My absolute favorite thing to do in Paris is to sit at a café and people watch as the city goes by. However, there are certain dining etiquette tips for Paris to know when visiting.
These aren’t exactly difficult tips but they will make it a bit easier when visiting and I always think it’s best to know about certain customs in other cultures when visiting another country.
That way, when you come back from Paris instead of discussing how horrible your experience was at a café, you can tell all your friends what a wonderful experience you had and you can also enjoy the pleasure of a Parisian café/dining experience because there is nothing like it.
Cafés and food in general in Paris and in France are a way of life for the people. However, the dining experience at one is a bit different from here in the states and it’s best to go in prepared.
Dining is an experience in Paris, it’s not to be rushed, but enjoyed at a slow and pleasurable pace. The French often take an hour-long lunch break and even longer for dinner. There is no time limit on how long you can sit at a table.
French servers are paid a wage and are not dependent upon tips like they are here in the states. What this means, is they are not trying to turn as many tables as possible during the evening. This also means they aren’t at your beck and call and coming to check on you every 20 seconds. They are professionals who know what they are doing. So, sit, relax and enjoy your glass of wine or champagne and take it all in.
You will also notice there isn’t loud music being played in the café or restaurant. It’s just the sound of people enjoying themselves and the company they are with.
Try to limit phone use at your table and absolutely don’t have your computer out on the table working. You can go to specific coffee shops for that. Just sit and enjoy your experience and the company you are dining with.
When you enter any establishment in Paris (café, store, etc..) the first thing you always want to do is say Bonjour or Bonsoir if it’s evening and look that person in the eye.
You will be asked if you want to be seated inside (en salle), at the bar ( au bar), or outside (en terrasse). If you are eating at a café you can usually just pick a seat. Parisians are very intimate so don’t worry about sitting close to someone, the tables are very close together.
There are some places where you will notice a hostess stand or a sign that says ATTENDEZ, at this point you will want to wait to be seated by someone. I’ve noticed this at busier cafés and at certain times of the day(lunchtime).
There are a few etiquette tips for Paris to know regarding the server. As I mentioned above, the servers are paid a wage compared to servers in the U.S. who are dependent upon tips. Please don’t be offended when they rush past you without a smile or greet you with wide-open arms.
The job of a server in Paris is to help you with food choices, to be more of a menu guide, and be professional. They will not ask you about your day, want to know your life story, or tell you their life story( which I happen to appreciate). They will let you dine in private and enjoy your meal but will also tell you if you’ve done something wrong(again don’t be offended, take it as a learning lesson about a new culture).
When you first sit down, the server might yell out, “J’arrive!” which just means they see you and will be with you when they are free. Remember, it’s a dining experience, not Mcdonald’s.
You can order “un carafe d’eaus s’il vous plait” which just means you’d like a carafe of tap water. The water in Paris is very clean so don’t worry about drinking the tap water because it’s free. Of course, you can always pay for expensive bottled water if you’d like.
When the server comes to take your order they prefer to take it all at once (food and drink) unless you are having an apéritif (before dinner drink).
The server will also not hound you while you are eating and usually, you will need to make eye contact with a little wave to get their attention. DO NOT yell out for them. They know you are there. Again, they are trained professionals.
Etiquette When Eating
You will be offered a basket of bread on your table sans butter. They do not bring butter with the bread, FYI. The bread is meant to be an accompaniment and eaten in small portions. Not shoved all at once into your mouth as my 9-year-old daughter would do.
When ordering, please remember how important food is to their culture. The menu has been specifically put together by the chef, so substitutions are not allowed or welcomed. You will definitely be scolded. Again, see this as learning about a new culture. I guarantee the food will be incredible just as it’s served.
Portions are smaller than in the states (thankfully) and there are no splitting meals of any kind. Again, you will be scolded for this. Also, they don’t do leftovers really, which you shouldn’t have anyways since your portions are smaller.
Empty plates are not removed until everyone has finished their meal. You can put your fork and knife on your plate to signal that you are all finished.
If you are ordering dessert, coffee and dessert are typically not served together. You have dessert first followed by an espresso. Here are some ways you can order coffee in Paris.
Tipping & Paying
When you are ready for the bill, you will have to ask. They will not automatically bring it to you, again they are letting you enjoy your dining experience. Just politely ask, ““L’addition, s’il vous plaît,” which means may I have the check, please.
The server will return with your bill on a little tray which I think is such a cute little detail. You can either pay by card or cash. If you pay by card, leave your card on the tray and the server will return with a card machine. They will take your card and slip it into the machine in front of you, unlike the states they don’t take your card from you and bring it back.
One of the main etiquette tips for Paris which is always a sticky subject is in regard to tipping. However, in France, it’s a law that all tipping and taxes are automatically included in the bill. You are not required to leave a tip however if you are having a coffee or drink and want to round up to the nearest euro that is fine. If you are dining in a fancier restaurant and the service was excellent, feel free to leave 5-10%. Leave your euros on the tray, you don’t add a tip to the bill like in the states.
These basic dining etiquette tips for Paris, will certainly help make your dining experience more pleasurable.
Phrases To Know
“Bonjour/Bonsoir” – Hello or Good Evening
“un carafe d’eaus s’il vous plait”– This means you’d like to order a carafe of tap water. The water in Paris is very clean so you can order the FREE water vs. paying for bottled water.
“j’arrive!”– This means, I am Coming! The server will say this to you.
“en salle, au bar, en terrasse”– These words mean would you like to sit: inside, at the bar, or outside.
“où sont les toilettes”– Where is the toilet?
“L’addition, s’il vous plaît”– This means may I have the check please.
You can also listen to one of my favorite easy French podcasts before your trip to help with the pronunciation of French words.
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