Words from the Wardrobe

World Tapas Day and translation for restaurants



Last year, I made a video about the origin of tapas and the advantages translation has for restaurants.

To celebrate World Tapas Day, I will explain more about it in this blog post.

As an international tourist destination, Spain has the false belief that since we don’t need to attract tourists (they already know what they’re getting: sun, sea and scrummy food), we don’t need to look after them either.

Nothing further from the truth.

Take care of your menu

Luckily, many restaurants have realised that attracting higher quality tourism means offering quality. This quality is not just found in the product offered, but the restaurant’s décor, its staff and how the business is presented to customers.

What’s the first thing the customers see when they sit down at a restaurant?

The menu.

We’ve all seen photos of real-life menus rolling around the cybersphere, with dishes that make absolutely no sense like octopus to the party for pulpo á feira (boiled octopus dusted with paprika) or peppers with beautiful for pimientos con bonito (red peppers with bonito tuna). 

Not only would these translations confuse your customer, they’d make your restaurant look bad.

Some translations can scare your customers away

I once had to give a restaurant a quote to proofread a menu it had translated internally into English, French and German.

One of the dishes was huevos rotos con gulas, which was translated as “scrambled eggs with gluttony”. Gula has two equivalents in English: “gluttony” and “false elvers”. You can guess which one it wasn’t. False elvers for punishment.

Scrambled eggs with false elvers, a dish you can enjoy in many restaurants in Spain, but whose translation in English is not as delicious as it should be.
“Huevos rotos con gulas”. It has nothing to do with gluttony.

Since there were several similar errors, I recommended the customer translate the menu from scratch. The difference in price was minimal and it was fairer for everyone. It was fairer for the client because they would receive a quality translation and for the translator because it’s sometimes quicker and easier to translate from scratch than rework a poor translation.

The client didn’t proceed with the project.

Translation is an investment for any business

If you invest in making your menu look good with professional photos or a design that makes your specials stand out, then why not put aside part of your budget for translation? 

A well-translated menu will help your customers feel more at ease in your restaurant or bar and they’re more likely to order more expensive dishes.

Plus it will help your waiters out. If the menu is translated professionally, the customer will know exactly what to order and will not have to ask the waiters so many questions, which they may have difficulty answering in a foreign language.

Food and drink is a field with so many cultural references 

From country to country, we use different ingredients, techniques and have different tastes.

Just as many chefs adapt foreign dishes to local culture, translations should be adapted so customers know what they’re going to be eating.

Sometimes we have to explain what the dish is. On other occasions, we have to use elements that are known in the target country’s culture, even if they’re not exactly the same.

In Málaga, what’s more typical than an espeto de sardinas?

Not much! What’s more, this dish is also fairly unknown in many parts of Spain. And just to prove it, I didn’t even know what it was until I came to live in Torremolinos 16 years ago.

I asked my translator colleagues how they’d translate the dish into English, French, German and Dutch and these were the translations they gave me: 

English: Grilled sardine skewer
French: Brochettes de sardines (Sardine brochettes)
German: Sardinen am Spieß (Sardines on the spit)
Dutch: Gegrilde sardientjes van het spit (Grilled sardines from the spit)

The "espeto the sardinas", a typical dish from Málaga that you can enjoy in beach restaurants.
How would you translate “espeto de sardinas”?

Are they the only ways to translate this dish? Of course not!

Are they useful translations? Yes, because they use references from the target culture that the customer can easily recognise. If we just leave the name in Spanish, the customer will still want to know what it is.

Teamwork, in and out of the kitchen

Collaborating with the client is essential when it comes to translating menus. The chef knows what ingredients are used and how each dish is prepared, but how do you explain that to a foreign diner?

The restaurant Kaleido Málaga Port understands the need for a good translation. My translator team and I have been collaborating with the restaurant for several years to offer English menus that their customers can easily understand. Head chef, Raúl, and public relations manager, Fátima, help us better understand the dishes by providing us with additional information so we can make sure diners know exactly what their options are.

Now, let me serve you up some translations of their dishes!

Flamenquín ibérico con patatas y alioli

Flamenquín (deep fried crumbed roll of Iberian pork loin and ham) with fries and aioli sauce

Tortilla de patatas con jamón y porra

Spanish omelette with ham and porra (a cold, smooth, tomato-based cream)

Tosta de guacamole y salmón ahumado

Guacamole and smoked salmon crostini

Restaurants often need other texts translating too. Some restaurants, which also organise events, require customers to sign a contract, which lays out the booking conditions, payment methods, possible menu changes and cancellation conditions. All of this information must be translated clearly to prevent misunderstandings, which could cause the customer to cancel their booking.

Do you need help translating content for your restaurant? Message me!

See you for the next post and bon appétit!

Picture sources

Pulpo a feira. Cocina Gallega – La Cocina de Frabisa La Cocina de Frabisa (lavozdegalicia.es)

Ensalada de pimientos asados con bonito | Cocina (facilisimo.com)

Canela en rama: HUEVOS ROTOS CON GULAS (escanelaenrama.blogspot.com)




Alicia González, Spanish translator

Alicia González López

Hi! My name is Alicia, and I am a translator. My expert fields are website and software localization, e-commerce and marketing. After 15 years working for other companies, I decided to open my own translation firm, Prêt-à-translate in 2016. A dress may not suit two different people; same happens with translation. Long live context!
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