The French has their own style and customs when it comes to eating in cafes, grabbing something quick from bakeries, or dining in restaurants. I am no expert in dissecting this culture, but here are a few general tips that I’ve learned in the past 4 months.
1. Always check opening hours
To avoid disappointment! Whether it’s the labor laws, or just the French being French, each restaurant, bakery and cafe has their own opening hours and it is very rare to find anything open 7 days a week. Common closed days are Sundays and Mondays. Always double check before you make plans. Also, don’t expect any self-respecting restaurants to be opened before dinner time, which is usually between 7 to 8PM. So long, American meal times.
2. Make reservations
Not completely necessary, but just to be safe. The last thing I want to see as I approach the restaurant with a rumbling stomach is a line waiting outside or to be asked to come back in an hour. That’s when I become hangry.
3. So much bread, but no butter
Each sit-down meal will always start with a complimentary basket of bread, almost always baguettes. Unless the restaurant is really fancy, butter is rarely served with the bread. Enjoy the baguettes while waiting for your food to come – and it’s completely acceptable, if not French, to just put your bread straight on the table.
4. Tipping isn’t necessary
Tipping culture always throws me off whenever I travel. You never need to tip in Hong Kong. You always tip in the U.S. In Paris, tipping isn’t necessary, but is appreciated, of course. Normally you can drop a euro or two if you feel generous.
5. Waiter/waitress can usually translate the menu items
Not a francophone? Worry not. You can choose to frantically Google translate the menu items before your waiter or waitress approaches, or just chill out and ask him/her to explain the dishes to you. Most of the time they speak really good English.
6. Ask for tap water
Unless you fancy and wanna get that sparkling or bottled still water. Tap water is completely safe and drinkable in Paris and is free in restaurants. Ask for “une carafe d’eau,” which means a jug of water, when the waiter/waitress approaches. Avoid the tourist trap of bottled water and save that water money for dessert!
7. Try to be decisive
Especially in bakeries. I’m the worst person when it comes to making up my mind when there is an array of selections displayed in front of me, because how can you simply pick just one (or two or three) thing in a sea of beautiful pâtisseries?! But it seems like the moment a French person walks into a bakery, he knows what he wants, while I gawk and try not to shrivel under the impatient stare of the bakery lady behind the counter. So try to decide what you want… chances are, whatever you get, it’d probably be delicious.
Now you know a couple basics of eating out in Paris. Comment below if you have any other tips or advices! Bon appetit! 🙂