Every Latin American knows that mealtime is sacred and deserves a particular respect. With such a rich gastronomic diversity throughout the Spanish-speaking world, natives are constantly saying ¡Buen provecho! or just ¡Provecho! to others at every meal. But why do we say it?
Buen provecho is ubiquitous in both Latin America and Spain. Like its French counterpart bon appétit!, it’s used when somebody is about to start eating, during a meal, or at the moment when you meet another person who is eating. Over time, wishing someone buen provecho has become almost an obligation in proper manners.
What Does ¡Buen Provecho! Mean?
If we want to start with a literal translation of buen provecho, we can look to the root verb aprovechar: “to take advantage of, to make the most of.” By itself, provecho is translated as advantage, benefit or profit, so literally, we’re basically saying good benefit. Taken on its own, buen provecho doesn’t actually even mention food!
The best translation is actually the common French expression, bon appétit!. The best expression which compares to buen provecho in English is enjoy your meal!
The Royal Spanish Academy defines buen provecho or just provecho as an everyday phrase used “to express the wish that something is beneficial to someone’s health or well-being, often addressed to those eating or drinking.”
When do You Say Buen Provecho?
It’s customary to wish anybody buen provecho just as they begin to eat their meal. This could be the moment when everybody at the table serves their plates, it could be when a waiter delivers plates to a table, or it could even be when you walk by a total stranger who pulls a sandwich out of their bag for lunch. In every case, you say ¡buen provecho!
An easy way to think about it, is that you can say buen provecho any time someone is eating in your presence while you are not.
The clearest case where someone will use buen provecho is in a restaurant, when the food is delivered to the clients. If you’ve ever eaten in a Mexican restaurant, you’ve surely overheard ¡buen provecho! being said to people around you multiple times. This expression is just as common in Colombia as Puerto Rico, in a Peruvian restaurant as in an Argentinian one, and even across Spain. People say buen provecho in Spanish everywhere!
Can You Say Buen Provecho to Strangers?
Ok I know, for a waiter to wish someone ¡buen provecho! is one thing, but what about this concept of saying it to strangers? That’s right! This expression is so ingrained in the basic manners of Spanish speakers that we regularly wish ¡buen provecho! to people we’ve never seen before if they’re about to start their meal. This could be the table next to yours at a restaurant when they receive their meal. It could even be to a table that you walk by on the way through the restaurant, if they’re just about to start eating.
An important detail to note though, is that you normally just wish someone ¡buen provecho! when they begin their meal, as opposed to if you walk by and they’re already in the middle of their meal. Still, it’s a common courtesy to tell someone buen provecho if you walk by and make direct eye contact while they’re eating. Don’t be surprised if you’re in the middle of your meal when someone sits down at a table near yours and immediately wishes you ¡buen provecho!
Is Buen Provecho Only Used at Restaurants?
Although it may seem that buen provecho is a restaurant term, you can definitely use it almost anywhere. It’s proper to use it with family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers! Indeed, buen provecho is commonly said to people who may never even see each other again in their lives.
You take out your picnic lunch on a park bench? ¡Buen provecho! Your grandmother serves a holiday meal to the entire family? ¡Buen provecho! Your friend pours a handful of nuts into your hand? ¡Buen provecho!
In Latin American culture, wishing someone buen provecho is our way to express our desire that they enjoy their meal and that they have a good time while they’re at it.
Are There Other Spanish Expressions for Buen Provecho?
Just as English speakers may switch between enjoy your meal! or bon appétit!, in Latin America you’ll sometimes hear people say ¡buen apetito! When to use this one really comes down to personal preference. It’s a bit more common when someone has not yet begun their meal, as opposed to buen provecho which is used at the moment someone starts eating.
The other very common expression is simply ¡provecho! As you can guess, this is just a shortened version of buen provecho, making it more informal. Both versions are used throughout Latin America.
You’re probably also wondering, is buen provecho used in Spain? The short answer is yes, though there’s another equivalent which is more common: ¡qué aproveche! This comes from the same root verb, aprovechar, expressed in the subjunctive form to express a wish. When someone in Spain tells you ¡qué aproveche!, they’re essentially wishing you to take advantage of or benefit from your meal. But don’t worry, you’ll also hear buen provecho in Spain!
What is the Right Response to Buen Provecho?
Buen provecho brings a touch of kindness between people around mealtimes. But what’s the best response when someone wishes you buen provecho? In fact, you just say thanks with a smile: ¡gracias!
If the person telling you buen provecho is also eating, then the right response is to just say igualmente, meaning likewise. It’s as simple as that!
We hope you’ve learned a little more about the origin and use of this very popular expression. Now you’re ready to use buen provecho in Spanish whenever you catch the eye of someone eating, whether you know them or if they’re a total stranger. You’ll surely be rewarded with smiles, gracias, and plenty of people wishing you the same thing: ¡buen provecho!