A pedestrian walks past the sign displaying the “menu of the day” outside a restaurant in Madrid on October 5, 2022 (AFP/THOMAS COEX)
Descended from a formula made compulsory during the Franco era, the “menú del día” (menu of the day) remains the essential lunch in Spain. But with inflation around 10%, restaurateurs are no longer able to maintain its low price and are looking for all the little savings.
Starter, main course, dessert or coffee (or both), drink and bread included: costing an average of 12.8 euros according to the latest figures from the Hospitality organization of Spain, which represents the hotel and catering sector, this menu is à la carte in almost all Spanish restaurants.
And its price is a strong argument in a country where people eat out a lot.
“Everyone chooses it,” says Sara Riballo, 30, seated under an umbrella in the heart of Madrid. “We eat out several times a week and we often take the menu of the day, it’s the best in terms of price, the fastest, quite varied,” confirms his colleague, Estefania Hervas.
On average, four million “menú del día” are served every day in this country of 47 million inhabitants, according to Hotellerie d’Espagne.
This must-have descends directly from the “tourist menu” imposed on all restaurants in the country on August 1, 1964 by Manuel Fraga, minister of the dictator Franco, in order to support nascent mass tourism on the Spanish coasts.
According to the official journal of the time, it had to contain “at least” a soup, a dish, a dessert, a quarter of wine and bread.
– Barometer –
Still built in the same way today, it has become a kind of barometer of the Spanish economy, explains Emilio Gallego, secretary general of Hotellerie d’Espagne. “It’s a very, very popular formula, served to millions of people every day and continually being studied in economics,” he says.
“Very concerned about the effects of inflation”, this professional organization questioned its members and found that between November 2021 and April 2022, three quarters of them had already increased the price of this menu, while the inflation was not yet at its peak of more than 10% reached this summer.
A pedestrian walks past a sign displaying the “menu of the day” outside a restaurant in Madrid on October 5, 2022 (AFP / THOMAS COEX)
And for good reason: during this same period, oil (+42.5% for olive oil and +96.3% for other oils), milk, bread, meat, eggs, pasta but also electricity for the rooms cold or gas for the stoves have seen their prices soar.
“Punished by the increase in the price of energy, raw materials”, the restaurateurs had no choice but to pass it on to this menu, continues Hôtellerie d’Espagne. With an increase often between 1 euro and 1.50 euro (+10% to 15%).
– “We are not going to hold out” –
At Café Gijon, a historic establishment in the center of Madrid, 250 daily menus at 15 euros are served daily.
But for José Manuel Escamilla, the manager, it will be inevitable to increase the price in the coming weeks. “The electricity is exploding, the credits are exploding. If this continues, we will not hold out,” he admits. The decision will be “difficult because it affects the customer, but without it the company cannot achieve its economic objective”.
Beyond the price of the menu, restaurateurs are looking for all the little savings to defend the margins of this menu.
Like this establishment in a chic district of Madrid which now only orders meat in blocks and whole fish and cuts them up or prepares them in the kitchen so that it costs less, confides an employee in charge of supplies.
Emilio Gallego thinks that restaurants will adapt by generalizing other “formats” such as “half-menus” or “single dishes” such as daily specials in France.
At the “Valgame Dios” restaurant in the center of Madrid, “instead of 3 or 4 starters, we now have 2”, explains for her part Laura Rubio, waitress who “waits to see what will happen” and if it will be necessary to resolve to increase the price of the menu which has remained the same for years.
Like other clients, Helio Mira, a 47-year-old screenwriter, has a good heart against bad luck. “It’s not just the daily menus, but the cost of living in general that is increasing. What can we do about it? We just have to hold on,” he says, in front of his daily menu. .