November 17, 2017

The Truth About Customer Service in Spain

Spain has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to customer service. Foreigners who come to Spain, especially Americans used to a generally great level of customer service back home (due in part to our big tipping culture), often complain about what they experience here. It’s no secret–waiters in Spain aren’t the over-the-top friendly, bend-over-backwards-to-make-you-happy types. Instead, they’re brisk, no-nonsense and, depending on where you are in the country, even a bit slow and inefficient. Shop assistants can range from friendly and helpful to “can’t be bothered.” And those darn funcionarios? Well, they’re the worst of the worst.

customer service in Spain

Don’t set high expectations about customer service in Spain.

However, it is what it is, and truthfully, I’ve come a long way from my first run-in with Spanish customer service. Yes, I used to be one of those complaining types, and depending on whom I interact with, still can be. But, I do recognize that in order to get by in Spain, you have to lower your expectations a bit (okay, a lot) when it comes to customer service and you’ll be fine. Here’s everything you need to know to about customer service in Spain:

Don’t bring expectations from home

Here, in a country that generally doesn’t tip, or if they do, tip a small amount, you can’t expect bubbly service. Leave your expectations at the door, relax, and enjoy the experience for what it is. So what if your waiter doesn’t smile? You don’t have to tip the guy (or gal!). Focus instead on the delicious food you’re eating…mmm!

la cuenta

Make sure you ask for the bill!

Make sure you ask for la cuenta

You’ll be sitting all day if you don’t ask for the check. Here, you’re allowed as much time as you’d like at your table. You won’t be rushed out to make room for someone else.


A Spanish frutería.

Remember, they owe you nothing

Prepare to be at the mercy of the mood of whoever is attending you. There’s no hiding emotions here; if they’re having a bad day, you’ll know it. When I lived in Algeciras, there were several times I attempted to make a quick stop at the grocery store after work. They were closing in 20 minutes and wouldn’t let me enter the store. Not even to pick up some quick items like yogurt and cereal. Talk about frustrating!

The customer is always right wrong

If you have a complaint you’ll be met with a lot of resistance rather than a quick solution to ensure you come back with your business. I remember one time in Granada, a barman tried to charge me a guiri price (a.k.a. double) for a glass of wine. When I saw the bill and asked to see his price list (every establishment is required to have one by law) he denied having one. When I informed him that it’s against the law to not have one, his face turned white. He  then comped my glass entirely…and gave me a slice of tortilla for good measure. Ha!

Remember, there are always exceptions to the rules and you can find many businesses with excellent customer service all over Spain. As long as you adjust your frame of mind and prepare for the worst, you won’t be disappointed. Ok, well you still might be disappointed, but just chalk it up to a cultural experience!

What’s your best (or worst) story involving customer service in Spain?

Photo credits: Florian Plag, Silverman68, marcp_dmoz.

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