Granada’s mayor stirs debate by calling for end of free tapas

Bars in the Andalusian city are famed for offering generous free servings of food with most drink orders, but Granada’s mayor has caused concern among locals after suggesting customers “should pay for tapas”.  

Granada's mayor stirs debate by calling for end of free tapas
Could Granada's free tapas traditions soon be coming to an end? Photo: Hiki Liu/Unsplash

Anyone who’s been to the enthralling city of Granada will no doubt have experienced its unique bar scene, where huge, often high-quality tapas are dished up at no extra cost with every round of cañas (small beers) or wine that is ordered. 

All over Spain, you’re likely to be offered some nuts, olives or crisps to accompany your drinks, but this generosity is taken to another level in Graná, an allure which keeps customers ordering.

So it’s no surprise that among Spaniards, Granada is as synonymous with La Alhambra as with its tapas gratis (free tapas).

But this tradition may now be under threat after the mayor of the city of Granada Paco Cuenca recently said his government “will never again promote free tapas”. 

“Tapas have to be paid for because they are haute cuisine,” Cuenca said during the Saborea Sin Prisa Granada (Take your time tasting Granada) gastronomic contest.

Granada’s mayor admitted his administration had deliberately omitted the word “tapas” from the competition’s name in a bid to move away from the association the city has with free food.

Granada’s tapas tradition dates back to the early 1900s when local bar owners would take an ad out in the newspaper to promote their free “tapadera” of salchichón meat or snails with their wine or coffee. Source: National Library of Spain

“We want people to sit down at the table and enjoy small bites of food à la carte which they pay for, this is what is profitable and creates stable work,” Cuenca said to contestants. 

“We have unique food products, magnificent establishments and professionals. We have to believe in what we have and position ourselves where we deserve”.

Neither the city of Granada nor the whole province which goes by the same name have a single Michelin-starred restaurant.

READ ALSO: Six great reasons to visit Granada (besides the Alhambra)

Cuenca’s comments have stirred debate among granadinos over whether Granada is selling itself short by focusing more on quantity over quality and not promoting itself as a high-end gastronomic destination. 

Some say the free-food-with-drink model is ingrained in the local lifestyle and offers people a cheap option to eat out, whilst voices in the hospitality sector argue that rising food costs and inflation mean the model is no longer as sustainable. 

Then there are those that point out that it’s perfectly possible for haute cuisine and free tapas to co-exist in the city – as is currently the case – whilst finding ways for Granada to be seen as a more exclusive gastronomic destination. 

With the debate still raging, Cuenca has since sought to clarify that he meant that “Granada is much more than its tapas”, but his detractors say “there is no Granada without free tapas”.

What seems clear is that there will be no municipal bylaw which outright bans one of Granada’s biggest attractions, but rather a push to be recognised as more than just a land of cheap eats; and instead a gastronomic hub that knows its own worth.


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EXPLAINED: The new alcohol rules for tourists in Spain’s Balearic Islands

Mallorca and Ibiza are well known to many as booze tourism destinations but after new legislation was introduced in 2020, it's only now that the crackdown on excessive drinking by holidaymakers is being enforced.

EXPLAINED: The new alcohol rules for tourists in Spain's Balearic Islands

The Balearic Islands, made up of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera, are well known not only for their beautiful coastal resorts but also their booze tourism spots.

Long famous for cheap drinks, pub crawls, and booze cruises, tourists from across Europe have descended on the islands for cheap drunken fun for decades.

Yet new rules cracking down on excessive drinking and disorderly behaviour on the islands are making that harder, with authorities attempting to change the Balearics’ image and model of tourism.

The rule changes came into effect in January 2020 but owing to the total shutdown of international travel and tourism during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, its impacts are only being felt now.

On the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza, the crackdowns are focused on the popular tourist areas of Magaluf, El Arenal and Sant Antoni that are synonymous with drunken revelry and boozy getaways.

The new rules

  • Legislation means that 2-for-1, happy hour, and free bar offers are now banned. Advertising of these kinds of cheap boozy deals are also prohibited in the hotspots.

  • The sale of alcohol in shops has been scaled back as they are now forced to close between 9:30 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.

  • The rule changes ban the granting of new licenses for booze cruise style ‘party boats’ and the limiting of alcoholic beverages to six per day in all-inclusive hotels.

  • The infamous tourist practice of ‘balconing’ – when drunken tourists launch themselves from balconies into swimming pools – has also been banned and will, according to the official government bulletin released in 2020, “expel with immediate effect” those partaking in the popular and often lethal activity. 

  • Restaurants and bars that serve food are also limited in how much alcohol they can serve, in addition to all-inclusive resorts. The new rules state the maximum per lunch or dinner is three alcoholic beverages. 

READ MORE: Spanish islands crackdown on booze tourism model

  • A favourite of many British tourists, pubcrawls, have also been banned, with fines handed out to establishments advertising their bars or restaurants as part of boozy routes through the islands. According to the official bulletin, “the advertising, organisation, sale and realisation of the so-called routes (pub crawling) is prohibited, where the objective is the tour of different venues in which drinks of alcoholic beverages are included continuously and on the same day.”

Establishments that don’t follow the rules will face hefty fines, according to the legislation. The government texts outlines fines of between €1,000 and €600,000, plus the possibility of shutting down offending establishments for up to three years.

Tourists queue to take part in a boat party on Figueretes Beach in Ibiza. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

Feeling the effects

Many tourists arriving in the Mediterranean islands in 2022 are unaware of the new changes.

Easyjet is warning all its potential customers flying to Sant Antoni of the new crackdown, and the British press is also publishing stories of disgruntled tourists unhappy they can’t go on pubcrawls and are limited in how many drinks they can order in hotels and restaurants. 

The Balearic government say it is the first legislation in Europe to ban the sale and advertising of alcohol in specific tourist areas. Yet because the island’s economy – much like the Spanish economy more broadly, of which tourism makes up a sizeable 13% chunk of GDP – is so dependent on tourists, and welcomes over 13 million of them every year, it will have to strike a balance between the revenue that comes from booze tourism and realising its aims of ‘sustainable tourism’.

English holidaymakers in Magaluf having drinks while watching Euro 2020. The holiday spot is popular among young European revellers, most of them British. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

READ MORE: 13 mistakes in Spain tourists are bound to make

It is unclear if other tourist hotspots in Spain, such as the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol, will follow similar models and try to shift away from being the default destination for cheap, boozy getaways. The changes in the Balearics come amid broader debate in Spain about the role and model of tourism, and how it aligns with the Spanish economy as it heads into the first non-COVID summer season and tries to recover from the pandemic. 

Freed from COVID-19 restrictions it may be, the Spanish tourism sector – or more specifically, the tourists coming to enjoy it – now face newer, self-imposed restrictions aimed at rebranding its imagine and moving away from its long-held booze tourism model.