Long Spanish lunch falls victim to tightening belts

Tue Jul 17, 2012 7:46am EDT
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By Manuel María Ruiz

MADRID (Reuters) - Soaring unemployment, rising taxes and belt-tightening family budgets across Spain could finally spell the end of the traditional Spanish lunch and siesta.

The two-to-three-hour midday breaks with time built in for a snooze during the hottest part of the day were once the Spanish worker's universal way to beat the afternoon heat. But it is becoming a luxury for cash-strapped employees who are working longer hours and having to make do with less in the country's steepest downturn since the 1930s.

Many Spaniards still start work at around 9 a.m., and don't leave work until after 8 p.m., in part to allow for a long lunch, and restaurants cater for them with three-course set-price menus from 2 p.m.-5 p.m.

But restaurants are being forced to rethink their formats and pricing, as more workers opt for once frowned-upon sandwiches at their screens, or lunch brought from home.

"You save a little every month and that's really good for the family budget now the country's in crisis," said Margarita Pallas, who works in a small shop in Calle Mallorca in Barcelona.

The "siesta", the afternoon nap to cope with baking midday heat, has practically died out, but many office workers still take the time to eat a big meal together in groups and consider lunchtime snacks less healthy and anti-social.

A typical 10-euro ($12.24) set menu in the Spanish capital includes two savoury main courses, a beer or a glass or carafe of wine, dessert and a coffee - good value compared to lunch in many other European capitals.

The set meal was once the most popular format since lunch is traditionally the largest meal of the day, supplemented by an early light breakfast, a mid-morning snack, a mid afternoon tea and a late light supper.   Continued...

A man and a woman have lunch at a restaurant at the port of El Masnou, near Barcelona, May 16, 2008. REUTERS/ Albert Gea