On a trip to the Rioja region of Spain this month, we stopped in the regional capital, Logroño and sampled the tapas in the legendary area in the heart of the old city, along Calle de Laurel and Traversa de Laurel, with 40 odd tapas bars, open from 8 in the evening until the early hours. With so many tapas bars in a single block, you’d expect cut-throat competition, but for the most part, places stick to their specialties.
Keep it simple
There’s one place that doesn’t even need a menu – it produces one single pincho (a tapa that comes on a slice of baguette) and it has lines out the door. The grilled mushrooms, stacked 2 or 3 high, depending on their size, topped with a tiny shrimp and held together with a toothpick, for a simple price of one euro means the only question the barman asks is ‘how many?’.
Enable and Encourage Social Proof
The way to tell which place has the best tapas (aside from an enormous queue) is to look at the debris of toothpicks and paper napkins on the floor outside each place. The more the better – a sure sign that the food is good. This is the only instance I can think of where littering is a sign of respect. The debris isn’t cleared until the night is over.
Make your offering clear
Chalkboards outside each place list the various tapas on offer that night. Customers can tell at a glance whether the food on offer is up their street or not. (If you don’t understand Spanish, you’ll want a dictionary though!).
Tapas is usually just a few mouthfuls – no major commitment required. If you like something, you can always buy more.
Brand your stuff
People move from bar to bar, resting their food and wine on the wine barrels outside that serve as tables. If a bar wants to get your plates and glasses back (and for people to recall where they got something from), branding them is a smart move.