Especially when you’re visiting for the first time, you’ll probably notice some cultural differences between in Paris and at home. One of the things that surprise, sometimes even shock, travellers is how different dining at restaurants and service here in France are. Something totally normal that you might do in your home country could be considered rude in France. A lot of people ask questions like: Do I need to leave tips? What are French manners like? How do I ask for the check in French? Well, here is a complete guide of what to do and what not to do when visiting France.
General restaurant manners in France
French manners: When entering a restaurant
The first thing you should do when going to a restaurant in France is to check their opening hours online. For most restaurants, they follow the usual French times of opening for lunch service around 12.30pm and closing up at 2.30pm to prepare for dinner service at around 7:00/7:30pm until around 11pm, all restaurants vary though so it is important to check. It is also important to note that the same restaurants often have different prices for their lunch and dinner menus for the same meals – so if you really want to check out a place to eat, and you’re travelling to Paris or France on a budget it may be cheaper for you to go for lunch!
Once you get to a restaurant, the first thing to do is to walk through the door and wait to be seated by someone who works there. They will first greet you and ask you how many people will be dining, to which you can reply: “Une table pour…” then insert the French number relating to the size of your party.
French manners: Getting the server’s attention and table manners
You should be given menus as soon as you sit down or shortly after. You could be asked if you want an ‘aperitif’ which is a pre-meal drink and then they will come back and ask if you’re ready to order. Shortly after your main course, they will come back to collect your plates and with a desserts menu to order them.
A couple of important things to note is that you don’t call the servers to place your order. You simply have to be patient and wait for them to come to you and take your order. The restaurants in France work this way so as to set their pace with the kitchen’s. If you want your waiters attention in the middle of the meal, it is rude to wave or gesture to them. A simple ‘excusez moi’ or excuse me when they are nearby is enough to get their attention. For table service, the bread and water are all free of charge unless it is bottled water. To ask for tap water, you can say ‘une carafe d’eau’ followed by a simple ‘s’il vous plait’ to say please. One other thing to note is that restaurants usually have all the sauces you could want such as ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard – but you’ll have to ask for them as they’re not placed on the table.
Getting the bill and how to ask for the check in French
At the end of the meal, you should get the server’s attention again with a simple ‘excusez-moi’ and to ask for the bill specifically, it is ‘l’addition s’il vous plait’. If they bring it over straight away after the meal, do not think of it as rude. It could simply be because the restaurant is busy and they have to prepare the table for the next service.
To pay the bill especially at smaller establishments, we recommend that you pay by cash. However, these days, most restaurants will accept payments by card. It is important to note that splitting the bill can cause some issues in some places. Some places could refuse taking payments from 5 different cards. Also, some cafés and restaurants that offer small bites have a minimum card spend of 10€ or 15€. Most places will have a sign on their windows or at the register. Look out for ‘CB-15€’, CB refers to ‘carte bancaire’ meaning bank card and then the number refers to the minimum spend!
Do you tip in France? Tipping and service charges
Tipping in France it is not obligatory unlike in some countries around the world. However, we do recommend tipping if you feel you’ve been given a good service. A good tip is anywhere between 10%-20%. It’s useful to know that some restaurants already have a service charge included on receipt, and in that case, there’s no need to tip at all. A final important thing to note is that if you’re paying by card, you cannot add a tip on, you have to pay tips by cash!
Menus in restaurants
‘Plat du jour’ or menu of the day and meal deals
Plat du jour means dish of the day. Most restaurants if not all restaurants in France have a separate menu especially for lunch with one or two plat du jour. These are usually made up of fresh, local ingredients that they get on the day and are usually a fraction of the price of the normal restaurant meal prices. Often, there’s a board outside with the options for the ‘plat du jour’. If not, you can ask your server and they should explain them to you.
When you’re dining for lunch, you’ll also often find a “formule” option which sometimes works out to be cheaper than ordering à la carte. The formule is basically a combination of either an appetizer + a main dish or a main dish + a dessert.
Another thing is that a lot of restaurants have is a ‘menu complet‘ which is a set price for 2 or 3 courses with around 5 options for each dish. This can save you a lot of money if you’re travelling to Paris on a budget!
For English menus in restaurants, you may be given them straight away if they recognise you don’t speak French very well. If not, you can ask and a lot of times they will have one available. It is also not uncommon for restaurants to have the English name for a meal written underneath the French, if however there is no English option, you can always translate them using the app Google Translate which is installed on all our INSIDR phones. You can look up each word and translate it or use the camera icon in the app so live translate the menu by taking a photo of the French, it will automatically turn into English!
A lot of restaurants in France also have a kids menu which isn’t included in the normal menu. To ask for one, it is called a ‘menu enfant‘. It’s often a main dish + a dessert and a drink.
Using Credit Cards
Using your credit card in a restaurant in France is not uncommon for any tourist or local and as such there are certain rules that are different in France to other countries. It is in fact illegal for a server to take your credit card away from you and into the back to process your payment, instead if you want to pay by card, they may ask you to go up to a cash register or till or in most cases they will bring a wireless card machine to your table.
An important thing to note for Paris and France in particular is that American Express credit cards don’t work in some particular restaurants. This is a handy list for restaurants that are AMEX-friendly if that is your method of payment.
In the past, asking to take your leftovers home from a restaurant in Paris could be seen as rude, but more and more these days, the restaurants are slowly becoming more accommodating. Due to the rise in restaurants delivering restaurant standard food directly to your home, restaurants are more equipped to allow you to take your leftovers away with you, and they don’t feel it is rude! Sometimes however you could run into a restaurant that can’t accommodate this need though.
For drinks in Paris in a restaurant or in a bar, you’ll rarely get ice in your drink unless you request it. Whereas in other countries they will often ask for your preferences, in France, no ice is served until requested, unless of course you order something ‘on the rocks’.
For post-dinner drinks there are also some cultural norms that may be different than what you’re used to! Unlike other countries, if you want to open a bar tab – you don’t have to hand over your credit card, you can just pay in total at the end any way you want. However, not all places will let you open a bar tab and could request you pay for the drinks as and when you get them.
Happy hour is a tradition in Paris and most places offer cheap drinks that could be half price or even more during certain hours of each day. They vary from bar to bar but the usual time is for a couple of hours somewhere between 6pm and 8pm. The average bar closing time is 2am!