Some restaurants in Barcelona are turning away solo customers and choosing groups of tourists instead. The practice, which has become more common in recent months with the return of mass tourism, has altered the traditional practices of the city’s restaurant market and has left residents seething.
The number of terraces is skyrocketing as licenses increased by 62% between 2019 and 2022. This summer has confirmed a trend that began to take hold in Barcelona in the aftermath of the pandemic, and which is particularly annoying for residents who live in the city all year round. Certain spaces in the Catalan capital do not allow customers to take a seat on the terraces to have a drink or an aperitif, claiming that only meals are allowed.
At the first terrace where I found a table, a waiter quickly arrived and told me it was booked. It wasn’t.Eduald, solo diner in Barcelona
According to Spanish news outlet El Pais, the practice would be considered as normal by the locals if it took place at the usual lunch and dinner times (traditionally between 1:30 to 3.30 pm and 8:30 to 10:30 pm), but the limitations have been extended to the meal times of tourists. Reports on social media of terraces not accepting customers for a quick drink after 12:00 pm and 7:00 pm are on the rise.
A solo diner named Eduald told El Pais that he had to go back home with an empty stomach after being turned away from three restaurants on Calle Blai, one of the main tapas street in the Poble-sec district. According to him, there were plenty of free tables but he kept getting rejected. He just wanted to sit on the first terrace he could find because he wanted to read something while dining outdoors.
“At the first terrace where I found a table, a waiter quickly arrived and told me it was booked. It wasn’t,” he told El Pais. “As soon as I got up, a group of foreigners behind me sat down. The next time, they told me I would only have 20 minutes. I said I wanted to have dinner, but they insisted I had to do it within that time. So I got up, and on the third and last one they told me directly that the terrace was for groups only.”
According to The Independent, the Flanders café in Plaça Rovira i Trias, has introduced a ticket machine and arriving customers must first take a number and wait for a seat. This must be done only when all tables busy, however, and it’s not clear if solo diners are penalized.
El Pais asked the Barcelona City Council about the validity of these practices and the newspaper was referred to the Government of Catalonia and the Hoteliers Business Association, which did not respond to the publication’s request for contact.