Ahh, the slippery slope of etiquette and insider knowledge. We’d all like to think we’d been brought up well and know how to handle ourselves in a restaurant, but traveling the world shows you just how different we all are.
In France, there are a few odd habits and idiosyncrasies that, if maneuvered correctly, will allow you to save money, and face while dining out in Paris.
Don’t – order bottled water, unless you prefer sparkling water. Ask for une carafe d’eau and you’ll get a pitcher of perfectly chilled and drinkable tap water. For free. Unless you’re in a seriously expensive restaurant where nothing’s free…
Don’t – feel obligated to leave a tip. Tips are optional in France. Waiters are paid a decent salary and service is included in the bill. Obviously, if your server was great, feel free to leave a small tip – 10 percent is more than adequate, as no waiter in the world wouldn’t be pleased to receive a little extra.
Don’t – call waiters garçon or click your fingers at them. Garçon means ‘boy’ and is extremely impolite. Eye contact and a simple monsieur or madame will do the trick.
Don’t – expect to be able to get a table in a restaurant at lunchtime if you just want to drink a coffee. Tables are set and reserved for those who are eating, but sometimes a few small tables are left on the terrace for anyone who just wants a drink.
Do – place your bread on the tablecloth next to your plate. In France, you don’t get a bread plate, and crumbs are expected. You most likely won’t receive butter either, but if you do, put a small amount of butter on a small piece of bread, one at a time. Don’t spread yourself a tartine. Or, save your bread for the meal and you can dip it in the sauce – even if your mother always told you not to!
Do – opt for the prix fixe menu at lunchtime. You’ll get two or three courses of the daily special for a lower price than à la carte items. And it will be cooked fresh daily, according to what’s at the market.
Don’t – order your steak well done. You’ll unknowingly insult the chef. Go for à point (medium rare) or stick to chicken.
Do – enjoy a plate of cheeses with your meal. Cheese is served before the dessert, not after. Try it this way and you’ll agree, it makes more sense to have a sweet thing at the end.
Don’t – expect your coffee to arrive with your dessert. The only time coffee comes with food is at breakfast. The rest of the time, you’ll get your coffee after dessert.
Don’t – worry! Try out a few French words, smile, and enjoy yourself! The servers and clientele will most likely forgive any faux-pas.