The Custom of The Covert

The custom of the covert, in Portugal.

I thought I would highlight this custom for those of you who may not be aware of it and could possibly get caught out. I only have experience of it in Portugal but I am told that it is common in many countries.

In the UK, and I believe also in the US, when bread or other small items are brought to your table they are usually complimentary. In Portugal, in certain places, there is a charge so always check the menu, or just ask before you start to nibble at them. You can simply say no thank you (não obrigada) or take just one or 2 of the items.

If all of the above items were brought to my table and I assumed they were complimentary I would have a huge shock on receipt of my bill. I spotted these prices along the promenade in Cascais earlier this year. It can be easy to just accept what is brought to the table without fully understanding how the covert works.

Thankfully I always do a lot of research before I travel and I was aware of this custom before my first visit. If you are with other people and it is going to be shared between you then it makes for quite an enjoyable starter but I think in this case €1.00 for an individual portion of butter was taking things a bit too far!

The biggest problem is knowing if there is going to be a charge. If you check the menu it should be listed and I am told that the waiter is supposed to offer it to you, not just set in down on the table, but often they do just set it down without asking. Generally, if it is a tourist area you will be charged, if it is somewhere the locals eat it may be free or have a very small charge attached. The other thing to pay attention to is what you are being offered, you can be sure that if there is a full cheese you will be paying for it.

If you are in a city square, along a promenade, or somewhere with an amazing view you can be pretty certain there will be a charge.

I have been in many small snack-bar type places in Portugal and very often you will receive bread and olives without a charge, and not be offered any pate or cheeses. If I am unsure, and don’t like to ask, I can generally guess by looking at my surroundings and take a risk. And by the way, you get a substantial lunch in these sort of snack bars for a very low cost and get to mingle with the locals.

In this snack bar in Lisbon, there was no charge. Bread and olives were complimentary


You will see in this Menu that bread, olives and sardine pate are included. This was surprisingly good value for being in the Alfama area (old town).


This was in a restaurant in Coja, in Central Portugal, and the items were charged for but only what was eaten and it was a very low price.


In this place in Lisbon the olives were complimentary and the bread was 50 cents. I was asked if I wanted bread.

You may look at the places above and perhaps think they don’t look very enticing but believe me, these are the places that you will get a really good main course for around €5 – €7 AND you get to mingle with the locals. I love them.

For the purposes of research I headed to some of the busier thoroughfares in Lisbon down towards the Praça do Comércio and took a few photos to show you. Brown’s Bistro, shown below, is a Hamburger Restaurant, their prices are reasonable enough for where they are located.

And from around the same area I found this selection.

So, store this information away for future reference and avoid that ‘ripped off’ feeling.

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