Once upon a time, half a decade ago, one of our main motives for moving to Spain was the cheaper lifestyle. We found the idea of cafe society and tapas for a few euros in the evening very appealing as was the novelty of eating freshly caught fish at a wobbly plastic table.
These were all simple pleasures that everyone coming from so called "rip off" Britain indulged in regularly. Well, those days are sadly behind us. Whereas before two couples could dine and drink out, maybe even feed some hungry children and still have plenty of change from a fifty euro note, one couple alone is lucky to get fed and watered for fifty euros in many of the chiringuitos along the coast.
When I get talking (moaning) to people, there is a general consensus that instead of decreasing prices and offering incentives to encourage custom, they are driving customers away. It may seem extreme to say that they are driving customers away but the truth is that they are putting customers off by practices such as inconsistent pricing, charging for things that haven't been ordered and generally not providing a level of service that inspires customers to return. In order to compensate for a downturn in profits many are passing on their losses on to those that do come through the door, fifty cents here and there soon adds up.
A takeaway cooked chicken used to be six euros and locally this can now be as much as nine euros, takeaway curries are a real indulgence here where you can pay as much as nine or ten euros for a minscule take away korma. These are all common gripes that are starting to niggle at people who are now holding back from getting a takeaway, preferring to throw a supermarket bought chicken in the oven or are getting together with friends at the weekend with a packet of sausages and some burgers to throw on the barbecue as a cheaper alternative to eating out.
Having said that, according to the local pollero, he is doing well despite his price hikes claiming that people who previously would have gone out to eat are buying a ready cooked chicken from him and preparing a salad at home to go with it. Simarlily, those who previously would have met friends for breakfast once or twice a week are settling for a mid morning coffee at the cheapest bars in town and nothing more.
Many British owned bars are switching on and realising that returning customers are the way to go.This is a far cry from the days when anyone looking to save a few a few cents would shy away from the British run places and opt for the cheaper Spanish options.Those days are gone as some friends of ours recently found out when they grabbed an impromptu tapas lunch at a local bar in the village. They were astounded when the bill came to sixty five euros for two couples and they were far from full. They argued that they could have gone to one of the British bars and all had a home made burger, chips and salad and the bill would have come in at little over thirty euros. But once bitten twice shy, they won't be going there again in a hurry and have told all their friends who will then tell their friends, all of us looking for good value in today's climate.
This summer will be the true test, coming from the UK and offer led chains such as Pizza Express etc, British tourists are hungry for big portions and competitive prices. They are going to be shocked to find it pricier than last year when eating at the chiringuitos and even more shocked to find shrunken portion sizes as we have experienced.
They may get caught out a couple of times with the elevated prices, pay them and think better of it in the morning, when they decide to buy a throw away bbq and eat in for the rest of the holiday, picnics on the beach and that kind of thing. It will be interesting to see which bars stick around those that went for cut price and volume or those who tried to quickly make the most of anyone who walked through the door.