A survival guide to eating out in Paris
Charlotte Aitken is studying French at Royal Holloway and is spending her year abroad as a British Council Language Assistant in a Parisian high-school. Here is her survival guide of top ten tips for eating out in Paris...
1. Pick a menu
In France the set menus are pretty decent and very reasonable in terms of price and quality. Thus I highly recommend you order from a menu rather than bits and bobs. In particular, ’menu a prix fixe ' are the best as you get a 3/4 course meal at a set price. However, if there are specific things you want to try then order separately.
2. Book a table for discounts
Booking a table when going to a restaurant in a group is always a good idea to ensure you get a spot but there are more benefits. For instance, there is an app called 'la fourchette' (download for iOS or Android) that allows you to get a discount for booking a restaurant in advance and I have managed so far to get discounts of up to 40% by using this app.
3. Eat later
In France, people usually eat around 19h30 so don't be surprised to find restaurants pretty empty at the usual 18h30 British time. If you want to soak up the atmosphere of a restaurant make sure to arrive a bit later to ensure you will be surrounded by people.
4. Be precise about how you want your meat cooked and note cultural differences
When ordering a steak you will always be asked how you want it to be cooked and you should be aware that meat is usually cooked for less time in France than in the UK so be prepared.
Here is a quick lexicon with English cooking translations to help you:
- Saignant= very rare in UK terms
- À point = rare to medium rare in UK terms
- Bien cuit = well done in UK terms
5. Be prepared for a terrible service
Customer service doesn't really exist in Paris and often staff are moody and want to finish their shift. If you bear this in mind before going to a restaurant, you will probably be much happier when you are prepared for the experience
6. Do not call the waiter 'garçon'
I've seen many French movies where the waiters are called ’garçon'. Please, please, please do not do this as it is pretty much an insult as it literally translates as 'little boy'. Instead use Monsieur, Madame and remember to use the 'vous' form to remain on a formal and respectful register.
7. Look at the menu beforehand or go with someone who knows French well
Many restaurants do not offer an English menu (especially the traditional French restaurants) so you're probably better off looking at the menu of a place before going to ensure you know what to pick. Of course in touristic areas you will have translations but remember to be prepared.
8. Tip if you're going to come back
Service charge is already included in the prices of food so I don't recommend tipping unless the service is outstanding and unfortunately usually it isn't. But I definitely recommend tipping at your local so hopefully the service will improve ;)
9. Finish your food
Although a new law has been put into place forcing restaurants to offer doggy bags to clients that do not finish their food, doggy bags are sort of culturally unacceptable, so I definitely recommend finishing your plate.
10. Enjoy your meal
It is not uncommon for people to spend 2 hours plus during meal. Indeed the French believe in the art of eating and drinking well in company. So take the time to enjoy your delicious food and socialise with family, friends and colleagues :)