How to Eat out in Paris: 11 tips

Paris Fall 2014 Snapshots by Natalie Parker

Eating is my favorite thing to do in Paris.  Mr. P and I usually have a first and second breakfast most days we’re there.

Here are my tips for eating out in Paris.  It’s a long list but eating out in Paris isn’t hard.  With the info below, you’ll feel a little more comfortable and look a teensy bit like a local!

Parisian food is more than just crepes and onion soup.  Paris is an international city with a cutting edge food scene.  You aren’t going to find crepes in every restaurant just like you won’t find a burger in every restaurant in the US.  Paris also has fantastic ethnic food.  But there’s nothing wrong with seeking out the classics.  I love eating the classics and I don’t care if it’s blasé.

Eating at Cafes.  The cafe culture is huge in Paris (it’s even nurtured by the government).  A cafe is different than a restaurant.  Cafes are where you will find the classics like steak frites, omelettes, and onion soup.  Most cafes serve their entire menu all day, so any time you are feeling like tucking in for soup a l’oignon, go for it!

Carte = menu, Menu = pre fixe.  The “carte” is what you would consider a menu.  If you see “menu” listed and a series of dishes underneath, it means a set pre fixe menu.  A menu can be a good deal so consider it!

Not all dishes will be awesome.  I’ve had some mind-blowing soup a l’oignon and I’ve had some terrible ones.  Just because a cafe has a classic dish on the menu doesn’t mean it will be amazing, even if it’s Paris.  Think about it this way:  hamburgers are a ubiquitous American food.  How often have you had a mediocre hamburger or fries?  The same goes is Paris.

Wine in all sizes, all the time.  The French have a steady wine intake, so why not be a local?  A glass with lunch or in the afternoon is very normal.  On most cafe menus, you’ll see wines offered by the glass (“verre”), a small carafe, a small pitcher (“pichet”), or a bottle (“bouteille”).  Wine is measured in centiliters or cL.  A bottle of wine is 75cL.

You have to ask for water.  They will not bring it by default.  If you’d like some basic tap water to go with your meal, just ask for “un pichet de l’eau” or “une carafe de l’eau.”

Ordering.  Say “je voudrais la/le . . .” and try to pronounce what you want and point to it.  If you forget that, just say what you want, point to it, and say “s’il vous plaît” (please).  Even if you butcher the French, attempt to pronounce it.  The waiter will probably repeat it back to you in English, but your attempt will be appreciated.

The servers will leave you alone.  Once the server takes and brings your order, you will be left alone.  No one is going to come see you mid-chew and ask you if you like your meal.  On the one hand, it can be difficult to get a waiter’s attention to ask for a refill on your wine.  On the other hand, you are left to enjoy yourself and can park at a table, especially at a cafe, for as long as you like.

Don’t yell “garçon” at the waiter.  It’s rude and you’ll look like a loud American who’s seen Pulp Fiction.  When you need something, just make eye contact with the server, smile, maybe raise a hand, and say “s’il vous plaît.”

You have to ask for the check.  See above.  Just make eye contact with the server and say “l’addition s’il vous plaît.”

Make sure to have cash.  Credit is widely accepted, but not everywhere.  It’s not uncommon to see a cash-only cafe.  Don’t expect market or street food vendors to have Square.  Trust me, they don’t.

Now, you may be thinking:  damn, those are a lot of rules.  You don’t have to remember everything.  But just like visiting any country with a different culture, it’s polite to attempt the social norms.  Even though it’s chock full of tourists, Paris is no exception.

Anything I missed?  Feel free to share your tips below!


Everyone’s Paris is Different
Best Tips for Visiting Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre

How to Ride the Paris Metro

Click here to view all of my travel posts.

How to Eat Out in Paris

17 thoughts on “How to Eat out in Paris: 11 tips

  1. Have you seen the movie, ‘A Good Year’? There is a classic restaurant scene with your typical American tourists. Oh, it makes me cringe every time! Your tips are great – thanks.

  2. The waiters do not like to be kept waiting when they’re ready to take your order. I had read this in a Paris travel book, but forgot to pass it on to my husband. When a waiter approached to take our order, and my husband asked for, un momento s’il vour plait (sp), the waiter became upset. It was really quite comical to see the expression on my husband’s face – lol. Other than that one experience, that was more comical than anything, our experiences in all cafes and restaurants was amazing.

  3. I would add that in addition to the cafe, restaurant and brasserie options don’t forget that the best bread, cheese, charcuterie and desserts in the world are in Paris! (Not to mention the butter, fois gras, chocolate, etc.) Don’t pass up the opportunity to collect these things and some fruit from the incredible markets and have a picnic in one of the handy parks that are everywhere you look. And don’t forget the wine and a partner to help you enjoy!

  4. I agree that this may seem like a lot of rules for dining in Paris, but I comes with a lot of benefits. As an American who has visited Paris and several other European countries, I found all the rules to be true. I did read a book about the culture of the country’s I visited before traveling which made travel much more enjoyable. It was a pleasure to be able to sit and enjoy a meal and the city without feeling rushed to leave while enjoying our time

  5. These are excellent tips. Also, be aware of the differences in dining hours. In Paris, there are always options even during the hours of 12:00 – 14:00 (unlike in villages). Other closures/unavailabilities I was unaware of: I went to a bar late in the afternoon in Paris & there was no food being served (except olives). Was this because it was after déjeuner but avant le dîner?

  6. All sounds good, also with you find a table that you like, especially during the afternoon you can just seat yourself, if its crowded you may almost have to sit on someones lap (tables in cafes are very close together). If the glass ware is turned upside down and no utensils it means you can sit there for drinks only, don’t expect to order food,
    a table seating means they will serve you food.

  7. In France when you order food anywhere you should be sitting down to enjoy it. Don’t get something from a vendor and eat on the go- it’s not polite and you want to be grateful to those who made the meal (Eating on the metro would be a no, as you’re walking to a store is a no, etc.) So anytime you find yourself in France, sit and enjoy the food in front of you. Take in the lovely landscape and scenery.

  8. If you are not ready to order when the waiter first approaches you, you will be in for a long wait before he returns.

  9. My trick is downplay breakfast. Just coffee and a croissant because lunch is the big deal! An area with office workers will have restaurants serving a set lunch menu – great price and if not good they are out of business or empty! Be there at high noon or you won’t get a table until after 1:30 and there probably won’t be any special left. They will also close service by 2pm! Local carafe wines are usually cheap and ok. Big name wines need to age several years so become expensive. Beaujolais and cotes du rhone are always a good bet if you want a reasonable bottle. A secret – Macdonald’s serves really good coffee and croissants for half the price of a cafe! You see lots of suits here!

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