Paris Restaurant Etiquette

You’ve likely visited TripAdvisor, Yelp and other sites to read Paris restaurant reviews. What these sites don’t describe is Paris dining etiquette: how to participate in the meal like a local. If some of the disgruntled reviewers had been better informed about Paris food culture, they might have had a more satisfying experience.

Here are a few tips:

• If you’ve reserved a table, arrive on time. If you’re going to be more than 10 minutes late, call the restaurant to let them know. Restaurants have a slim profit margin, and demand is high. If they don’t see you and don’t hear from you, they assume you’re not coming. They will give your table away.

• In France, conversation is an important part of the dining experience. Restaurants are animated — but it’s rare to hear the conversation at a neighboring table. Notice how diners lean forward and speak one at a time in lowered voices. Follow suit, and you’ll fit right in.

• Waiting on tables is a highly respected profession in France. Always greet servers with a smile and the word “Bonjour.” Show them what you want on the menu. If in doubt about food and wine pairings, your server is a good source of information (I always ask my server to choose the wine.)

• It’s not customary for French waitstaff to come back once you’ve been served, to see if you’re happy with your food. They assume this is the case! If there is a problem, signal by (discretely) catching their eye with a raised hand.

• Doggy bags are unheard of in France, in part because French meals are not super-sized; servings are enough for an enjoyable meal and no more. Don’t ask to take your leftovers home.

• Don’t expect the bill to be brought automatically — you’ll have to ask for it: “L’addition, s’il vous plaît.” In cafés and restaurants, service is included. But it’s customary to round the bill up and leave a few euros if you were happy.

Coffee is usually drunk after dessert, not with it.

• Finally, French people dress up more for dinner than we do in the US. Here are suggestions on how to dress for dinner.

Do you have a Paris dining tip or experience to share?

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