At a restaurant, it is customary for the waiter or waitress to say buen provecho to wish us good eating. I considered it roughly the same as bon apetit in French or English.

However, I started getting weirded out when total strangers would pass by me eating food and say "¡buen provecho!". It seemed totally inappropriate they should be talking to me about my food in this manner.

After some time I observed buen provecho in Spanish is used way more frequently than bon apetit - it is almost obligatory. Even if I am texting my friend that I am going to each lunch, the response is buen provecho.

Why is it used so frequently? Is there a shade of meaning that I am not catching?

I don't remember hearing this expression among my other Hispanic friends. Is this expression specific to Puerto Rico?

  • 2
    This seems quite common to me in every Spanish speaking country I have visited (which isn't that many... but all over Mexico, Guatemala, and Spain)
    – Flimzy
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 0:36
  • Specifically, what is your question? Just it's meaning and origin? Or are you asking why it's acceptable to say it to strangers, or why a Spanish phrase is used more than a French one? :)
    – Flimzy
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 0:38
  • What about hearing "Bon Appetit" in an American restaurant? Would that "weird you out"? Someone in a restaurant might very well say that. Perhaps not a McDonald's but surely in a better restaurant.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 14, 2021 at 19:29

5 Answers 5


First of all, the expression is not specific of Puerto Rico. It is widely used in most (if not all) Spanish speaking countries.

As to why it is used so frequently, once again it is not specific of this expression. It is a cultural feature. In Spanish speaking countries it is more usual to greet strangers than in other countries. If I meet someone in the elevator, I will probably say hola or buenas tardes, even if the other person is a total stranger. Same, if I pass by another person who is eating at a restaurant, I may say buen provecho. Well, I will not do that, since I don't like disturbing people who are eating or otherwise engaged in any activity; but many people will feel the need to greet the stranger and that is the appropriate formula in that situation. You just answer gracias and go on with your meal.

For many people in Spanish speaking countries, not greeting strangers in these situations is a sign of bad manners. Don't do it if it does not come out naturally, but don't think they are meddling with your business. They are just being polite.

  • 2
    It's cultural, true. It also varies a lot between city and town people. There is a "sweet spot" that marks the cue for a greeting and it's bigger in towns. Over here in Spain and back in Argentina (my homeland) it would be impolite to not greet a stranger if you pass to close to them or somewhat interrupt them while eating. You also should say hi to strangers if you become part of a conceptual group, like in an elevator, or waiting in like or something, but if you are in a big city you don't need to. Big cities are similar everywhere.
    – Quarkex
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 16:41

The meaning is: "Espero que (lo que vas a comer) te sea de buen provecho."

In many languages, when a sentence is uncomplete, it's usually a expression of (good) wish, like the salutions: (I whish you to have a) good day.

And what you say, it's not a language issue, but a cultural one. In many countries, you should express a "buen provecho" to someone eating when you see it, and mainly if you interrupt or enter a location when someome is eating. Partially, you are saying "keep eating, I don't mean interrupt you", and partially that you desire that eating does not fell ill.


A slice of the entire explanation in English. Is due to the invasion suffered on Spain by many centuries. In Arabic cultures is quite common to use it and I think they use it in other situations, after the reconquest the Catholic Monarchs tried to eradicate without success and so extended to America. It is globally used in any Spanish-spoken country.

Debido a la invasión que sufrió la península y permaneció durante la conquista de América.

Hay varios artículos pero me quedo con éste http://www.ellitoral.com/index.php/diarios/2008/10/13/informaciongeneral/INFO-01.html

Los reyes contra los eructos

Ahora bien: ¿qué tiene que ver la costumbre de eructar de los chinos, y también de los japoneses, y en general, de los pueblos africanos, con el muy castizo "buen provecho" que la Conquista impuso en Latinoamérica como fórmula de cortesía? Otra vez la historia: el "buen provecho" no hubiera llegado acá si entre los años 711 y 1492 los moros no hubieran invadido y sometido a España, imponiéndole sus costumbres, entre ellas el eructo y unos 4.000 vocablos, como almohada, algodón o azúcar. [...] Como se sabe, los Reyes Católicos terminaron echándolos y maldiciendo su religión, así que es probable que también se la agarraran contra el eructo y lo erradicaran de la mesa. Sin embargo, ha sobrevivido como resabio entre los hispanohablantes el "buen provecho", que urge reemplazar por "buen apetito", si lo que se busca es ser cortés y prevenir papelones.

Quizá no hace falta reemplazar buen apetito por buen provecho en familia o amigos, por cortesía parece que es mejor usar buen apetito (algún camarero que lo desmienta?), aunque en este articulo se llega a diferenciar su uso.

  • 1
    Si alguien me dijera buen apetito, sonaría extraño. Sonaría como que está diciendo que como bien, como si dijera "tienes buen apetito eh".
    – Jaume
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 1:03
  • 2
    @JaimeCruzTriana A mi me sonaría a aun extranjero que trata de hacer un calco del bon apetit en español y lo hace mal.
    – Aradnix
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 1:39
  • Dónde yo vivo se oye más "que aproveche", aunque "buen provecho" también se dice.
    – itziki
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 9:46

As a person who is Puertorican and who lived there for 20 years I can tell you, unless etiquette has changed greatly in the 23 years since I left, a number of things.

"Bon apetit" was never used at ANY restaurant, even high-end ones in San Juan. "Buen Provecho" was always used, and almost, indeed, a phrase so "natural" to the customs of everyday language that it is said almost in the most spontaneous way, just as we say "Thank you" (well, those who do). Indeed, "bon apetit" is almost a literal translation to "Buen provecho", but simply as usage, not exactly word for word. That is inconsequential to the issue at hand, to me.

As to roots and origin, I have no possible help there, never having been concerned with Etymologies. Your best source is to google "Diccionario de Real Academia Espanola" which must have its website and would offer you the entire context.

As of people passing by and telling you "buen Provecho" is something that I cannot recall ever hapenning to me.

It is, one must be BLUNT, a CLASS issue I suppose, and Puertoricans are known, broadly speaking, to be rather "informal" in their approach to strangers. If you look American, then they probably would try even harder to establish contact, since "we" have "worshipped" Americans for more than a century (an exception being the Independence movement). With all respect to you, where you at a rather informal place like, say a "diner-like" restaurant? The higher you go in the socioeconomic strata the less you will see such spontaneity. This, in my experience, is something almost "universal".

If you are "weirded out", as you say, the advice wsould be to simply be polite and offer a "distant" smile. Perhaps a "GRACIAS". There is, to my knowledge, no "shade of meaning" as you point out rather "mysteriously". Again, it is the equivalent, when it comes to everyday language, to a very common expression like "thank you". No thought is given to it.

As to "bon apetit", you are perhaps aware of how the french phrases that were so much a part of the English language (to basically denote class, sophistication)are dying slowly. Alas, the French are quite disturbed by it. There was a time when even in PR the highest levels of society (in many countries, indeed) people felt they NEEDED to speak at least some broken French. No more. In Manhattan, where I live, it is used less and less, and since there isn't a phrase to connote this, I see an "enjoy!" as the "exit" for the waiter. "Bon apetit", again, is dying a slow death, and it is starting to sound a bit pretentious.


I've never had random strangers say "buen provecho" to me like they do in Puerto Rico. I was once sitting alone in a KFC and people walked passed and said "buen provecho". It's not common in Latin America to do that but it is quite friendly and should be repeated to them as well.

  • Do you mean that one should reply "Buen provecho" to someone who says "Buen provecho", even if that someone is not eating? That is new to me, maybe it is a regional thing...
    – wimi
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 18:41

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