Posted on by Peter Rettig

La cuenta, por favor - adding up and making change in Spain

GamesforLanguage checkDuring our stay in Spain we became cognizant of how identical the payment process in restaurants and cafes is in the four (4) regions (of 17) we have visited - Catalonia, Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha, and Madrid.

Getting your Check

Whether you are making the international sign for your wish to pay across  the room or on a terrace -pretending to write with one finger in the palm of your other hand - or whether you say “la cuenta, por favor” or "Me gustaría pagar": your waiter or waitress will go back to the register and produce a check, which she or he will present to you most likely on a plate, held by a clip. (And if you'd like to practice to call for the check in Spanish with "Me gustaría pagar", you can do so HERE)

Getting your Change

Unless you immediately put your euros onto the plate, the waiter will leave again, and return after a (short or long) while. S/he will then take the plate with the payment and return with the change. This is even true, if the waiter has to cross a street from an open air terrace, or if the register is located on another floor.

The reasons for this method may range from the taxing authorities’ precise requirements, to a distrust of the waiter’s ability/honesty to handle the payment on his or her own.

Swiss and German Ways

Recent trips to Germany and Switzerland made us aware of the differences: In Switzerland any order of a coffee or a meal in a restaurant is typically accompanied by a small register slip, which is placed in a little glass when the item ordered is brought to the table.

When the check is requested, the waiter just adds up the slips - sometimes in his/her head, sometimes on paper - then collects the (cash) payment and returns the change from a pouch he/she is carrying. (Visitors to Europe will also have noticed that any credit card payments are done at your table with a wireless gadget. Your credit card stays in sight!) 

In Germany you may encounter the same methods as in Switzerland, or the waiter may just add up your check right at your table, either from memory or by consulting the menu.

The typical way to call a waiter in German is simply: "Zahlen, bitte", or a little more polite: "Bitte, ich möchte zahlen." And, if you'd like to practice the German expression to pay, you can do it HERE

(It should be noted that the “Spanish process” - as we may call it - is also typical for cash payments in hotels or finer restaurants in Germany or Switzerland.)

What we are finding interesting here in Spain is the fact that the check/payment process has never varied - whether we were in a little sandwich shop on the road or in a hotel in the city.