The rituals of dining in Paris are far less complex than, say, in Japan, but observing these few basic principles of dining will increase your chances of obtaining good service.
- Thou shalt make reservations
- Thou shalt not be too familiar
- Thou shalt be decisive
- Thou shalt put your trust in the sommelier
- Thou shalt exercise discretion
- Thou shalt clean your plate (whenever possible)
- Thou shalt avoid awkward requests
- Thou shalt not assume that the customer is always right
- Thou shalt ask for the check
- Thou shalt never use the term “doggy bag”
Restaurant staff will nearly always greet you with the phrase “Avez-vous réservé?” (Have you reserved?) and a confident “Oui” is the best answer, even in a neighborhood bistro.
— From the Forums: Playing Meals by Ear in Paris
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Don’t expect to hear “My name is Gaston and I’ll be your server tonight.”
French waiters, who are usually career professionals, like to retain a certain distance, though they often have more of a sense of humor than you’d expect. Madame, Monsieur, and Mademoiselle (for any woman under 50) are appropriate terms for addressing the staff.
— From the Forums: How to Order Without Knowing French
Too much hemming and hmming can put your already-stressed waiter in a bad mood. Once you’ve missed an opportunity to order, the wait can be very long indeed.
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Sommeliers love nothing better than to do their job, so try to indulge them, but don’t be afraid to specify your budget.
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The proximity of bistro tables means that the French have generally learned to keep their voices down. Loud talking and laughing is frowned upon, though waving your cigarette in your neighbor’s face is perfectly acceptable.
— From the Forums: Your Favorite Paris Bistros
The greatest compliment you can give a chef is to send a clean plate back to the kitchen. The phrase “I am full” does not exist in French, but you can say, “Je n’ai plus faim” (I am no longer hungry).
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Salad dressing on the side, omelettes without egg yolks, well-done steaks — when a chef takes pride in his work, these things make him bristle. Try to save this type of request for cafés.
— From the Forums: A Low-Carb Dieter Heading to Paris
It’s fine to send a dish back to the kitchen, but don’t expect to see it deducted from your bill.
— From the Forums: Where was Your WORST Meal in Paris?
It’s considered the height of rudeness for a waiter to present the check before the customers have asked for it.
— From the Forums: Asking for Separate Checks in Paris
Chances are the waiter (or chef) will take the phrase literally and look horrified.
— From the Forums: Paris Faux Pas: Jeans Allowed After All
Photo credit: © Istockphoto/ Piotr Sikora