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What to Expect in Restaurants in Switzerland

Pauline Kenny

Switzerland is not known for its food, but the food in restaurants in Switzerland is very good. This page lists the type of restaurants you will find and some of the Swiss specialty dishes.

Types of Restaurants

Restaurants

In larger towns in Switzerland, you will find traditional Swiss restaurants but also many ethnic restaurants - Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, etc. In the small mountain towns, you may find an Italian restaurant or a pizza place, but most restaurants will serve more traditional Swiss food. Menus are much like what we are used to in the US. Starters (appetizers and soups) followed by main courses and then coffee and dessert. Bread is usually served with the meal.

Tea Rooms/Cafes

Hot Chocolate is always served as a cup of hot milk and a package of chocolate powder.

Tea Rooms serving hot drinks, alcohol and pastries are found in most towns. Go to these places for breakfast or mid-morning or afternoon snack. They are also a nice place for a late afternoon coffee or drink. Some Tea Rooms have separate pastry counters. Go in and pick your pastry. The person behind the counter hands it to you on a plate. In some places you must pay for the pastry then, other places it is added to your bill.

Mountain Restaurants

During the main hiking season (and the skiing season) restaurants are open on the mountains, at the top of the mountain rides or along the trails. Some offer only drinks and snacks, other full meals. Usually the restaurants at the top of the mountain rides offer full meals. These restaurants serve meals during the lunch hour and later into the afternoon.

Opening Hours

Most restaurants in Switzerland serve lunch from noon to 2pm and dinner after 5pm or 6pm. Dinner is eaten earlier in Switzerland than in Italy - dinner as early as 6pm is acceptable. Some restaurants in mountain areas along the hiking trails or at the top of chair lift rides will serve lunch all afternoon.

Paying the Bill

Tipping in restaurants is not customary in Switzerland.

Restaurants

In a restaurant, you may have to ask for the bill ("die Rechnung, bitte" - the check, please). The waiter will bring it to you and wait for you to pay. Sometimes they have a large money purse with them and they give you your change at the table. There is no problem with handing money directly to them and receiving it from them (unlike in Italy, where you place the money down on the table or in a special dish on the counter).

Tea Shops/Cafes

When you have coffee or a drink at a Tea Shop, you may be given the check when you get your order. The waiter puts it on the table, under the ash tray. You don't have to pay right then, but you can. Otherwise, just leave the money on the table. Or, if they didn't give you the check, ask for it and pay the waiter.

Traditional Swiss Food

This is a brief description of some traditional Swiss food. I do not eat meat, so I ignore that part of the menu. There are lots of meat dishes, but I describe only the non-meat dishes here.

Raclette

Raclette is basically melted cheese that you eat with boiled potatoes. Here is my description of a raclette lunch we had in the Val d'Herens in the Valais.

July 1997: We had raclette for lunch on a sunny day, sitting at an outside table. First the waitress brought pickles and pickled onions. Then a wooden bucket covered with a lid. Inside was a cloth wrapped around about 15 small whole boiled potatoes. The cook stands at the outdoor fire with a big round of cheese that has been cut in half and holds it to the fire, melting the cheese and then scrapes it onto the plate. The waitress brings the plate with the small amount of melted cheese. You take a potato and scoop up some cheese with it and eat the combination. The Swiss white wine called Fendant goes perfectly with this dish (very light and not sweet). They watch as you eat and when you finish the cheese they bring a new plate with more melted cheese. I had three plates in all and they would have done more.

August 2002: The best raclette that I have found in Switzerland was in the Val d'Herens towns where they had the outside fires. I have not found this in any other place (but am still looking).

Fondue

Fondue is Gruyeres cheese, white wine, garlic, and kirsch melted in a pot. The pot is brought to the table and put on a flame. You use a long fork to dip pieces of bread into the cheese mixture. You can ask for potatoes as well as the bread for dipping. In the Valais, tomatos are added to the traditional cheese fondue. Frequently restaurant menus offer Fondue only for two people, but we found one place where you could pay a small supplement to have it for just one person - so I would ask if you want it for one only. This is a description of fondue we had for lunch in the Val d'Annivers in the Valais.

July 1997: Lunch at a restaurant in an old building, warm, bustling, full of people, a fire going for the raclette. Low, beamed ceilings. I had a cheese and tomato fondue (traditional Valais style fondue). They bring a ladle in a bowl, a wooden bucket with about 10 small potatoes wrapped in a cloth inside, a plate, and a pot of fondue bubbling over a heater. You put the potatoes on the plate and ladle the cheese and tomato mixture on top. Sort of like raclette and very different from the fondue I had in Zurich last year. Tasted fabulous.

August 2002: I had Fondue for lunch in Wengen and it was much more alcoholic than I remembered before - too much alcohol!

Gemuse Teller

I read somewhere that there is an old vegetarian tradition in Switzerland. Many restaurants offer a Gemuse Teller - Vegetable Plate. If you do not see it on the menu, ask for it. It might be a veggie cutlet with rice or noodles and cooked vegetables, or just a plate of cooked vegetables. It is usually very good.

Mountain Restaurants

Rosti mit spieglei at a mountain restaurant in Engelberg

The mountain restaurants serve simple dishes, with a few vegetarian selections.

Rosti

Rosti, fried potatoes, is a very popular dish at the moutain restaurants. You can get them plain, with cheese or with one or two fried eggs.

Kaseschnitte

This is a open faced melted cheese sandwich. Available with just cheese, with egg or with meat. This dish is also served at most mountain restaurants.

Maccaroni an Tomatensauce

Noodles with tomato sauce - you find this on some menus.

The above are usually the only vegetarian options other than salad.

Example Menu

Mountain restaurant near Engelberg (Stafeli), Sept 2002

Here are the main categories from the menu of Familie Wagner Restaurant Untertrubsee near Engelberg (August 2002).
Click here to see the complete menu (large file).

Suppen - soups
Salate - salads
Rosti - cooked potatoes
Kasespeisen - cheese menu (cooked dishes)
Fleischiges - meat dishes (hamburger, schnitzelbrot)
Kaltes - cold things (sandwiches)
Bier - beer
Mineral - water
Kaffee/Tee - Coffee/Tea
Milchgetranke - milk drinks
Rotwein - red wine
Weisswein - white wine
Spirituosen - liquor

Some sample prices:

Rosti with 2 eggs 12.50CHF
Bratwurst mit Rosti 15.50CHF
Kaseschnitte Nature 11.50CHF
Kaseschnitte mit Ei 13.50CHF
Hamburger 18.00CHF
Schnitzelbrot 11.00CHF

Click here to see another sample menu from August 2002 (large file).

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