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Dos and Don’ts of Dining in Paris

Mistakes to Avoid in Restaurants
Hotel Grand Amour Paris
Last updated August 6, 2022
From how to get free water to the way not to get a server’s attention, these practical tips about Parisian culture will help you dine like a local.

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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 servers 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.

Interior classic Parisian restaurant
© Bouillon Chartier

– be intimidated by Parisian restaurants! We know it can be nerve-racking trying to navigate in a different country and culture, but even if this city is known for its world-class restaurants, eating out is still just about enjoying the food!

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.

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Enjoy an authentic gastronomic experience in Paris with a cooking class or wine tasting.

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