Eating in France: do’s n don’ts

A quelle heure on dîne?

Parisians dine at 8.30 pm onwards. It is very usual for me to be staggering along the streets of Paris back from dinner, off to bed by 11pm at night to see restaurants bulging with diners eating and chatting.  I confess that Australians are long gone by that time!

Parisians don’t dine until at least 8.30 pm because prior to that, time is set aside for “l’apéritif”.

Aperitif Mugnier, Jules Cheret 1894 poster for...

1894 French aperitif (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L’aperitif is an important custom in France, the word derives from the Latin “aprire” to open. They love their aperitifs. When you sit down at any restaurant the waiter will ask: “Désirez-vous un apéritif?”  French people like to enjoy a long sit over a whisky, kir, vermouth, dry martini, any cocktail and so on before any dinner menu arrives or orders are taken.  The French tradition is that guests clink glasses or offer a toast during the Aperitif, complemented with a friendly Tchin Tchin! (the equivalent of the British “Cheers”). Santé! is another usual wish you can say, echoing the Spanish Salud!, which means you wish your guests will be healthy.

But one thing is for sure: when the French go out for dinner they want it to be a SLOW affair lasting several hours. They do not drink as much alcohol as some other nations (Australians) and they like long lapses between courses to savour the conviviality. They would be shocked if their meal ended entirely within 2 hours.

If you’re used to eating earlier, restaurants in the more frequented tourist areas are open from 7 pm onwards, although you won’t see too many Parisians at that time! My Parisian friend laughs whenever I make a booking for dinner for 7.30 pm. He says it is “like eating on German time”  as they also like to eat early apparently. Alternatively, you can go for a lighter fare which are open earlier (salads, sandwiches or pizza for example)

Another point to consider is that since the GFC (global financial crisis) a lot of restaurateurs are barely clinging to their profit margins. They are therefore hiring or replacing staff less so those waiters who are  there are often over-worked these days.
Service can be affected. Be patient.

Be especially patient if you are a big drinker as the French waiters do not top-up wine glasses as frequently as Australian waiting staff. French restaurants do not seem to have figured out that this is the best way of improving your margin by surreptitiously encouraging your patrons to drink more of your wines!

Tipping: a 15% service tax is always added to bills so it is not necessary to tip waiting staff. If you are particularly pleased then give them some coins if it is a cheap meal of around 25 euros per head) and a bit more if it is a classier establishment maybe. Up to you.

English: "Au pied de cochon" Restaur...

Never call a waiter “Garcon” as we were taught as kids to say. He is “Excusez-moi?” or “Monsieur?”  or “S’il vous plait?”

The bill is always either “la note” or “l’addition” and ALWAYS accompanied by a “s’il vous plait”

  • Some suggestions for eating in Salad Bars and Organic Cafes :   http://en.parisinfo.com/where-to-eat-in-paris/on-a-budget/salad-bars-and-organic-cafes
  • Tea rooms and brunches in Paris:  http://en.parisinfo.com/where-to-eat-in-paris/info/guides/restaurants-with-the-family/brunches/brunches

You can eat late in the busier districts and many restaurants stay open until after midnight, in particular the brasseries who serve food non-stop. It’s a good idea to check opening times and to book a table in advance in order to avoid a long wait at the more popular spots, especially at the weekend.

The majority of bars and cafés open early, around 7 or 8 am and close late, sometimes not until 2 am, or even later if the establishment has a special dispensation.

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5 responses to “Eating in France: do’s n don’ts

  1. Thanks guys. Yes it is a different way to consume in public to savour your dinner. We are an impatient lot in Australia and want loads of quick service and huge quantities of wine – often!

  2. Pingback: French Waiters. Are they really rude? | Travel Tips in France·

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