Dinner in the Netherlands: traditions, dishes and restaurants

Dinner is an important aspect of any country’s culture. The Dutch, like in other aspects of their lives, like to keep dinner as efficient as possible.

Dutchies often consider lunch to be a quick affair, chowing down bread as quickly as possible before returning to work. What can we expect from something more intimate, like dinner? What time should you get there? What about norms and etiquette? What kind of food should you expect?

Norms and etiquette for dinner

Here’s all you need to know about table manners in the Netherlands — as well as pre-table manners.

Arrival time for dinner in the Netherlands

Cultures around the world have varying times when it comes to dinner. Dutchies like to start early, usually between 5 PM and 6 PM.

There is a historical explanation for this early time for dinner. The time for dinner and lunch was influenced by the socio-economic circumstances of the 19th century. Lower social classes would eat a warm meal around midday, while the higher classes would eat at 3 PM. With the introduction of factory work, working-class people no longer had the time to go home for a meal.

On the other hand, middle-class families, starting with the 20th century, moved their warm meals from 3 PM to 6 PM so that middle-class women could better benefit from the possibilities of shopping, as shopping centres started to appear around towns. By the 1960s, most families ate a meal in the evenings, in the time interval between 5 and 6 PM.

We know what you’re thinking. What are you supposed to do around 9 or 10 PM, when you’ll feel hungry again? The answer is very straightforward. Be a responsible adult and go to bed at that time, instead of staying up until 2 AM watching memes!

What to expect from the actual dinner?

So you’ve been invited to your first Dutch dinner and don’t really know what to expect. Well, first things first, be on time! Dutch people take their time very seriously and not being on time can be perceived as very rude and disrespectful. Worse than not being on time is cancelling last minute, so be mindful of other people.

people having dinner around a table, Netherlands
This could be us but you cancelled last minute. Image: ELEVATE/Pexels

Assuming your time management skills are on point, what else should you consider? If you’ve been called to someone’s place, it’s safe to assume that they will provide the food. Nevertheless, it’s good practice to bring something like a bottle of wine if you are going to a person’s home.

With time as you get to know someone, you can just straight up ask them if they want you to bring something, but until then, bringing the drinks is a sign of respect.

If you are meeting someone for dinner at a restaurant in town, it’s safe to assume that you will have the “Go Dutch” approach. What this means is that everyone pays their fair share of the bill in an egalitarian, Calvinist way. Dutch people can also be a bit petty when it comes to splitting costs too.

While in other cultures, the attitude can be more of a “you pay now, I’ll pay later”, Dutchies are notorious for asking you to pay them back even the smallest of sums. So if you ever get a Tikkie for frikandelbroodje worth €1.20, don’t be surprised! And when it comes to tipping when you’re at a restaurant, you should definitely consider tipping for good service.

What about table manners? Common sense usually applies here. Don’t chew your food loudly, don’t speak with a mouth full of food, that kind of stuff. It’s the norm to excuse yourself when going to the bathroom. Talking on the phone while eating dinner is also rude. If you need to pick up your phone, excuse yourself from the table and go somewhere else while answering.

Traditional Dutch meals

Usually, dinner is for many Dutchies the only warm meal of the day. When it comes to traditional dishes, the Dutch cuisine is, well, not particularly tasteful. As one of our favourite running jokes here at DutchReview goes:

dinner in the netherlands meme with spices
Image: DutchReview/Supplied

Jokes aside, one of the most traditional Dutch meals you can expect for dinner is stamppot. This dish is made out of mashed potatoes combined with several vegetables, which may include carrot, onion, sauerkraut, kale, spinach and kale.

The combination of stamppot which includes carrot and onion is also called hutspot in the Netherlands. Stamppot is also served with smoked sausage (rookworst), making it a dish that both vegetarians and meat-eaters can enjoy.

Stamppot meal for dinner in the Netherlands
A delish dish. Image: M. Minderhoud/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0.

Beyond stamppot, the quintessential Dutch meal, Dutchies also eat a variety of soups for dinner, including pea soup (snert) which also contains vegetables and sausage, as well as brown bean soup.

Dutchies also love their pancakes, so expect to have a serving of them for dinner from time to time. They can be eaten with powdered sugar or syrup, and alternatively, for a more classic “dinner” experience with them, you can put cheese or bacon on them. The limit is your creativity (or that of the host), so don’t hesitate to go a bit crazy!

Another favourite of Dutchies to eat for dinner is gourmetten. What is it, you may ask? On a mini BBQ-like device, pieces of random meat are served hot, alongside side-dishes and different sauces. Sounds weird? Well, it’s because it is. Not exactly haute couture, but it will definitely help you bond with your Dutch in-laws.

Foreign influences on Dutch food

As a former colonial power, Dutch cuisine has been heavily influenced (for the better, honestly) by the cuisines of its former colonies. Not only that, but immigrants coming from countries that were not under Dutch colonial control also brought new flavours to the lowlands.

Surinamese food is certainly a must-try if you are looking for some meals that don’t involve potatoes with salt and pepper. Indonesian food should also be on your list and usually provides a healthier alternative to the deep-fried-to-oblivion variety of Dutch foods.

While not a former colony, the Chinese have brought a great variety of dishes to the Netherlands, so you’ll be sure to find something to your liking on the diverse menus of the country.

Takeaway food

If perhaps you are a youngster and you’re not looking to eat anything exquisite for dinner with your friends? There are always the night time snackbars. They have everything you want, as long as what you want includes deep-frying everything to oblivion. Bitterballen, croquettes, and other Dutch classics will be readily available for your taste buds.

Of course, there’s the infamous frites or patats, (depending on who you are asking). French fries are eaten all the time in the Netherlands (ok, maybe not regularly for breakfast, but you get the point). They come in a variety of different shapes and with different sauces, and they’re certainly a Dutch culinary experience you should go through.

Another great option, although more on the fast-food side of food, is to try something like the kapsalon, a straightforward dish in its ingredients, yet reflective of the multiculturalism of the Netherlands.

Restaurants to consider for dinner in the Netherlands

There’s a great variety of restaurants catering for all food preferences in the Netherlands. It all boils down to what city in the country you’re in.

If you’re in The Hague and looking for some vegan places, you’re in luck! Check out these 7 vegan restaurants in The Hague for all of your vegan food needs.

In Amsterdam and looking for great places for dining? The most famous city in the Netherlands has plenty of places to go to eat in, here’s 5 trendy places to go for dinner in Amsterdam.

If you’re in Eindhoven, you should give a look at these 5 delicious restaurants. Or if you are in one of the other modern cities in the Netherlands, namely Rotterdam, you should consider these 8 places to go get your dinner.

Are there any essential aspects of dinner that we missed? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Feature Image: ELEVATE/Pexels
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in July 2020 and was fully updated in April 2021 for your reading pleasure. 

Vlad Moca-Grama
Vlad Moca-Grama
Vlad was born and raised in Brasov, Romania and came to the Hague to study. When he isn't spending time missing mountains or complaining about the lack of urban exploration locations in the Netherlands, you can find him writing at Dutch Review.

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