Understanding the language of your chosen field is always important, so here you’ll find vocabulary relating specifically to hospitality as an industry and as an idea.

Always remember that hospitality at its heart is the welcome you afford to a guest, not just a business – even if it IS your business. Perhaps more so in that case, because you rely so much on the guest’s perceptions, returns and referrals.

Some of the language you’ll find here is familiar, especially given the international nature of hospitality, hotels, restaurants, cafes, etc. But culture helps define both words and their interpretation, so be curious and welcome the odd surprise…

Introducing the language of hospitality.

image by InternationalEyes and copyright

This section is organised by theme, from places where hospitality is experienced to the food and drink we consume and the way quality is received, perceived and communicated. But first a word or two about the concept of hospitality and its importance to Spanish life and culture.

As Spain is composed of 17 autonomous regions, each with its own history and character, it’s difficult and perhaps inappropriate to say what it means to be Spanish. The book ‘Speak the Culture: Spain’ published by Thorogood (2008) suggests that Spaniards “love to talk, and will happily do so with strangers“, and my own experience very much supports this view, as it does when the book goes on to say: “Gregarious and sociable, the Spanish are at their happiest in groups, from family to friends and the mass gatherings of the fiesta.” They are indeed a wonderful, warm and welcoming people, and once welcomed into their circle you’ll find their hospitality is both genuine and generous.

Hotels and other Accommodation

This section includes language relating to different forms of accommodation, but also some of the more technical terms you might come across. Spain has a wide range of types of accommodation including the following:

Hoteles (hotels) and Paradores. Hotels are officially regulated and classified by the regional authorities, while a parador is a top quality, usually historic state-run hotel. Prices for both vary considerably, despite the high standard of 4 and 5 star hotels and paradors.

Pensiónes are small family-run establishments with fairly simple accommodation, often over a bar or cafe where you can take breakfast. Fondas are small rural inns, again with basic rooms.

Hostales and Albergues – these small hotels or hostels are often family run and inexpensive, and you’ll find hostales and albergues on the many pilgrimage routes of the Camino de Santiago.

Casas rurales (country houses) are often houses with character attached to vineyards or working farms, and which provide bed and breakfast accommodation, sometimes with other meals.

Monasterios and conventos often provide accommodation for travellers in historic buildings but with basic rooms and provisions, Like hostels and albergues they are found in particular along walking routes.

Pisos and apartamentos are flats or apartments available for self-catering rental.

Un camping is a campsite , regulated and inspected by the authorities and ranging in quality up top luxury sites with high standards of provision. Smaller sites are geared towards pitching tents, whereas the larger ones tend to be for caravans and recreational vehicles.

Within hotel accommodation you can expect to find la recepción (reception), una habitación (room) – either doble / matrimonio (double) or individual (single), con ducho (with shower) or con baño (with bath). The bathroom is el cuarto de baño, while the bed is la cama (double being matrimonia).

Departments (los departamentos) within a hotel include Dirección (management of) de.. Personal / Recursos Humanos (personnel / HR); Contabilidad (Accounts); Cuartos (Rooms) or Operaciones (operations, including front desk – recepción, concierge – conserjería, housekeeping – ama de llaves); Alimentos y Bebidas (Food and Beverage) ; Animación Hotelera (Banqueting / Events) ; Mantenimiento or Ingeniería (Maintenance/Engineering).

Other operational areas and functions include la cocina (kitchen), restaurantes, economato or almacén (purchasing and stores), and perhaps la piscina (pool), el gimnasio (gym), etc.

Restaurants and eating places

As important as eating, and eating together in particular, is in Spain, it should come as no surprise that the country offers a broad array of specialist ‘eateries’. El restaurante is certainly a common sight, serving a range of international cuisine and/or more local offerings. Most independent restaurants offer a set menu or menú del día at lunchtime, but not in the evening. For budget dining un comedor (dining room / canteen) also offers menú del día (or menú de la casa) including three courses, bread and wine for a good price. Una cafetería is more like the English cafeteria (focused on eating quick simple food) than what we would see as a cafe or coffee shop where the main product is the coffee. For a cake or pastry, head for a pastelería.

Marisquerías are seafood specialist restaurants, while a tapería is a specialist tapas restaurant. Cervecerías and sidrerías are bars usually serving tapas along with the beer or cider they specialise in (see bars section). Tapas are served in tascas or tabernas too – taverns, often ‘off the beaten track’ and sometimes serving the tapa free with your drinks.

Inside the restaurant you need to know the basic vocabulary of table una mesa, chair (una silla), printed menu (la carta) and set menu (el menú). Cutlery (los cubiertos) consists of a knife (un cuchillo), fork (un tenedor) and spoon (una cuchara). A teaspoon is una cucharilla.

In the kitchen, una cuchilla is a large knife and un cucharón is a ladle. So plenty of room for confusion. Una cucaracha is a cockroach, so probably best not to ask for one! A saucepan is una cacerola, and a frying pan una sartén (note this is a feminine noun). Una cazuela is usually an earthenware cooking pot for use in the oven like a casserole dish in the UK. The oven is el horno, and a stove is una cocina (used for cooking, not heating a room).

Useful verbs include the various verbs for cooking: to cook in general, cocinar or cocer; to cook something, guisar; to cook a meal preparar. To bake (something) is again cocer ; to roast is asar ; to fry is freír (see irregular verbs) poach, escalfar ; to steam (food), cocer al vapor. To stir (a drink or food, whilst cooking, is remover. To serve up food or to serve a customer is servir and to order/request a dish is pedir. The bill is la cuenta, which is straightforward to ask for ( ¿dame la cuenta por favor )but may take some time to arrive.

Events and experiences

The words eventos and experiencias are often used interchangeably for events, but each event has its own term. For those associated with meetings, go to that section of this website, but special events in Spain include such things as fairs (ferias) religious (festividades or fiestas) and cultural festivals (festivales). Fiesta also refers to a party or other celebration like a gala event. Un carnaval is a carnival, such as the spectacular carnaval held in Tenerife each year.

Around Easter, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is celebrated across Spain, but throughout the year there are local celebrations associated with certain saints e.g. Santiago in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, San Fermin in Pamplona with its famous bull run, La Feria del Caballo a horse festival in Jerez, and the tomato festival La Tomatina in Buñol. Moros y Cristianos celebrations also take place in various locations, commemorating La Reconquista when Spain was recovered from Moorish occupation. Fireworks are fuegos artificiales, often playing a part at festival time.

Exhibitions are exposiciónes, sometimes associated with conferencias (conferences) and business fairs (ferias). Feria is also used for a circus. Entertainment (diversión) can be had at cinema (el cine), theatre (un teatro). Theatrical entertainment may be referred to as un espectáculo or may simply be una obra de teatro or obra teatral. A concert is un concierto, while the more informal word ‘gig’ is una actuación.

Bars, drinks and social spaces

A bar, conveniently is un bar, while the bar (or counter) where you’re served is la barra. This does, however rather over-simplify the matter. In reality many bars are an informal restaurant and meeting place more than having a focus on drinking alcohol (el alcohol). They generally open early, perhaps 0700, for breakfast (el desayuno) and stay open to midnight with perhaps a break in late afternoon/early evening between lunch (el almuerzo) and dinner (la cena). Many serve tapas (see food below).

Una taberna or una tasca is a traditional bar usually in an older building and generally only open in the evening for more traditional food and drinks. Cervecerías focus on beer (la cerveza) and sidrerías on cider (la sidra), while un bar de copas is a cocktail bar with late opening and no food.

Different regions have their own specialities as regards drinks (las bebidas) and it’s way beyond the available space here to list everything, but a flavour includes some more and some less well-known drinks.

Cerveza – drunk across Spain, including many well-known brands, although you may be surprised at where they’re produced even with a Spanish name. A personal favourite of mine is Estrella de Galicia – one of a number of variations on the Estrella brand. Draught beer, often cheaper, will generally come in una caña (a small glass) or una jarra (a half litre glass), while bottles (una botella) are common for the more recognisable brands.

Coffee (café) in its various forms from café solo (black espresso) to cortado (with a drop of milk), and café con leche with hot milk, to local varieties such as Tenerife’s barraquito coming in layers with frothed and condensed milk and a shot of the local liqueur Licor 43 to warm the soul.

Sidra – widely produced and consumed in Northern Spain, with the Basque Country and Asturias perhaps best known.

Wine – el vino is available as (often very good taste and value) house wine vino de la casa served in a carafe or an open bottle. This is available as part of the menú del día , and generally worth trying. Of course Spanish wines from its different regions have their own qualities and characters, with some 40 regions having quality protection of Denominación de Origen. Look out for crianza, reserva, and gran reserva on labels or wine lists (la carta de vinos) as the increasing grades of wine, depending on method and time of ageing.

Food and gastronomy

Spanish food, like that of many other countries, is strongly influenced by its history, including more than 500 years of Arab occupation, its geography and its climate. The north of the country is considerably greener than the South, and this is reflected in its culinary specialities. For example the coastline of Galicia is well known for its seafood and its wines of the Rias Bajas, while Murcia is famous for its vegetables and citrus fruits and its tapas.

“Eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity of communities throughout the Mediterranean basin” according to UNESCO , and the culinary skills, the rituals and traditions to be found across Spain are included in the intangible cultural heritage of the Mediterranean diet recognised by UNESCO’s World Heritage programme.

As I’ve said above, the three meals are el desayuno (breakfast), usually a simple affair of coffee and something sweet, el almuerzo (lunch), the usual main meal of the day usually between 2 and 4pm, and la cena (dinner), the latest meal of the day starting no earlier than 8pm and usually after 9.30. Although habits are changing in the cities, these traditions are still largely true. I must admit I do like a country that has a verb for every meal: desayunar, almorzar and cenar, respectively. The general verb ‘to eat’ is comer , and this often refers to eating lunch too.

Again, the breadth of ‘food’ vocabulary is huge, but some key words to know include:

The courses (platos) of a meal are the starter entrante, the first (primero) and main (segundo) course, with usually a limited selection of postres (desserts). Meat dishes are carne, fish is pescado, seafood are mariscos. Las verduras are the vegetables, which in some regions are few and far between, and frutas are fruits. Especialidades are worth exploring, as the house specialities, and side dishes are entremés.

Meats you’ll regularly encounter include chorizo (the familiar spicy sausage), cerdo (pork), cordero (lamb), pollo (chicken) and ternera (beef or veal). Various types of ham are available – jamón iberico, jamón serrano (cured), and jamón York, the cheaper sandwich ham. Rabbit is conejo and duck is pato. Potentially confusing is the fact that turkey is pavo, so it’s important to check every letter!

Vegetables you’ll regularly find include ajo (garlic), espinacas (spinach), judias verdes (green beans) lechuga (lettuce), pepino (cucumber), patatas (potatoes) and pimientos (red or green peppers). Artichokes are alcachofas, the al betraying their introduction from Arab nations, asparagus is espárragos, cebollas are onions, and champiñones mushrooms.

Fruits in Spain are frequently superb, and the fruit and vegetable market is a pleasure to visit. In particular, you’ll find local lemons and limes (limones y limas), oranges (naranjas), apricots (albaricoques – another Arab introduction), melocotones (peaches) and nectarinas (nectarines).

Tapas to expect include albondigas en salsa (meatballs in sauce), tortilla española (Spanish omelette with potatoes), patatas bravas (literally ferocious potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce), pimientos de Padrón, small and small and delicious salted green peppers fried over a high heat, ensalada russa (Russian salad with mayonnaise, peas and other vegetables, anchovies) and morcilla – blood sausage, sometimes served con huevos (with eggs).

What you’ve read here only scratches the surface of a country where hospitality is genuine, where you can find either regional or international food, but always culinary surprises in the most humble of locations. I urge you to try out the regional dishes, as well as variations on well-known themes such as paella. Find out what’s local and where the locals eat. Use your new-found language knowledge and skills to discover true Spanish food, drink and hospitality.

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