Whether you're visiting Paris for the first time or perhaps even for the 10th time, INSIDR understands that cultures have differences with restaurant manners - something totally normal you might do in your home country might be even be considered rude in France. So here is a complete guide of what to do and what not to do when visiting France.
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General restaurant manners in France
Entering a restaurant
The first thing you should do when going to a restaurant in France is to check their opening hours online. For most restaurants, they follow the usual French times of opening for lunch service around 12.30pm and closing up at 2.30pm to prepare for dinner service at around 7pm until around 11pm, all restaurants vary though so it is important to check. It is important to note that the same restaurants often have different prices for their lunch and dinner menus for the same meals - so if you really want to check out a place to eat, so if you're travelling to Paris or France on a budget it may be cheaper for you to visit during lunch!
Once you get to a restaurant, the first thing to do is walk in the door and wait to be seated by someone who works there, they will first greet you and ask you how many to table is for, to which you can reply: "Table pour..." then insert the French number relating to the size of your party.
Getting the waiters attention and table manners
As soon as you're seated you should be given menus as soon as you sit down or shortly after. You could be asked if you want an 'aperitif' which is a pre-meal drink and then they will come back and ask if you're ready to order. Shortly after your main course, they will come back to collect your plates and with a desserts menu to order them.
A couple of important things to note is that if you want your waiters attention in France it is rude to wave or gesture to them, a simple 'excusez moi' or excuse me when they are nearby is enough to get their attention. For table service, the bread and water are all free of charge unless it is bottled water and to ask for tap water it is 'une carafe d'eau' followed by a simple 's'il vous plait' meaning thank you. One other thing to note is that restaurants usually have all the sauces you could want such as ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard - but you'll have to ask for them as they're not placed on the table.
Getting the bill, tipping and service charges
At the end of the meal it is obviously necessary to pay so to ask for the bill in a French restaurant you should get the waiters attention again with a simple 'excusez-moi' and to ask for the bill specifically it is 'l'addition s'il vous plait'. If they bring it over straight away after the meal, it is considered quite rude and could be because it is busy and they want you to leave.
To pay the bill we recommend that you pay by cash but you can pay by card in most places around Paris. For smaller places all over France that may not be the case. It is important to note that splitting the bill can cause some issues in some places, if you want to pay by 5 different cards - they could completely refuse. Also, for cafés and smaller bites to eat, most places have a minimum card spend of 10€ or 15€ - look out for 'CB-15€', CB refers to 'carte bancaire' meaning bank card and then the number refers to the minimum spend!
For tipping in France it is not obligatory like in some countries around the world. We recommend that if you had a good service, you pay a good tip, somewhere between 10-20% depending on what you can afford and what you want to pay. Also, some restaurants already have a service charge included on receipt so no need to tip at all. A final important thing to note is that if you're paying by card, you cannot add a tip on, you have to pay tips by cash!
Menus in restaurants
'Plat du jour' or menu of the day and meal deals
Most restaurants if not all restaurants in France have a seperate menu with one or two 'plat du jour' or meal of the day. These are usually made up of fresh, local ingredients that they get on the day and are usually a fraction of the price of the normal restaurant meal prices. You should be able to see board outside with the options on about the 'plat du jour' but if not you can ask your server and they should explain them to you.
Another thing a lot of restaurants have is a 'menu complet' which is a set price for 2 or 3 courses with around 5 options for each dish. This can save you a lot of money if you're travelling to Paris on a budget!
For English menus in restaurants, you may be given them straight away if they recognise you can't speak French very well, but if not you can ask and a lot of the time they will have a separate menu. It is also not uncommon for restaurants to have the English name for a meal written underneath the French, if however there is no English option, you can always translate them using the app Google Translate which is installed on all our INSIDR phones. You can look up each word and translate it or use the camera icon in the app so live translate the menu by taking a photo of the French, it will automatically turn into English!
A lot of restaurants in France also have a kids menu which isn't included in the normal menu. To ask for one, it is called a 'menu enfant'.
Using Credit Cards
Using your credit card in a restaurant in France is not uncommon for any tourist or local and as such there are certain rules that are different in France to other countries. It is in fact illegal for a server to take your credit card away from you and into the back to process your payment, instead if you want to pay by card, they may ask you to go up to a cash register or till or in most cases they will bring a wireless card machine to your table.
An important thing to note for Paris and France in particular is that American Express credit cards don't work in some particular restaurants. This is a handy list for restaurants that are AMEX-friendly if that is your method of payment.
In the past, asking to take your leftovers home from a restaurant in Paris could be seen as rude, but more and more these days, the restaurants are slowly becoming more accommodating. Due to the rise in restaurants delivering restaurant standard food directly to your home, restaurants are more equipped to allow you to take your leftovers away with you, and they don't feel it is rude! Sometimes however you could run into a restaurant that can't accommodate this need though.
For drinks in Paris in a restaurant or in a bar, you'll rarely get ice in your drink unless you request it. Whereas in other countries they could often ask you your preferences, in France it is no ice until request, unless of course you order something 'on the rocks'.
For post-dinner drinks there are also some cultural norms that may be different than what you're used to! Unlike other countries, if you want to open a bar tab - you don't have to hand over your credit card, you can just pay in total at the end any way you want. However, not all places will let you open a bar tab and could request you pay for the drinks as and when you get them.
Happy hour is a tradition in Paris and most places offer cheap drinks that could be half price or even more during certain hours of each day. They vary from bar to bar but the usual time is for a couple of hours somewhere between 6pm and 8pm. The average bar closing time is 2am!
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