For years going out for food in Poland has been a rather unlikely item in your everyday schedule, as most restaurants and cafés offered dubious quality food at exorbitant rates. The one exception to that rule were milk bars (bary mleczne) which offered edible food for a price which was almost equivalent to that of your everyday ingredient shopping receipt. If you feel adventurous, you can still try the food served at the old-fashioned milk bar now, but be careful – some of the menu items may look shocking once on the plate.
The times have changed, however, with most of the milk bars now gone, while more and more people make enough to go out for lunch, which means the quality of food has had to improve. True, most price-conscious white collars, and possibly students, would probably grab a McDonald’s meal for lack of time or as a result of only modest means available to them, but there has been a growing number of those better-off middle and higher level managers who can afford to spend time at fancy restaurants, not only for lunch, but also for dinner with family and friends.
Over the last two decades Poles have grown accustomed to better customer service and have started to look for places serving good quality food at reasonable prices. Such places have steadily been coming into existence, with many winning the hearts of the average spenders with their attractive décor (quite unlike the drab interiors known to many a milk bar guest) and adequately priced food that simply looks and tastes good. Among the reasons behind this positive development are the various culinary TV shows shown over the last five years or so, clearly contributing to the enhanced awareness of food among the ordinary population. This in turn, coupled with the purchasing power of a growing number of customers, means that people are slowly taking to eating out, with some of them able to pay for some of the fanciest food around, such as that offered by the first ever Polish restaurant to be awarded a Michelin Star, Atelier Amaro in Warsaw.
Despite the proliferation of restaurants (restauracje), cafés (kawiarnie) and other types of eateries, commonly known in Poland as lokale gastronomiczne, finding a place that serves really good food at “edible” prices does take quite some time. To help the potential customers in this task a variety of websites have been developed offering people the opportunity to review a place they have recently visited and rate the food, décor and service, with the most popular being the Gastronauci.pl.
And now to the practical side of eating out: in restaurants it is customary for the waiting staff (kelnerzy) to offer you a menu (karta dań, although frequently Polish uses the same international word, pronounced in the French manner), listing the food items available. Choose from cold and hot starters (zimne i gorące przystawki), soups (zupy), main courses (dania główne), vegetarian dishes (dania jarskie or wegetariańskie), extras (dodatki) – this in Poland usually covers such food items as French fries (frytki) or boiled potatoes (ziemniaki z wody), rice (ryż) or salads (sałatki) – these may be individually priced. Follow on to desserts (desery) and hot and cold beverages (napoje gorące i zimne). The last section is usually dedicated to alcoholic beverages (napoje alkoholowe), such as vodkas (wódki), wines (wina), beers (piwa) or liqueurs (likiery or nalewki). Wines may be shown in an extra wine list (karta win).
After the waiters collect your order (przyjmą zamówienie) you might be offered a czekadełko (small bites of food offered to guests to whet their appetites), usually made of bread and several flavored spreads. After the main courses have been served waiters will usually come by your table to ask whether the food is to your satisfaction – contrary to other nations, Poles are still often afraid or ashamed to say they don’t like the food or send it back – this attitude obviously takes longer to develop. Once you have finished, ask the waiter for a check (rachunek) – cash and cards are universally accepted, although it would be reasonable to ask whether you can pay with your credit card before you are seated at a table. Remember to leave a tip (napiwek), though – it is customary for the tip to be some 10% of the check’s value. Smacznego! (Enjoy your food!)