Eating out in Crete has its own customs. You will not offend if
you do not follow them because Cretans are used to foreigners and
pretty broad-minded. Still, knowing the do's and don'ts might save
some awkward moments.
Most of what is written below does not really apply to touristic restaurants where people have gotten used to the ways of the "xeni" (foreigners).
Lunch is generally eaten at about 2.00pm and dinner no earlier than 9.00pm.
This is why if you walk around looking for a restaurant patronised by the "locals" as
a sign of quality, it is very likely to be deserted before 9.00pm.
It is not unusual to arrive at a restaurant at midnight, especially in summer.
For Cretans, a meal is a social occasion and accordingly, food is ordered for
the "table", not for the individuals. You order a bit of everything,
spread it around the table, or more often cover the table with different
dishes and everybody picks at everything. If or when more food is needed,
more is ordered. There is also quite an element of status involved in the
ordering and it is not uncommon for Greeks to order far too much, either
to show off their status or show their generosity. This unfortunately leads
to a fair amount of food being wasted.
You can of course stick to the Western habit of not sharing food and order for each person but you will miss out on an enhanced eating experience.
There are almost no Cretan vegetarians but there is plenty of choice for vegetarians and it is quite well accepted that some people don't eat meat so don't worry, you won't starve. The Greek word for 'vegetarian' is 'hortofagos' which means plants (especially of the grassy/green type) eater.
Table manners are pretty lax. The main bad manner would possibly be ordering
for yourself when in company.
Use of the fingers instead of forks and knives is very common. After all, food is there to be touched and eaten, not picked at. Eating meat (especially lamb or goat) with a fork and knife is considered a little silly because you are missing out on the most sensual part of the experience.
When pouring wine, don't fill the glass to the brim, when drinking it, leave a little in your glass until it is being refilled.
I often get irritated when I meet tourists in small tavernas in out of the
way places: they come here because it is away from tourism but then expect
to be able to choose from a huge menu and complain if the choice is limited.
They are obviously in the wrong place and should get back to their resort.
Small villages generally have one or two places where you can eat but it is pretty much an extension of the home kitchen. As such, do not expect much choice, if any. What you can be sure of is that what will be offered is freshly cooked, simple but tasty local food. It will also be cheap. When you get to such a place, don't ask for the menu but ask what there is to eat today or if you cannot communicate, ask to be shown what is in the pots. Some of the best food I have eaten in Crete was in such places, at a fraction of what you would pay on the coast.
As with ordering, paying a bill has a lot to do with offering hospitality. You rarely see Cretans sharing the payment of a meal (at least not in
a way that could have been visible to others). One will pay for all and
there is often a hefty argument about who will have the privilege of
paying. As such, if you, a foreigner, are eating with Cretans you will
be pretty hard put to foot the bill, unless you resort to sneaky ways such
as paying the bill away from the table when no one is looking. Even this
can lead to awkwardness because the traditional Cretan hospitality makes
it almost a duty to act as the host to foreigners.
Again here, Cretans know that our customs are different and that we sometimes share the cost of meals, but avoid asking for a separate bill for each and work out the share of the bill between yourselves: asking for separate bills is a little like shouting: "Look at us, we are incredibly mean and petty!" and that's not really what you want to shout, is it?
Cretans find this splitting down of bills to be a deplorable habit and the Greeks have nicknamed this 'Going German' (instead of the English 'Going Dutch').