Things you Need to Know when Going to a Restaurant in Argentina
Dining out in Buenos Aires can be the longest thing you do on any given day. From beginning to end the meals can last up to 4 and a half hours. Anywhere between 3 and 4 hours is commonplace. Coming from North America where speed and constant service are expected and valued, the slower pace of the meals here have taken some getting used to but have been amazing.
Many people who visit Buenos Aires will comment about the slow service and how long it can take to get a check. It should be noted that the waiter is not neglecting you to fulfill some sadistic pleasure of his. Instead his apparent apathy is rather a form of respect for your space and conversation. If he was concerned about making the most money for the restaurant he would be shooing you out the door to make room for the next wave of diners. Instead you are encouraged to stay as long as you please without feeling like you’re overstaying your welcome.
This aloof mentality is different from other places in the world. For instance, in the U.S. a waiter will interrupt a great conversation to ensure that you are enjoying your meal, he may even have an extended conversation with the table. This is deemed “good service” and if a waiter does not interject at least 3 to 5 times they were negligent and will get a bad tip. It’s as if people need a guide to get through the meal and make sure that they are on track to finish in the allotted time. At the end of the meal in the U.S. the check will be given to the customers, they will pay it, and then they will get out of the restaurant. Bing, bang, boom to make room for the next wave.
Asking for the Check in Buenos Aires
In Buenos Aires you will never be given the check or even asked if you were ready for it. Here you will be seated, place your order, your food may or may not come out quickly, your waiter will make sure your drink isn’t empty, and then he will forget that you’re even there. If you don’t get someone’s attention chances are they would close up the restaurant and walk out the front door without even noticing that you were still sitting at your table. If you want your check you have to wave your hand like a madman, sign your name with an imaginary pen through the air, perform a secret handshake with your waiter and then he will think about bringing it. However, before you even ask for the check you should be deep in conversation for at least an hour and a half.
Sobremesa (post meal)
The post meal conversation here is so common and practically mandatory that it has a formal name. It is called sobremesa which literally translates to “over the table”. As long as the conversation is flowing all topics are free game. During this time you will probably drink a few more glasses of wine and maybe break down your entire political analysis and whether or not you like Cristina (the president). If you want you can take your wine glass outside and smoke a cigarette almost like an intermission from the sobremesa. To me this period is the best part of the dinner. You are relaxed from the food, you have a drink in front of you, and you can have long conversations without worrying about the time or what you have to do next. During your trip to Buenos Aires be prepared to have some long and loquacious dinners.
P.S. It’s probably a good idea to only go to dinner with people you like since you will be with them for a long time.
P.P.S. Even if you go to dinner with people you think you like, four hours at a table with them could prove otherwise…
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