In Brazil, one can find foreign-themed restaurants like Chinese, Arabic or Italian restaurants, but they are usually more expensive than traditional Brazilian restaurants, and do not necessarily offer better quality. I personally recommend for every traveler to eat local food anywhere they go (the only exception being the UK, but that is a different story), but here this is also the more economical option. Restaurants work differently in Brazil from those in Europe, which can be quite a surprise when visiting.
In Europe, most restaurants are à la carte, which means the restaurant gives out a menu with the options that the guest can order for. In Brazil on the other hand, most restaurants offer self-service for weight, that means that there is a place where the guests can choose what they put on their plate and then weigh it on a scale and pay accordingly. Another thing that is very common in Brazil, are rodizios (the word means rotation, because they are constantly grilling different pieces of meat and they go around serving them). These are all-you-can-eat restaurants, however in some restaurants one can choose to either get the per-kilo price or opt for the rodizio. Here in Minas Gerais, only fast food restaurants, burger places, pizzerias or some fancy places offer menus. But I have seen that in Rio de Janeiro, and the more touristic places, most restaurants have a menu and function like restaurants in Europe.
I saw the struggle on the faces of the Brazilians when they had to choose food in European restaurants without having seen it first. I admit that if one is already used to the Brazilian system, it is hard to order for unknown dishes, even if one can translate the ingredients listed in the menu. What I really love in Brazil is paying for the food by weight. Because this way everyone can decide for themselves how much of which ingredient they are going to put on their plate and they are not paying for something they are not eating, yet they do not feel obliged to overeat. I understand though that maintaining a system like this is difficult because the restaurant has to plan carefully how much of each dish they are preparing, guessing the number of costumers they are going to have that day. Another downside is that some dishes may get a tad colder than optimal while staying in the cauldrons waiting to be served.
I think the reason why Brazilian restaurants can work with this system very well is the relative monotony of the Brazilian cuisine. I have mentioned earlier that Brazilians eat rice and beans for lunch practically every day. The standard offer of garnish at a typical Brazilian restaurant is rice, beans, French fries, cassava, and some salad. Meat is usually grilled (churrasco), however fried chicken or fried fish are also common. There can be several typed of cooked meat or the festive Brazilian dish feijoada (a black bean stew with many types of meat, mainly pork).
In Brazilian restaurants, the guests usually receive a paper at the entrance (or at the scale where they weigh their food), this is called the comanda. This is where the waiters will list all the foods and drinks that you order during your stay. It is your responsibility to not lose this. Upon leaving the restaurant you will pay the bill according to the comanda, and often when you leave the building you have to show the security that you have paid the comanda.
Another positive aspect of the Brazilian restaurants is that waiters and waitresses are more attentive than in Europe. I think Americans may find waiters or people who provide services in general, rude and cold, because in most parts of Europe, people do not smile without a reason. However, this is simply a difference in the upbringing. People in Brazil and in the US as well, are taught that smiling all the time is polite, while most Europeans usually do not smile without a reason.
Tips in Brazil are usually calculated as an extra 10% service fee added to the original bill. At some places the waiters may ask you whether you were satisfied with the services and whether they can add the 10% to the bill, but in most places where I have been, they did it automatically.
Birth rates are much higher in Brazil and Brazilians lay more emphasis on quality time with the family than Europeans do. In accordance with this, many Brazilian restaurants include facilities for the children to go and play while waiting for the meal or after the meal, while the family sits at a table drinking and chatting.
Altogether, I like dining at Brazilian restaurants and I encourage every tourist to try as many of the local dishes as possible.
Source of the featured image: caminhoslanguages.com