North American travellers have often queried us about the late dinner times at our destinations. From Spain to Italy to France, it’s likely that you’ll sit down to dinner at 8pm (and occasionally even later). While the average European dinner time varies from country to country, it’s safe to say that dinner time is often later than the North American norm.
Some people have surmised that the late dinner time is ancestral, when in fact it’s a more recent development. Take Spain for example: the Spanish Civil war in the 1930s made for tough economic times for many families, and the men of the house often had to work two jobs. The first work shift would be from 6am-2pm, with the second shift or second job beginning at 3pm and lasting until 9pm. As a function of the double work shifts, lunch and dinner shifted to later in the day- and never returned to the pre-civil war dining times.
For Italians, later dinner allows for the observation of passeggiata, a slow stroll through the towns centre after work is done. Young and old townsfolk wander through the streets and visit with one another, exchanging stories and gossip of the day. They may also partake in aperitivo and nurse a Campari cocktail or glass of prosecco before returning home to make dinner.
Many French take lengthy lunches, sometimes a couple hours. With a long and luxurious lunch, an afternoon of work might not begin until 3pm. Returning home and starting dinner may not happen until 8pm or later.
When North American guests join us on bike tours, we remind them of the later dinner time. If needed, they can prepare themselves by grabbing a few extra snacks to hold over growling stomachs until dinner, or better yet, take a long lunch and nap during the afternoon. We like to travel and experience the culture like locals “in situ”, including dinner at the local time.