All you need to know about opening a restaurant in Spain

When we are on holiday and travel to a new country, we are usually very open-minded and welcome everything new because we are curious and want to experience the local customs and taste of local delicacies.

Certainly, when it comes to opening a business, and especially a restaurant business many of us trust that our customs that we are used to at home are a fool-proof business idea. Well, there might be hundreds of good ideas to import to a foreign situation, but you should consider a few aspects before making them the main focus of your venture.

The most important aspects to take into consideration before moving forward with your ideas are the geographic features, the touristic infrastructure, sport & leisure offer as well as the existing offer & local mentality

Let’s put Spain under the microscope as an example.  Sunny Spain is still one of the biggest magnets for people worldwide looking for a business opportunity in a pleasant climate. Many people can’t appreciate the diversity of places available in this one European country.  Let me take you on a guided tour so you can consider the rich offer of geographical options for your business venture.

Let me just insert here a little disclaimer: while you read this article you´ll find some affiliate links to, in this post covered topics. They will open in a new tab so that you can continue reading.

Geographic features

Let’s look at the geographic aspects of Spain and the landscapes we find,  given that we are talking about a country with a large landmass with very different climatic zones.

But as well two major archipelagos in two very different areas. One in the Mediterranean Sea and the other in the Atlantic Ocean.

Let’s start in the North!

There is the Pyrenee region, which separates the Iberian Peninsula from France and the rest of Europe. This region is rich in mountaineering and skiing opportunities.

Baqueira and Formigal are probably the most famous spots. But Andorra is also well known.

The famous “Camino de Santiago” will bring you in part through this area when you start from France to Santiago de Compostela.

Other significant places like San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, Oviedo, and La Coruña are on the road before you get to the city of the Saint.

From The Pais Basco and Cantabria over to Galicia, all the coast until the border with Portugal is well known for its spectacular green landscapes but as well for the friendly people and the food.

The high season on this northern coast is, of course, the summer period when people escape from the unbelievably high temperatures inland.

This area offers cool temperatures, amazing landscapes and historic towns and sights to visit, but as well many rainy days to take into account all year round.

The opposite of this scenario is all the coastline that goes from Barcelona south towards the southern border with Portugal, close to the city of Huelva.

The Costa Brava to the Costa Dorada and again the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol until the Costa de la Luz. All along the Mediterranean Coast we find the most famous touristic areas where thousands of tourists spend their holidays every year.

Barcelona is the biggest magnet in the North, and is well connected to all the rest of Europe. The port is one of the busiest in the Mediterranean Sea and connected directly to the Balearic Islands as well as other destinations like Italy or Morocco.

Moving south we find the cities of Valencia and Alicante, Almeria and Malaga.

Andalucia is probably the part of the Iberian Peninsula which offers the most amazing places to visit. Just the name itself awakes wonder and exotic images people dream of visiting.

Granada, Ronda, Cordoba, Seville, Jerez, and Cadiz are the cities on the list of every seasoned traveler.

The area around Malaga on The Costa del Sol probably offers more business opportunities than any other. Marbella, and the “Pueblos Blancos” alone drive a healthy tourism market.

But there is a unique place which all studied in school and you can’t miss it in this area.

I am talking about the Rock of Gibraltar!

I guarantee you, gazing across the Strait of Gibraltar, to the African continent, just a few miles away is breathtaking every time. ON a clear day you can almost reach out and touch it.

Tarifa, where our own business Cafe Azul is based, is just around the corner.  From here, the fast ferry brings you to Tanger in Morocco in just 35 minutes.

From Tarifa, over to Portugal, the beaches are unbelievably beautiful and endless. The sand is of the finest you can find and thanks to its light color you can walk barefoot even when the summer is high up in the sky.

Now between you and Portugal, there is Doñana National Park with over 100.000 hectares of a natural reserve. A real Eden for birdwatchers.

So the only way to get there is to drive from Cadiz toward Seville and Huelva.

While the weather on the Mediterranean coast until the Costa del Sol is mostly stable during the summer, offering warm temperatures and a gentle sea breeze, on the last and most savage coast, things are very different.

Here even in the middle of the summer, if the wind blows from the sea, temperatures can be quite fresh, and the wind is the real king. Levante rules life if it blows from the east and Poniente from the west.

(That´s me on the playa de los lances in Tarifa… LOL)

It quite a contrast from the reality in Seville and Cordoba, where the ground bakes under 40+ degrees summer heat.

Is your head spinning with the possibilities?  Where should you choose? Have you already a place on the top of your head where to start your business?

Well, Spain still offers much more

There are highways such as the “Ruta de la Plata”, which bring you south to north through the deepest interior, driving through the region of Extremadura and cute little, medieval villages like Caceres, Trujillo and then the university city of Salamanca.

Madrid, the capital is not far away and right in the center of the peninsula and well connected to all the rest of Spain not only by plane and highway but as well with a very good high-speed railway.

Valencia, for example, is only a couple of hours away, and from here, you get by ferry to the closest archipelago.

The Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera are one of the most prominent destinations for tourists not only from Europe but from all over the globe.

Each island offers a unique experience and has developed a unique selling proposition.

But I will come back in a separate post to tell you about each one of all these places.

So now to get to know the other, more significant archipelago we must leave the Mediterranean Sea and move through the Strait of Gibraltar to the Atlantic Ocean and then about one thousand miles towards the south.

There, right in front of the African coast we find the Canarian Islands with its seven major island Islands.

Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, and a few smaller islands and islets are the biggest tourist destination in the Atlantic Ocean.

Especially in the winter, when all over Europe the temperatures fall, thousands of tourists come to the archipelago seeking sun and an escape from the cold winter.

Again, I will come back with a separate post in order to describe in detail this area.

But you get the idea, right?

Spain is a massive destination with very different climatic areas and offering very different landscapes and sights to satisfy every desire.

When you think about opening your restaurant or any other type of hospitality business in Spain, you’ve got to decide first the main area where to start your research, taking into account your own strengths and weaknesses.  Even within the same country, not every landscape is going to be a good match for your business idea.

Touristic infrastructure

The next important point to consider is certainly the local tourist industry and existing infrastructure.

Indeed over the last decades, all areas and even each island have developed a certain type of tourism catering to a particular customer.

Not only regarding the nationalities but taking into account weather sports, activities, local food and so on.

So when it comes to selecting a specific area where to start your business, consider that many places have a particular type of tourist but a specific offer too.

If you choose one of the many cultural magnets like Madrid, Barcelona, Granada, Sevilla and so on, you will have a representation of all types of tourists.

People come to Spain from all over the globe to visit these places, and the range includes all ages, economic levels, and interests.

The infrastructure you will find in Spain is one of the best worldwide. Well connected through high-speed rail-way, good quality and in most cases free highways bring you from one to the next city, and of course, many international airports serve the Peninsula and the islands.

Ship and ferry connections are also well established.

Spain is well prepared to receive guests of every type of budget and offers an intensive range of hospitality infrastructure.

Sights and museums are well presented, and the pricing is really affordable for everyone. Through the internet, you get early booking access to everything.

Industry, universities, government, sports, conferences, all these also add to the massive number of international guests in Spain.

Any of these many villages, small towns, big cities or isolated corners could be the right spot for you. It all depends on what kind of place and what type of client you are looking for.

Along the Mediterranean coast, for example, there are places where you find mostly British citizens and other areas where the majority are German.

But as well Sweden, Holland, France and many other countries have their own representatives in locations where people from the same country have found a new home or come together to spend their holidays…

From the Costa Brava in Catalonia down to the Costa del Sol in Andalusia, you will find perfect tourist-infrastructure, including all the big hotel chains which collaborate with the big tour operators.

These depend on good flight connections and, in most cases, must keep their airport transfer time below 45 minutes.

So it is clear that the big companies and the airliners are the ones who decide what areas will be the busiest. In extreme cases, they stop flying to a certain airport because of low profitability and as a consequence nearby hotels must adapt and reinvent themselves. In the worst cases, local businesses are forced to close and sell the properties.

Of course, this is not the norm, but recent cases like the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook should remind us of the risks associated with a business dominated by these big enterprises.

But coming back to the Spanish destinations, other areas like the Costa de la Luz in the south and other small areas are more independent and have developed their own strategies.

The main reason that countries like Spain, but also Italy and Greece, maintain expensive low-profit inland-airlines is precise to guarantee a connection to the many smaller and isolated locations, especially the islands, without depending on foreign, profit-oriented companies.

Certain activities, especially watersports, have created specific destinations for fans and athletes, for example, wind and kite-surf in Tarifa, Andalusia or Fuerteventura in the Canarian archipelago.

But don’t forget about San Sebastian in the north, home of the famous “playa de la concha” where surfers find the perfect wave all year long.

The Balearic islands are famous for offering all types of services.

Palma de Mallorca is reachable via plane and ferry from all major European airports and all major ports in the Mediterranean sea.

The island offers one of the biggest yacht-harbors in the Mediterranean Sea and the major cruise liners stop here. Most of the island is in “German” hands but British tourism is in second place.

The international jet set is well represented on all the archipelago and catches a ferry from Palma on Mallorca over to the “party-island” Ibiza or Formentera where the VIPs have created a piece of heaven for themselves.

Menorca is the island that has preserved most of its original status and is reached each year by people looking for something more tranquil with less party nouveau.

The Canary Islands offer everything imaginable. From the desertic Fuerteventura Island with miles long, white sand beaches and spot for windsurfers from all over the globe over to Lanzarote which is, thanks to the famous architect Cesar Manrique, a museum under the sky and volcanic natural park all in one.

Then we have Gran Canaria, famous for its sand dunes and Tenerife with the biggest mountain within the Spanish territory, El Teide. These two islands are the most visited in the archipelago and reached by the big cruise companies too.

Several smaller islands offer the perfect alternative to the mass destinations.

The main factor that has contributed to the development of this group of islands is, without a doubt, the stability of guaranteed good weather and attractive winter temperatures.

The only negative factor here is the fact that even from Madrid a flight is almost 3 hours.

Sport & Leisure

These are the next factors that you have to consider when you are selecting the right place for you.

Despite your passions, which you will consider too, there is a reality to each destination.

The simple truth is that you can’t have it all.

If a client decides to holiday in Tarifa for example, he might have the most beautiful beaches and the perfect conditions for wind or kite surfing as well as many other activities.

But if he wants to attend a cultural event or visit a museum on a rainy day he will be forced to move to the bigger cities like Malaga, Cadiz or Seville.

Other places have their own geographic realities.

If you are starting from scratch you should take it into consideration because there are locations that can offer both, lovely beaches, and cultural opportunities.

But you’ve got to check it, and once you have a clear understanding, you can make an informed decision and take action.

Having a restaurant in Seville, Madrid or Bilbao is very different from having it on the Costa de Luz or Fuerteventura. And even in these destinations, there can be a big difference from one specific location to another.

The Canarian archipelago, for example, is famous for having very different climatic zones within the same island. And of course, this is affecting not only the landscape but the seaside and thus the types of sports which you can practice there.

Another example could be here where I live. From Tarifa on the Costa de la Luz to Marbella on the Costa del Sol it’s less than an hour by car but the climatic difference is immense, both summer and winter.

The Costa del Sol is known for its all-year-round mild weather, while the Costa de la Luz is totally exposed to maritime wind and weather. Strong Levante wind can determine the outcome of a season.

Nobody wants to spend their holiday at 40/50 knots wind. And if it isn’t the Levante, well, it is the Poniente with fresh breeze even in the middle of the summer.

But these weather conditions select the type of tourist that enjoys a place.

Do your research by internet first, then in person, for every single place that falls into your main search area.  Explore every detail that could affect the pros and cons of your future business.

Google is a great instrument to get a first impression.

Remember that I am not writing a travel guide here but a script that supposedly should awaken your ideas and make you think about details to take into account.

The client you will have at your restaurant will be a reflection of what the destination offers him because he made a conscious choice when he booked the hotel for his holidays.

And based on what a specific area offers, you can design a sort of avatar and have an understanding of what to provide and what not.

Like in all types of business as well in the hospitality industry, the demand determines the offer and the more you know about your future and potential clients, the more you can plan.

Again, you are planning to start from zero, so consider all types of details when choosing your right spot.

What could be better than having some common passion with your future clients?

Do you hate golf? Then don’t buy a business on the golf course! You get my point?

Local mentality & existing offer

The next point I would like to touch on is something that is often underestimated, but that you realize later on once you live in the new place and run your business.

I am talking about the local mentality.

Now, this can affect your business in different ways.

When we are on holiday, normally our intention is to interact with local people because we are curious. We want to visit the local market and try as many different restaurants as possible.

We take photos of children and people dealing with daily issues, buying at the market, walking through the streets, picking up their kids from school, but we even like to get closer and so sometimes we try to get a quick look into their houses and understand how they live and decorate their homes.

All this makes us have an adventurous experience and we usually come away with lovely memories.

Now, things are slightly different when you go to a place, especially in a foreign country in order to establish a business.

You are totally new to the folks there and their way of living. You are probably seen as a good client to the local estate agency, which could make some money with you. They probably will sell you a business, and perhaps a home too.

But for existing businesses, you are a new competition and they will see you as a danger more than a benefit.

On one hand, you have existing business owners from whom you might rob clients (willing or not!), on the other hand, there are normal local people living there and who could become clients of your restaurant in the future.

These local people, but also the typical tourists of your area, will have customs and tastes different from yours or from the ones you think to offer at your business.

My advice to you, and don’t get me wrong, is to think very carefully about offering new ideas, especially when you’re in isolated places.

If your idea is not welcome by the locals, you can only count on tourists and hope they accept your offer.

The more isolated the place is, the more you need the confidence of the locals. And this is a process of time, nothing else.

So give yourself time!

Let me give you an example, which is a reality here in southern Spain.

When we go to a restaurant with friends, I mean to a Spanish one, after dinner, we usually enjoy a coffee and a drink. So what often happens is that the waiter or the owner himself comes with the bottle and pours the liquor at the table to each of his guests.  He will continue to pour until you tell him to stop.

Then he leaves the bottle on the table. If you want more, you just take it!

Now if you come from whatever other places you are probably used to prepared drinks at the bar with a dispenser and this must seem very strange.

Can you see what I am trying to tell you?

If you have been to Venice, in Italy, you have no doubt tried a “Tramezzino”. They are sandwiches prepared with a special white bread and an infinite combination of ingredients.

Tramezzini are simply the rule there. Everyone eats them. They are part of the culture and fabric of gastronomic customs. I have lots of friends that were convinced that people in other places must love them too.

Well, my friends were in most cases wrong. And not just with Tramezzini.

I mean an excellent pizza sells everywhere, but it doesn’t mean that people will forget about their own customs.

And since we are talking about Spain, consider that tradition here is not just a word. It is the rule of law.

Spanish people are much more traditional than in the more northern counties. Spain has very old, well-founded traditions from the processions during Semana Santa to more local festivities like the Tomatina in Pamplona.

This is the same with food and drinks. Remember that the Spanish Chefs have dictated the rules of “cooking art” for two decades. They take their cuisine seriously and aren’t open to changes and novelties.

So my advice is that you have a deeper look at what people from your selected area are used to.

Find out and understand what they will never ever change and you will know from which side you can “attack” and come with your idea, your offer.

The best way to understand what the right products to offer are is by examining the existing offer.

Wherever you decide to start your business there will already be someone leading the local market.

Who are they?

What are they offering?

What is the pricing?

What does the decoration look like?

Discover as much as you can about your future competition and try to understand what you can do better or differently.

What is it that will make the difference between them and you?

This is not rocket science. This is a matter of spending some time studying your market and understanding your future clients.

Start as informed as possible and you will have the advantage over others who just guess.

Related Arguments:

Opening a Bar in Spain

To open a Bar as well as a Restaurant Business in Spain, the easiest way is to take over in form of a “Traspaso” (Licence-Transfer) an existing business. The asking price will depend on turnover and position. However, my personal advice is to check the numbers and all licences twice. You need professional advice in order to avoid bad surprises.

Business Licences in Spain

In order to get a Restaurant Business licence you can usually take over the existing one in the case you buy the business in the form of a Traspaso. The local technical office of the city council will inform you on how to proceed. Depending on the previous type of business you could be forced to make changes to the premises in order to adapt to the existing law. Professional advice is in most cases required.

Business Partnership in Spain

The best way to start a Restaurant Business Partnership in Spain is to contact a local lawyer or accountant in order to found a company in the form of a Spanish S.L. (Sociedad Limitada). This is very transparent and easy to do. Within ten days you should be operating. If you are supported by a professional adviser you can as well consider buying an existing S.L. You will need to sign in the Notary and done. Once you own the S.L. your partner can jump into the venture even further down.

Marco Palatini

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