It’s customary to wish others a good meal by saying the word provecho. The literal meaning of the word is irrelevant. You just have to know how to use it appropriately.
- You are eating a meal together at home or at a restaurant. The food is served. You are about to take your first bite. Say provecho.
- You come upon a group of people who are eating. You know each other. After stopping to chat for a moment, you leave without eating anything yourself. Say provecho.
- You are leaving an informal restaurant and pass a group of people who are already eating. You don’t know them. Say provecho. (optional in this case)
- In an instant message, your friend mentions that he is eating or will eat soon. Write: provecho.
To reply to provecho, say either provecho — if the other person is also eating — or with gracias — if they aren’t.
You may also hear provecho after the meal is over, for example, when paying your restaurant bill on the way out.
Provecho, unlike amen, has no religious overtones. And unlike the French-inspired bon appetit, its use is not restricted to fine dining. It works for any sit-down meal.
Mexicans are often surprised to learn that provecho has no good translation in English. One speaker confessed to feeling uncomfortable not being able to say something equivalent before a meal with English speakers. That should give you an idea of how strong this cultural imperative is. It’s a linguistic habit you should adopt, a social custom like saying bless you when someone sneezes.
When Not to Say Provecho
- People are just snacking. Don’t say provecho.
- People are just drinking. Don’t say provecho.
- You are the only person present who will eat. Don’t say provecho.
To be cute you can add a diminutive: provechito. The long form buen provecho is also quite common. And I once heard a server say: Que tengan muy buen provecho.