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12 tricks some bars and restaurants in Spain use to overcharge you (and how to avoid them)

Spain is a relatively well-priced country to enjoy a meal out, but there are numerous sneaky tricks some establishments use to squeeze extra money out of customers, sometimes illegally. Here are the cons to avoid and when you shouldn't pay.

12 tricks some bars and restaurants in Spain use to overcharge you (and how to avoid them)
Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

Eating out shouldn’t be about having to keep a close eye on everything that you may be charged for, in fact it’s often impossible to predict if there are any extra charges coming. 

However, some Spanish bar and restaurant owners do try their luck with different crafty ways to beef up the bill, some of them legal and others illicit.

Spanish consumer rights organisation Facua has for years been warning the public of the multiple ways Spanish establishments try to trick their customers into spending more money than they intended, popularising the hashtag #BaresParaNoVolver (#BarsNotToReturnTo).

It’s important to stress that the majority of Spanish bars and restaurants are known for being fair, welcoming and well-priced places, but a few are pushing their luck.

Here are some of the cons to look out for and when you’re within your right to not pay. 

Food that’s not on the menu 

When the waiter arrives to take your order, it’s common for them to ‘sing’ all the dishes that aren’t on the menu. 

According to Facua, these should be at least listed on the menu with a price or price per weight for the bar or restaurant to have the right to charge whatever they see fit. 

“If the price is exorbitant compared to everything else we find in the establishment’s menu, we shouldn’t have to pay it,” Rubén Sánchez, Facua spokesperson and author of the book Timocracía (‘Scamocracy’) argues. 

“You’ll have to decide whether you ask for a complaint form, or whether to leave without paying.

“If you decide to take it one step further and report the situation to a consumer body, the more explicit the evidence you provide, the better (copy or photo of the bill and menu). 

Alternatively, ask for a price indication for the unlisted dishes that you are thinking of ordering. 

Drinks that aren’t on the menu 

We’ve made this a separate category as you don’t necessarily ask for the menu if you’re only sitting down for some drinks with friends and family. 

If you are charged an amount that is far higher than you expected, you may choose to cough up what they’re asking for and never return, but if you do want to double check that you’re not being taken for a ride, the same law applies to drinks as to food: drink prices have to be listed on the menu or they don’t have the right to charge what they claim is the price. 


Price according to market value

Often concealed under the acronym SM (Según Mercado) or PSM (Precio Según Mercado), the idea is that customers get charged for the catch of the day or other fresh produce based on market value variations at the source. 

Once again, it’s illegal to not include the price or price based on weight on the menu, so if they wanted to charge the new price based on the market value, restaurants have to reprint their menus. 

Extra VAT 

Some establishments add a 10 percent charge to the bill claiming that it’s VAT (IVA in Spanish). 

This practice is actually illegal in Spain, even if menus include the phrase “VAT not included”.

Spanish law states that menus must show the full price of the product, so you have the right to refuse to pay if this happens to you. 

You get charged for the tapas or the shots you didn’t ask for

Many restaurants in Spain offer customers a small digestif shot of mild alcohol (often Orujo cream or herbs digestif) at the end of their meals. Many bars also offer customers some nuts or olives with beer, in some cities like Granada this takes the form of full tapas. 

In the vast majority of cases it’s a gesture of good will and completely free, but Facua have received complaints from disgruntled customers who were charged for these products that they didn’t request.

Unfortunately, if you agreed to it and it’s on the menu, they do have the right to charge you for it.  


The same often applies to ‘el pan’ (the bread). You dig into the bread basket then realise the cost was added to your bill at the end.

Usually the price is not that high or worth worrying about.

Higher prices during peak times

This is a trend which is in its early beginnings in Spain, born from the need for cafés, bars and restaurants to make back losses incurred during the pandemic. 

It’s referred to as dynamic prices, whereby the price of a coffee, beer or paella goes up during peak season, similar to what happens with flight prices or accommodation during the summer season.

The price change system is supported by several Spanish hospitality associations and some restaurant chains such as Madrid’s Arzábal tested the system in 2020 to see if it had an “adverse reaction” from the public. 

They were able to increase profits by 30 percent and not just by hiking prices, also by prioritising easy to prepare meals during busy times, and lowering the price of products they had in abundance. 

Unfortunately, it’s too early to know whether this goes against Spanish law, but the rule of thumb is that if the price is listed, it’s legal.  

Charging extra depending on where you sit

Some bars and restaurants apply an extra charge for those sat at a proper dining table rather than at the bar. However, as with other examples listed in this article, this is only legal if they mention it on the menu and they have to specify exactly how much this fee is.

Photo: Life of Pix/Pixabay

The hidden menú del día

Many bars and restaurants in Spain have a menú del día (menu of the day) – the cheap three-course lunch beloved of Spaniards – but neglect to publicise the fact that they have one. 

Some try to hide their menus because of the belief that a law from 1965 – which stipulated that all bars should offer a menú del día consisting of a starter, main course, bread, wine and dessert – still exists. 

The truth is that it’s not been obligatory to offer a menú del día since 2010, but there’s nothing stopping you from asking if they have one. 

Service charge 

A €4,100 restaurant bill handed to customers at a glitzy Marbella restaurant went viral recently, not only because of the €1,000 bottle of champagne they ordered but also given the €372 service charge added at the bottom. 

The furore spurred the restaurant owner to go on national television and explain that this service is optional and that if customers ask why this charge is added they are informed they don’t have to pay. It was meant to be a replacement for tips, but the waiter who took the order reportedly chased after the customers to ask where his cut was. 

Service charges such as these are illegal according to Facua, which during the pandemic also warned cafés and bars that were adding an extra euro or two to the bill as “servicio Covid” that they were not within their rights to do so. 

READ MORE: Are corona service charges at Spain’s bars and restaurants legal?

Charging for cutlery, ice or tap water

Similarly to the example listed above, another Spanish restaurant went viral after charging customers €1.50 per knife and fork. 

This is just as illegal as charging patrons for cleaning the table or the table cloth. Under Spanish law it is illegal for restaurants to charge customers for anything that is considered necessary for the provision of service.

Some bars actually charge customers for tap water, a practice that is not actually illegal, as long as they include the price on the menu, which most conveniently forget to do.

As if that weren’t enough, a nice refreshing soft drink might be soured by the fact that some bars charge their customers for ice cubes, some even putting a price on each cube.

Supplement for well-done meat

This may seem ridiculous, but a handful of Spanish restaurants actually charge customers more if they want their meat well done. This place charged 30 cents extra – was it the extra use of electricity or maybe the extra time the chef spent over the grill? Who knows…

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Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.