Spanish habits For Members

Why does the birthday person pay for everyone's food and drinks in Spain?

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
Why does the birthday person pay for everyone's food and drinks in Spain?
Even if you have to foot the bill, remember that your friends have come to celebrate your birthday, and don't forget all the free eats you'll get in future. Photo: Profivideos/Pixabay

One of the traditions that foreigners in Spain don’t get is why the birthday boy or girl is expected to pay for friends' meals and drinks when they go out to celebrate. What's the protocol for this habit?


So it’s your cumpleaños (birthday in Spanish) and you want to celebrate it a lo grande (in style) with your friends in Spain.

On most occasions this involves going out for a meal and drinks, as house parties aren’t as common in Spain as in other countries, let alone surprise birthday parties organised by friends.

You book a table at a great restaurant and invite six or so of your best mates. The tapas roll and so do the drinks, but when the waiter brings out the bill, your friends aren’t as quick to take out their wallets, if at all. 


You may be slightly bemused by this if you’re new to Spain, but you’ll soon learn this lesson. 

Whereas in countries such as the UK or the US it’s the guests who split the bill to pay for their meal and the food and drink of the person whose birthday it is, in Spain it’s the cumpleañero/a (birthday boy/girl) who is expected to invitar a todos (pay for everyone). 

READ ALSO: Eleven ways your socialising habits change when you live in Spain

We’ve done extensive research in the hope of being able to find out how this tradition came about. 

Could it be traced back to Ancient Rome as in the case of ear pulling (another Spanish birthday tradition that many kids and teens endure from their older siblings and relatives)?

Unfortunately, there is no record of why the birthday person pays in Spain. 

But fear not, there are benefits to this sometimes costly tradition. 

If you’ve invited your friends for a birthday meal and/or drinks, they will or should know to bring you a birthday present. 

It could be that they either all chip in to get you one big present (most commonly) or that they get you gifts individually.


These are all unwritten rules of course, but it would be a bit much for them to expect that you pay for them to enjoy a nice meal out when it’s your birthday and that you get absolutely nothing in return from them. 

READ ALSO: The many ways Spaniards refer to your face if you’re being cheeky

The other silver lining to draw is that you could well expect to get a free meal or drinks from everyone that you invite when it’s their birthday and time to pay up. All those free eats will surely cover the cost of what you splashed out on your cumple (birthday).

But if the prospect of splurging and not getting much in return worries you - perhaps you’re unfamiliar with how your friends ‘do’ birthdays - consider one of these options.

 birthday pay food spain

It’s best to embrace the Spanish birthday payment tradition, even though some foreigners find it unfair.

Instead of a birthday meal, invite your friends to birthday drinks. This should keep the expense lower, especially at a run-of-the-mill bar. If it’s at a nightclub, rounds are paid for at the bar immediately rather than the bill stacking up for a final payment, so after one or two rounds, one of your friends should offer to pay, especially if they turned up giftless.

If you still want to have a meal out with los amigos (friends) but are worried about how much it’ll cost you, consider picking a well-priced bar or restaurant with a terrace where you go to the waiter and order tapas for everyone rather than à la carte individual portions, obviously still allowing them to pick their own drinks. 

There are also quite a few restaurants with birthday deals which may allow you to cut costs or get some freebies. 

But overall it’s best to embrace this Spanish tradition which initially seems unfair to many foreigners. 

You’ll come across as generous, fully integrated into Spanish society and don't worry, because over time the expense evens out.

And if you don’t get the same treatment you offered on your birthday when it’s your friends’ turn to organise and pay for their celebrations, then plan your next birthday party in Spain differently.

Park bench, a six-pack of Mercadona beers and a muffin for a birthday cake, perhaps?



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