Manners Maketh Man

Manners Maketh Man

A potted guide to dining etiquette in Portugal…

Although we Brits like our cooking shows – and there are as many good restaurants around as anywhere else in the world – many of us would probably concede there is still a slightly different approach to food in the UK than in many of the Mediterranean countries.

Although we enjoy a good meal and see it as a treat, our busy lives mean quite a few reading this will be probably sitting at their desks with a sandwich in hand.

The proliferation of fast food outlets up and down the average high street also tells you quite a bit about how we live our lives; fast, furious and often with little time to savour what we eat and drink.

It would be misleading to pretend everyone living in Portugal, Spain, Turkey or Greece is different; many are not and fall-backs such as sandwich bars, takeaways and fast-food restaurants are just as much part of life in Lisbon, Barcelona, Istanbul or Athens as they are in London.

But, if you decide to make the jump and begin a new life overseas, you may notice a little more reverence for family time around the table – and, once you’ve made a few friends, there’s every chance you’ll be asked to join them.

So, if you’ve chosen Portugal as your place in the sun, what faux pas should you try to avoid? Here are a few tips on dining:


When Dining with Friends …

Talking shop: It’s not necessarily to be avoided but be led by your host. They may not wish to spoil a good meal by talking about work; it’s something to relax and enjoy and the stresses and strains of the business world may be put aside for a few hours.

A toast: If there are to be any, generally it’s the host’s job to propose the first one. You may wish to raise a glass and thank them for their hospitality but it’s considered polite to wait until you’re replying rather than taking the initiative yourself.

Tuck in: At a family occasion when everyone is gathered around the table, try to resist being the first to start on your dish. The host – or possibly the chef – may wish everyone “Bom appetite!” which is your signal to begin enjoying your meal. An eyebrow or two may be raised if your mouth is already full.

Hands Off: If there are nuts, olives or other small dishes on the table, it’s best not to scoop them up with your hands. In polite company in Portugal, most food is eaten with a knife and fork – and that includes things like pizza or burgers too. Not everyone is rigid about it but it might be best to keep an eye on what your hosts do and take your lead from them.

Those pesky salad leaves: It’s instinctive not to want to shove them into your mouth whole but did you know polite Portuguese society frowns upon cutting them up? Try to use your knife and fork to fold them or roll them into a ball and then eat them.

What to do with your hands:  If you’re not using your utensils, it’s best to keep them visible. Many Portuguese use their hands to express themselves in conversation anyway but placing them in your lap is thought to be a little too reserved or even standoffish. You don’t have to wave them around; just keep them in sight.

Cutlery: The rules here are much the same as the rest of the world. If there are several sets of knives and forks next to your plate, start on the outside and work your way in with each course except for dessert, for which there should be a spoon and fork above your plate. When you have finished eating, place each set of cutlery next to each other on top of the right side of the plate. If you’re just taking a bit of a breather, place the cutlery on either side of the plate but not on top of it.

Bread and butter: Bread is an important part of most main meals but, if you can’t see any butter, don’t ask for it. Like in many Mediterranean countries, bread is usually served unadorned.


When Eating Out …

Getting seated: Most Portuguese restaurants prefer to seat customers themselves so don’t just wander in presuming you can sit wherever you like. Also, it’s likely entradas – bread, olives and the like – will be brought to your table once you have been settled. They are not free and will appear on your bill, although the cost is usually minimal. If you don’t want to pay for them, simply don’t touch them and they will be removed.

Choosing wine and water: There isn’t the same sort of wine snobbery in Portugal so there is nothing wrong with simply asking for the house red or white. It is an accompaniment to most meals and probably the most popular among the locals anyway. Much the same applies to water; you can ask for it from the tap or in a bottle. However, be warned many Portuguese like their water at room temperature so, if you would lie it chilled, you may have to ask.

Waiting staff: If you wish to summon a member of staff in a restaurant, the polite method is simply to catch their eye. Waving a hand in the air or clicking fingers is considered gauche. As for tipping, if you feel the establishment was worth it, the starting point is usually 15% of the bill.


Hopefully, some of the above is useful but, if you’d like any other clues about life as an expat in Portugal, feel free to drop us a line. We’ll help if we can – particularly if you’re on the lookout for affordable property in Lisbon.

If you have an interest in benefiting form Portugal’s golden visa incentive scheme, please give us a call.

In the meantime, why not keep an eye on our blog for more posts in social etiquette in Spain, Turkey and Greece. Coming soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *