(Last update: 30 November 2018) You are in Paris. You visit the city but at the same time you want to also taste French food. There are many chic and pretty cafes and restaurants, bistros and brasseries that you can find around the corner. All with different menu options will have pleasure to host you. But will they really have pleasure? It is a bit ambiguous.
The grumpiness and slowness of French waiters are world famous. I got used to them and it doesn’t seem strange to me. Even when I meet pretty waiters I feel as if I have discovered a goldmine.
In this blog post, I want to share with you what you will face when you go to cafes and restaurants, rather than sharing where to go or to eat, because I don’t want you to get disappointed due to cultural differences.
If you want to have a cup of tea instead of coffee with croissant in the breakfast, then be ready for an instant one. There is rarely a teapot service. That’s why you should be ready to start your day with warm, papery tea 🙂
If you are lucky, butter, bread and concentrated orange juice may be included in the menu; Actually I don’t eat butter but to be honest, butter is really delicious. Especially I love the “President” with “demi sel” (meaning half salted) If there is orange juice in the menu I don’t skip it but I don’t like the concentrated one.
You can always find menus for lunch and dinner in entrance of the restaurants. Actually, it is difficult to read and understand the handwritings, but it is possible to reach English menu if you are in a touristic area. “formule” is a type of fixed price menu which offers different sets of meals for reasonable prices. And this is very common for French. In that way it is easy to manage the logistics in the kitchen and as a consequence their prices are more affordable.
“Formule” usually consists of “Entre+Plat” meaning “starter and main course”, or “Plat+Dessert” meaning “main course and dessert” or “Entre+Plat+Dessert” including all in one. Don’t worry, French waiters speak English quite likely nowadays. If they are young, they even love speaking in English.
You should first say “Bonjour” and salute the one who welcomes you not only when you enter in cafes or restaurants but almost any shop. Otherwise, you are considered as a “rude” guest and because that you don’t even realize your rudeness you will think that French people behave rudely to the ones who don’t speak French. Chicken and eggs 🙂
However, “saluting”, “thanking” have a very important place in French culture. I recommend you to read my blog post “A Few French Words That Make Your Life Easy”. You can find some hints about this issue.
In many of the restaurants there is strong possibility that you starve if you go there without a reservation, .That’s why I highly recommend you to reserve for famous or well-known restaurants. Actually, there is practical way of reservation: Many restaurants accept reservations from online reservation system La Fourchette / The Fork.
You can make use of the widely preferred website of La Fourchette and easily reserve a table. This lets you both to reserve for the time slot you desire without discussing with a receptionist who does not speak English and even to make use of some promotions and discounts.
It is very important to wait for the waiter to be seated. Not in the cafes but in most of the restaurants if you decide your table yourself and be seated there without asking them waiters freeze and even do not know how to serve you. The place you are seated can be out of their responsibility or they may not have yet arranged the table. That’s why they ask you to change your table rudely. Don’t take this personal, poor fellows are shocked and confused 🙂
Waiter welcomes you and finds you a place and you are seated now. Do not try to take a chair from another table to put your bag on, they may again be shocked. Do not force your chance too much, it will not be for your benefit 🙂
In Paris, tables are generally too small. A table which is indeed in a coffee table size can be used as a dinner table in Paris. It can be difficult for you to get used to it in the beginning. Also tables are so close to each other that you may feel as if you eat in the same table with people that you do not know 🙂
You have been seated, you are hungry and naturally you are waiting for the menu. You are going to wait little bit more. You can say “Excuse me” but it doesn’t change anything. If they see you by chance they will say “j’arrive” (I’m coming).but they will never come in a minute.
When they are ready to serve then they bring the menu and get lost again. You try to solve the menu somehow and after waiting for a few minutes more -even if you try to call them- they take your order only when they want. If you want to ask and to think more accidentally, you will wait for another turn. Don’t do that, be ready to order when they arrive first time 🙂
Depending on your order, they will bring the starter or the main course first. You can order dessert last. I advise you also not to try to change the ingredients of your meal. They don’t understand and they can say that if you don’t like the ingredients then you can order something else 🙂
If you choose wine and don’t know which wine you should take with your meal, you should listen to your waiter’s opinion. It is out of kindness. They are very fond of giving advice; they talk about it long enough:) If you have limited budget but you want to drink something good then you can order “vin de la maison” meaning house wine without any doubt. I have never come across with a bad house wine.
By the way, if you don’t care of the water brand then you can drink the tap water. Tap water is drunk safely in Paris. Actually if it is warm it can’t be drunk but as long as it is cold, it has a very good taste. You can order tap water by saying “une carafe d’eau”. But don’t forget to say s’il vous plaît / please in the end!
If you don’t want a specific choice for the dessert you may try the “café gourmand” which is a combination of a coffee and a selection of 3-4 small size deserts of the house. It is usually between 7€ and 10€ and I strongly recommend it. Every restaurant has a different combination of desserts in it. You like at least one of them anyway and share the rest with your friends or family. Maybe one day I’ll write a separate blog post for café gourmand issue.
You ate and drunk, how nice! You want to have the bill now; you have to say “l’addition s’il vous plait” / Can I have the bill, please. After a few minutes, you will have the bill. If you want to pay with credit card, then a few minutes more. Except a few smart waiters, I have not very frequently seen a waiter coming with a credit card machine in the beginning. I think they love this ritual 🙂
Then here is the tip issue. Mostly, service is included in the price, and this is generally shown in the bill. That’s why you don’t need to leave a tip. Even I had witnessed the conversation of an American traveller and a waiter on this issue. When the customer had asked for the ideal tip rate, waiter had said that their service was already paid by their employer and he had had no need to leave a tip. I have never felt bad since then when I didn’t leave tip. But lately, one of my French friends said that it is shame on me not to leave a tip and I was shocked 🙂 But all other French friends are of the same opinion about not leaving a tip. So, I don’t know, if you wish, just leave a fair amount of tip 🙂
One of the most entertaining issues in cafes and restaurants are the toilets. Each and every toilet has a different style and way of usage. They usually don’t like the idea that their toilets are used by people who are not customers at all but I have never seen them refusing a person in that situation in a bad manner. Only sometimes you may need to take something like a token from the waiter or the barman in some restaurants. You can also read the blog post for public toilets.
What is certain is that the working principles of lavatory faucets in each restaurant are really very interesting. It takes quite a while to learn how it works. Sometimes you need to press a button under the lavatory, sometimes this button can be on the floor so you need to press it with your foot, sometimes you pull a section, sometimes you push it. It is surely like a toy and it is both annoying and funny J
To sum up, if you are in a cafe and just want to drink a cup of coffee, you should keep in your mind that you need to get involved in a minimum half-hour activity. Being patient in Paris is the biggest virtue 🙂
Some cafes and restaurants have “take a way” service. I mean that you don’t eat there and have a take-away to eat somewhere else. In such places you will face the question “sur place ou à emporter” / here or take away. If you eat there you should say “sur place” but if you don’t then you should say “à emporter”. Take-away is sure always cheaper.
It is all that came to my mind for the time being. These rules are valid for average cafes and restaurants. If you go to a really luxury place, then the quality of service and shape change naturally. Do they always have a much better quality and taste? I cannot guarantee this always.
During your visit to Paris, whenever you are in a cafe or a restaurant if you confront a similar anomaly you will hopefully remember this post, be patient and remember me with a smile on your face 😉