets are lined with sherry tabancos fronted by old sherry barrels and locals sipping glasses of fino.

However, sherry wouldn’t be the celebrated sherry drink it is today in this part of Spain without the legacy set up by the British and the Irish some 250 years ago.

1865 drawing of sherry barrels stacked up inside the González and Byass winery, in Jerez de la Frontera “. Image: The Universal Museum/Public Domain

In Jerez, you’ll see signs hidden signs of the British everywhere, from the sherry posters, the names on the walls of the cellars, to the labels on the bottles and even the names of some of the types of sherry such as cream and pale cream.

Wine has been produced in the southwest of Spain since Roman times, but it wasn’t until later that sherry was produced. It was first imported to the UK in the 13th and 14th centuries and become known by the English name sherry, instead of the Spanish name – jerez.

Sherry sales saw growth in the UK after the marriage of Catherine of Aragon with King Henry VIII.

It is said that she often complained saying: “The King, my husband, keeps the best wines from the Canary Islands and Jerez for himself”.

Shakespeare’s Falstaff and his affection for Sherry “sack” also did much to spread the reputation of the drink. Painting´: Eduard von Grützner

From 1587 onwards, sherry became particularly popular in Great Britain, when Sir Francis Drake supplied taverns around the country with several thousand sherry casks he brought back when he captured the port of Cádiz.

Sir Frances Drake brought sherry back from Cádiz. Photo: Ann Longmore-Etheridge / Flickr

But it wasn’t until the 1700s that British merchants actually started investing in the sherry trade and opening up their own bodegas in Spain.

One of these was Scot James Duff, whose sherry business was developed by his nephew William Gordon and then taken over by their friend Thomas Osborne. Their business became the well-known sherry brand Duff-Gordon, which was later renamed, Osborne.

Osborne sherry has become famous around the world due its iconic logo of a Spanish bull, seen on bull-shaped billboards across Spain. Photo: Volker Schoen / Pixabay

Today, they are one of the biggest sherry producers in Spain and the Bodegas de Mora Osborne are one of the most famous in El Puerto de Santa María, which can be visited on a tour.

Another was William Garvey, a rich Irish farmer. It is said that he came to Cádiz to buy merino sheep, but instead ended up establishing himself as a wine merchant, first in Sanlúcar and later in Jerez. In 1824 his son Patrick took over the company and set up the Bodegas San Patricio. Today, these bodegas, located in Jerez de la Frontera are some of the biggest in the region.

The Tío Pepe wine factory in Cádiz. The famous sherry producers also have British links, as their holding company – González Byass – carries the name of Robert Blake Byass, a renowned English wine merchant. Photo: María Renée Batlle Castillo/Flickr

More and more British followed suit with Sir Alexander Williams and Arthur Humbert creating their own bodegas in 1877 and Spaniard Manuel María González partnering with Englishman Robert Blake Byass in 1835 to create one of the most well-known sherry bodegas today – González Byass.

Today, even though most of the sherry producers are Spanish, many can trace their family origins back to the British, from Sandeman and Harveys to Terry.

So next time you’re sipping a manzanilla or fino sherry in a tabanco in Jerez, you might want to raise a glass to the British and Irish ancestors who made it possible.