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Paris: Eating and Drinking
Eating the French Way
Generally, you shouldn't expect to have dinner in a restaurant before 8:00 pm, and preferably 8:30. They're still pretty chauvinist in Paris, and the man will usually lead the way into the restaurant and confirm the booking (you did book, right?).
Don't be fazed by the menu; take your time looking at it, and unless you're extremely well-versed in menu French, bring a dictionary or at least a crib sheet if necessary (see our "How to decipher a French Menu" page next).
When you've had a good look and got some idea about what you want, discuss the possibilities with your waiter. He'll know all about what they've got, what's good and what you probably won't like, and will be only too happy to fill you in on the details, probably even in English (I know what you're thinking, but read the next tip).
A Note About French Waiters:
Here's a salutary reminder about Paris waiters
from Harriet Welty-Rochefort
"When you get to the restaurant or brasserie
or bistro, here's a little tip: Don't mistake the reserve and
distance of most French waiters for "unfriendliness".
French waiters have been trained as professionals for whom waiting
tables is a job, not a stopgap until they find something better
to do. They won't say "Hi, I'm Pierre, I'll be your wait
person for the evening" and they won't interfere in your
conversation to add their own unsolicited comments.'
Restaurant Les Muses, Paris
As mentioned earlier, you don't go to a restaurant to have a salad and a coffee. Eating the French way means having a minimum of two courses. All restaurants have a
fixed-price "menu" as well as à la carte choices. Many now offer
a “formule” of two dishes: an entrée (i.e. an appetiser or starter) and a main course, or a main
course and a dessert.
Neither do you go to a restaurant to drink coca-cola or Dr Pepper's with your meal. That would basically be regarded as an insult to the chef's cuisine. Drink wine or water (the French are great mineral water drinkers, try Badoit, it's got smaller bubbles). If you want tap water, just ask for a "carafe d'eau". Mind you, you're paying, so you can have what you want, but be prepared for your waiter not to take you seriously as a diner with discriminating taste...
Oh, and a comment about a pet hate of mine, people who insist on sharing food from their plate around the table (and expecting you to do the same), again from Harriet Welty-Rochefort:
"It is very unusual to share food in a (French) restaurant. Of course you can do it occasionally but a situation where everyone would taste everybody else's dishes must definitely be avoided! The French like to talk and comment about what they are eating but they would not think of giving you a taste of it."
Paying the bill ("l'addition, s'il vous plaît")
You will have to ask for it, as in France it is regarded as very bad form to give any impression of hastening the departure of the dining customer (don't worry, they charge accordingly...).
And please, no asking for separate bills! In France there's always one bill for the table. What's more, if you're dining with French friends, the bill will usually be paid by one party.
"In France, in general and unless very clearly specified, the French don't usually share the bill. This is a complex situation and you have to be very careful about who had the idea for the dinner, how the decision was made, etc... And remember, if you split, divide the bill by the number of guests : anything like "I didn't take wine" or "I had no dessert" is a HORROR SHOW in France and considered very rude."
Fortunately, in France and most European countries, tipping is not the complex, arcane science it has developed into in the USA! However, for the Australians among us (to whom tipping has until recently been a strange foreign habit), here are a few tips:
When you check your bill, you'll see that the tip is always included ("service compris") in restaurants, brasseries, cafés, bars, etc... It's standardised at 15% and you can pick up your change and leave without the waiter giving you a dirty look (really!). If the service is ever not included in the price ("service non compris" and you can be sure you won't miss it!) a 15 percent tip is customary.
However, it's usual to leave some small change on the table in cafés and a few euros in restaurants to show your appreciation (from €2 or €3 in a small restaurant to €20 or so in a top restaurant).
Similarly, you should tip cab drivers (10%), hairdressers and the people who shampoo your hair (a few euros), etc... Here are the French Embassy's recommendations for Americans (dated 2002):
€1.50 for room service and €1-€1.50 per bag to porters.
- Taxi drivers
About 10 percent of the metered charge.
About 10 percent
Small tips (€.50) are reasonable for cloakroom and washroom attendants and theater ushers. Tip museum tour guides €.75-€1.50. It is also standard practice to tip tour guides and bus drivers after an excursion €1.50 or more.
Service station attendants are not tipped for giving gas or oil, but get €.75-€1.50 for checking tyres.
BUT, some people have recently spotted a trend where although the bill has service included (it has to say so on the bill in French if it is) some less than scrupulous proprietors have added "TIPS NOT INCLUDED" in English (see Anders Jacobsen's blog) in the hope that mug punters will shell out another 10%. Disappoint them.
Next Page: How to decipher a French menu