The Greek Taverna Survival Guide
Find all you need to know about tavernas in Greece: some unwritten rules and tips dedicated to Greek taverna beginners!
The taverna is a very important social setting in Greece
Going with friends to a taverna is very important to Greeks. Tavernas are typically run by families, who welcome customers as if they were guests in their own homes.
Greeks love to go out for dinner with their friends. A typical dinner in Greece involves several people sitting around a table, eating and drinking for MANY hours. They will talk about everything and nothing, and the evening will sometimes finish with singing and some dancing, depending on the alcohol consumption.
He knows what he is doing....
Prepare mentally and physically to eat a lot
When you go to a Greek taverna you are expected to eat to your heart's content. Greeks will take it as a personal insult if you don't. Don't say things like "It is too much", "We only ate half of everything" or "I couldn't finish my dessert."
Sorry, but you can't just go out and eat part of your meal in Greece. You have to be prepared for a feast or you'll feel out of place at best and insulted at worst.
Just keep eating... and drinking...
Expect dinner after 10 pm and lunch about 2:00
Meals are late. And they last for hours (can be up to 5 hours).
Many Greeks eat dinner after 10 pm and some don't go to bed until after 2 am. Lunch is usually served around 2 pm. Many Greeks eat a snack at 11am. This is usually a piece of cheese pie or spinach pie (tyropita or spanakopita) you can get from every bakery.
This place will be full of life after 10pm
Arrive 15 minutes late
Don't be on time to the minute when you are invited, show up 15-20 minutes later.
It is possible that you will be the first even then. If that’s the case: you can order a drink right away, but wait for everybody to arrive before ordering food.
Do not order for yourself
If you are a foreigner in a Greek taverna with a Greek company, don't order for yourself.
Greeks generally order for all together, especially salads, dressings and starters. The majority rules about what to get on the table, so that there is enough variety for all and everyone is satisfied.
The reason is simple: Greeks want to taste as many things as they can while they are at a restaurant. That's why they order lots of different appetizers and salads.
They order so many appetizers (or "Meze") that a main dish often is not necessary.
But, if you really want to get something for yourself, try not to impose your choice on others and keep your preferences for the main dish, if the group decides that they all will get a main dish.
Geia mas or geia sou is cheers! It is actually a wish for good health
There could be no menu to read
When you sit down, don't expect a menu.
If there is no menu, which is often the case in Greece, ask for the waiter. He will tell you what's on offer and then usually suggest a few of his favorites. When he returns with the food, he'll ask if it's right. At this point, you can say "yes" or "more," but don't expect him to make new suggestions. He thinks you remember the whole menu since he already told you about it.
If there is a menu posted on the wall, make sure to ask for it. It might take some time before you have one in your hands (the service can be slow at times), but once someone realizes that you need one, they'll get it for you eventually!
Greeks share their food
The food is served randomly on the table. It is never served on individual plates unless you have ordered a main dish or fish. Salads and starters are shared by everyone and are commonly not eaten from individual plates.
That has partially changed during the pandemic, and of course you can put some of everything on the table on your personal plate.
Are you a vegetarian?
When you are in Greece and do not eat meat, you will have to explain what a vegetarian is at almost every meal.
Vegetarianism is not so common, especially in older generations. Possibly you will be asked all about vegetarianism and they will try to understand if something is wrong with you.
Everyone is happy in a Greek taverna
But don't worry: In tavernas, there are many dishes without meat or fish. Dishes like Greek salad, French fries, fried zucchini and the famous "ladera" (vegetables-in-oil-dishes) can be ordered without any problems. Also many of Greek "meze" dishes are very good for vegetarians, but ask first whether your selected food contains meat.
Get ready for endless discussions
Greeks will discuss any topic in a Greek taverna setting, from religion and politics to news, aliens, kids and every-day life. Greeks love sharing their opinions with others and also love to listen to what other people have to say. It is the core of their social identity.
If you happen to be at a Greek taverna with a group of Greeks and you are asked "What do you think?" you should respond that you agree with what someone else said - even if you don't - if you want the easy way out of the discussion. But if you are interested in some topic of the following discussions, don't hesitate to express your opinion freely and with passion!
You should also be prepared for direct very personal questions such as "Are you married?", "Do you like Trump?", "How much do you earn?", "Are you gay?", "Are you an atheist?"
Do not shy away from such questions. It can be uncomfortable, but it is the Greek way to get to know you better as fast as possible. So smile and answer whatever you like - and ask in your turn a direct question!
In some cases, especially, if alcohol is involved, a dispute between two or more people on an issue can escalate into loud and heated arguing. Don't worry, it ends up in laughter anyway!
NEVER ask: „How much was my salad?“!
Greeks generally split the bill: It is usually divided equally between the participants in a group.
The waiter will bring the bill to your table and leave it there, unlike in western countries where it is often brought at the end of the meal. It's also common for your change to be brought back on a plate.
So, if you want to pay a tip, just leave it on the table when you are ready to go. Also remember not to tip the owner of the taverna if he happens to serve (it is considered an insult by some) - tips are only for employees.
If you have eaten less than other people - perhaps just a salad and a drink, as opposed to several courses and wine - do not say "I pay for my salad and my beer.“ We mean it - NEVER SAY something like that.
And one more thing: In case that one person insists that he pays for all, you have to insist on splitting; then he will insist back, then you will insist again, then he will strongly insist and in the end you will let him win by saying "Ok, thank you very much, next time I will pay". It sounds complicated, I know, but that's how things work.
Avoid the hangover
In case you decide to drink every round a Greek serves you in a taverna, headache could occur, followed by some "sick time" in the morning.
You can have a headache usually after drinking ouzo. Other drinks, like tsipouro or raki, could also cause you some problems. Also wine: Greeks love wine since 5th c. BC.
Remember it is a matter of quantity.
Anyway, alcohol combined with Greek heat especially during the summer could dehydrate you.
Always drink a lot of water in between ouzo shots and before going to bed. We warned you.
The Greek taverna is an experience
On the whole, however: don’t be surprised if you end up having the time of your life at the taverna.
You'll meet people, you'll learn something new and you'll eat good food. It will definitely be a highlight of your vacation and a reason to miss Greece.
How could you not be happy?
And a tip... Get the right cookbooks from Greece and make a Greek taverna dinner party when you are back home!