Things you should never do in a Restaurant

It goes without saying that the average tourist or foreigner in Greece will be clueless about certain Greek ways, and thus behave in the wrong way, or what Greeks would consider stupid foreign ways. From baking in the midday sun to drinking too much coffee at the wrong time of day, foreigners just can’t seem to get it right. The biggest difference between Greeks and non-Greeks are probably found over food, and these can be observed in restaurants and tavernas, where some things you should never do are invariably done.

Allowances will be made because you don’t know any better. However when you descend on a local taverna and are not  accustomed to Greek ways beware: possibly your every move will be observed, and eyebrows raised. A crash course in Greek may help you to understand what is being said about you, but it is probably preferable not to know.

Greeks are extremely proud of Greek cuisine and consider it to be the best in the world. It is rare to find a Greek who will actually admit to even tasting foreign food, as they believe Greek food is superior to all other food in the universe, backed up by the worlds foodies now declaring the Mediterranean diet to be the healthiest in the world.  So never ask for foreign food in a Greek restaurant. Forget your sour cream and peanut butter, and only order what is offered to you, or you will be insulting Greek food.

The first thing to remember is that Greeks eat late in the evening, after nine in winter and ten in the summer. If you want to sample the real Greek atmosphere never arrive for dinner at 7pm or your fellow diners will only be other foreigners. At that time of the afternoon, 7pm, the Greeks will be taking coffee in the kafenions. Never enter a Greek restaurant and complain about the smokers. It is a fact of life that Greeks smoke, and you can guarantee the chef has a cigarette in his mouth as he cooks.

You should never complain about how long the service takes. Greeks go to a restaurant to eat at leisure and you should expect to wait once your order has been placed. A wait of an hour for the food to arrive is quite common, though you will be brought some drinks, bread and olive oil. Learn to relax as the Greeks do. If you don’t agree with waiting then you must find an outlet of the Greek fast food chain Goodys, where you will be tricked into ordering onion rings never realizing they are in fact squid rings.

Do not order a Greek salad each as an appetizer, they are enormous. Greeks are quite happy to share food, hence the meze culture, where many small dishes are placed in the middle of the table to be shared as appetizers. It looks odd to see each person with their own appetizer. Never eat your lamb chops with your knife and fork, certain foods are meant to be eaten with the hands.

Do not comment if your fish soup comes as a bowl of soup with a piece of fish on a separate plate, this is normal. Do not struggle if you aren’t sure what the dishes available are, ask to go and look in the pans in the kitchen to see what is cooking. This is perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour.

Do not expect the dishes on the table to be removed when you have finished eating. Greeks eat at leisure and put their forks down between bites to have a cigarette, this does not mean the meal is over. Greeks are perfectly happy to eat cold food so the habit of sitting amidst the debris of your meal is normal. Do not allow your children to be noisy brats. Greece is probably the most child friendly country on earth and naturally the children are taken out with the parents, but Greek children generally know how to behave in public, and are told off immediately if start to misbehave.

Do remember that the fancy looking place with the high prices will not be the place with the best food. Instead look for simple taverna with a limited choice of food as most likely everything will be totally fresh and home made, with the vegetables picked from the garden that morning.

If the portion of food is too large then do not just leave it on the table, ask the waiter if any of the locals want it for their animals. This will go down much better than leaving food, which could cause much concern about your health, or even worse the implication that something may be wrong with the food, causing Mama in the kitchen to come out and demand to know why you didn’t eat it all.

Do not be surprised when you bill is written on the tablecloth rather than presented in the usual fashion and do not embarrass the owner by asking if they take credit cards, even if there’s a sun faded sign advertising he does. He may have a rusting old machine in the back which he’ll probably have to telephone another relative to come and use, and it will make the amount known to the tax man. Cash does nicely. If you need the bill for some reason simply take the tablecloth away with you.

You should not take offence if one of the elderly patrons tries to befriend you.  Chatting between tables is perfectly usual in Greek restaurants, and if some house wine arrives at your table raise a glass in acknowledgment. It probably means you’ve been accepted and not acted in a too obviously foreign manner. Do not be put off by the difference in style between a Greek restaurant and what you are used to. After just a few days you will have mellowed enough to appreciate and enjoy it to the fullest.