France is known for its culinary traditions. This can be somewhat intimidating for those traveling to France for the first time. If this is your first trip to this amazing country, check out some of the most basic things that we learned during our France travels.
Getting a Table: This one is pretty easy, just say “Une table pour (insert number of people) personnes, s’il vous plait”. This means “a table for (insert number) people, please”. Numbers go as follows: un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix).
Timing: Service in France is slow; not a bad thing, just a cultural thing. People really love food and center their culture around it. Expect a regular lunch to last from an hour and a half to two hours. If you are in a rush gently let your server know by saying”Excusez-moi, mais je suis pressé par le temps”.
Formules: These are like your prix fixe in the US. Basically, for a set price you get a certain number of courses. For example, a restaurant may offer a chorizo starter, a grilled swordfish and a creme brulee for a “formule” of 19 EU. Formules will vary by restaurant, but these are real deals. In the US a prix fixe would cost you about $25 – $35 and does not include tax. Some formules in France will even include a glass of vin de pays. Somehow it seems that the larger the quality, the lower the price. If you do not want to order from the “formule” ask if you can order “a la carte”.
Getting Someone’s Attention: Sure, everyone knows waiters are known as garçon in French, but utilizing this word is considered rude. Instead say “Pardon Madame” if your server is a woman or “Pardon Monsieur” when talking to a man, this is sure to get you quicker results.
Courses: Appetizers are “Entrees”, Main Course is “Plat Principal” these are followed either by dessert or fromage (cheese).
Types of Meats: You may have a friend with a shellfish allergy or maybe you have a vegetarian in the bunch. The following words could come in handy: boeuf (beef), fromage (cheese), fruits de mer (crustaceans), poisson (fish), poulet (chicken), viande (meat).
Sharing: Sharing is not caring in France. It is looked down upon. So when you order your formule, make sure that you order at least one other plate for your date. This way you can sneak in a bite or two without getting dirty looks.
Doggy Bags: Just not done in France. If you ask for a doggy bag, the French WILL give you a dirty look and flat out tell you “No”. A few restaurants in more touristy areas will allow doggy bags, but these are few and far between. People have said that portions are smaller in France and so that this is the reason. Not accurate. For the past month, I have seen that portions in France are just as large as those in the US. If you must absolutely take your food with you, sneak in a tupperware and pack your food. You may still get some dirty looks, but in the long run, you paid for it. NOTE. Restaurants that offer “pour emprunter” or take are sometimes more kind towards doggy bags.
Dogs: France is UBER dog friendly. No need to leave your pooch at home. Dogs in France are incredibly well behaved (better than kids) and welcome at most outdoor seating areas. They seem to know to sit under the table and just relax, so may not need a doggy bag. A few restaurants and boulangeries have a no dog policy, but these are few. They will usually have a sign on their door.
Politeness: It will always help you to be nice. Everywhere you go in France, you will notice that people greet each other whether they know each other or not. When you walk into that restaurant, leave shyness behind and greet your server. The easiest greetings for you to learn are “bonjour” (good day) and “au revoir” (until we meet again). And almost everyone in Paris speaks English, but you should still put in the effort to try (I highly recommend Daily French Pod for practice).
Beverages (wine and water): Most places will not automatically give you still water, you need to ask for it. Simply say “Une carafe d’eau”. If you want mineral water (still) it is “Une bouteille d’eau minerale”. If you want sparkling “Une boutaille d’eau gazeuse”. Remember to say “s’il vous plaît” saying please never hurts. Wine in France can be fairly inexpensive. Of course it can be really pricey as well. Most places will serve a decent table wine. Here’s the most basic wine ordering vocabulary for you: bouteille (bottle), verre (glass), white (blanc), rose (well…rose) and red (rouge). Put them together easily…e.g. “s’il vous plait, une bouteille de vin blanc”. And keep in mind that rose in France is not the sweet, cloying stuff that is drank throughout the US. Rose in France is mostly dry and delicious, so go ahead and give it a try.
Bread: Bread will not be the first thing served at your table. The bread will come with your meal. Usually it does not come with butter or olive oil. Keep in mind the French are master sauciers, so use the bread to eat the last of those amazing sauces.
Smoking: If you love outdoor seating, expect smoke to blow in your face. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of smokers (at all). In France you have no choice but to deal with it. Almost everyone in France smokes.
Asking for the Check: The French consider it rude to bring the check right away. For them bringing the check would be considered kicking you out, like being at a party and having your host flick the lights. When you are ready to go, say to your server “L’addition s’il vous plaît”. When they bring your check it will be on a plate. If you are paying with a credit card they will bring the credit card to you and swipe it in front of you. If you are paying in cash, put the cash on the plate and hand it to your server. Think of it as confirmation that you have paid.
Tipping: There is no need to leave a tip in France. Your check will have 15% automatically added to the bill for your service. It is actually required by law to make sure that servers make a living wage. Your check will also include a VAT tax, so when you get your bill, that is all you have to pay. If you get extraordinary service, you can tack on a little extra, but it is not necessary.