Fact Check

Spaniards Don't Eat Dinner Until Midnight?

The dinner schedule in Spain often befuddles visitors from other countries.

Published April 26, 2024

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Spaniards customarily eat dinner at midnight.

While it is true that Spaniards eat dinner late, compared to people in other countries, it is not true that the meal often begins at midnight.

For years, viral social posts have expressed shock at the claim that Spaniards supposedly eat dinner at midnight (archived):

This claim was repeated on Reddit, as well as on X in 2013, 2018, and 2023. It is so pervasive it was even used in a scene from the television show "The Office" (Season 4, Episode 13).

While it is true that Spaniards eat dinner late, it is not true that the meal often begins at midnight. This idea may have been a conflation of the fact that the lunch and dinner schedule in Spain is several hours behind what is customary in other countries, and the fact that Spain has a tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight each new year, one for each of the 12 strokes of the clock bell, for good luck.

Spaniards eat lunch starting at 2:30 p.m., and dinner beginning at 9 p.m., more often 10 p.m. Dinner can extend past midnight (though it is not the cultural norm for it to start this late). Restaurants, for example, will frequently stay open until at least 1 a.m. Breakfast typically happens at the same time as it does in other countries. To keep themselves from feeling hungry, people in Spain usually eat a substantial mid-morning snack around 11:30 a.m., something that might include a classic "tortilla" — a thick potato omelet. Before dinner, people might have "tapas" — a variety of small dishes — around 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

The reason for this late schedule lies in history. According to La Vanguardia, one of Spain's national newspapers, this didn't usually happen before 1942, when the country's then-dictator Francisco Franco decided to align Spain's clock with that of the rest of continental Europe (CET, or Central European Time). At the time, Franco's most powerful ally, Adolf Hitler, controlled most of Europe, and the Spanish autocrat thought synchronizing his country with Germany would be another way to show his loyalty.

As one of Europe's westernmost countries, Spain should align with GMT — Greenwich Meridian Time — just like Portugal and the United Kingdom. GMT is one hour behind CET, so when it's 8 p.m. in Paris, Berlin and Rome, it is 7 p.m. in London and Lisbon. The Greenwich Meridian goes through the town of Castellón in eastern Spain, which places Madrid, geographically, in the GMT group. The choice to align with central Europe means Spaniards live one hour ahead of the sun, and this jet lag grows to two hours when the country changes to summer time each spring.

The late schedule has had consequences on the health of Spaniards.

First, it does not change the time they wake up. It also makes for long work mornings and afternoons, with very little time for activities, decompression, or connection with family, according to El Confidencial. This is especially burdensome for working women, who spend two hours more per day on household chores than their male counterparts, but spend similar hours in the office. Worst of all, it means that on average, Spaniards sleep far less than the recommended seven to nine hours, at 6.8 hours, according to a January 2023 article for COPE, Spain's second-most listened radio station.

As yet, however, politicians have not discussed realigning themselves with Spain's natural time zone. Perhaps loyalty to the heart of the European Union has superseded loyalty to Nazi Germany.


'La verdadera razón por la que en España se cena tan tarde'. La Vanguardia, 9 June 2017, https://www.lavanguardia.com/cribeo/estilo-de-vida/20170609/47417435194/la-verdadera-razon-por-la-que-en-espana-se-cena-tan-tarde.html.

Palacios, Ana. 'Más de la mitad de los españoles no duerme bien: solo 3 de cada 10 personas califican su sueño de excelente'. COPE, 20 Jan. 2023, https://www.cope.es/actualidad/sociedad/noticias/mas-mitad-los-espanoles-duerme-bien-solo-cada-personas-califican-sueno-excelente-20230120_2505072.

SINC. 'Por qué en España comemos a las tres y no a la una, como los demás europeos'. elconfidencial.com, 5 Jan. 2015, https://www.elconfidencial.com/alma-corazon-vida/2015-01-05/por-que-en-espana-comemos-a-las-tres_615856/.

'So This Is Why Everybody Was Eating 12 Grapes at Midnight on New Year's Eve'. Allrecipes, https://www.allrecipes.com/why-eat-12-grapes-at-midnight-on-new-years-eve-8421467. Accessed 22 Apr. 2024.

Anna Rascouët-Paz is based in Brooklyn, fluent in numerous languages and specializes in science and economic topics.

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