A Diner’s Guide to French Restaurants
Part of discovering a country’s culture is to embrace its cuisine. It would be silly to go to France and eat at nothing but hamburger chains; you miss out on the chance to taste (literally!) the unique character of the region. Splurge on a French restaurant. Think of it as part of a tour—one you take with your tastebuds.
Tipping French Restaurants
If you look at the bill, most restaurants automatically charge service taxes of 15% and value taxes of 19.6%. So you aren’t actually obligated to leave an extra tip, though this would be much appreciated if you were particularly happy with the service. A few coins will do.
Be very clear about what you mean when you order water. Most waiters will assume that you want bottled mineral water, so specify if you’d prefer tap or distilled water. It’s safe to drink tap water (just ask for carafe d’eau) if you would rather save on money—those designer drinks can add up! You should also ask if you want ice, since they don’t usually automatically serve it cold. You can also try fizzy water, an excellent alternative to sodas.
Fixed vs Ala Carte
Fixed menus include a set of dishes: an appetizer (sometimes called entrées or hors d’œuvres), the main dish (often termed as plat), and either a dessert or a cheese (also called fromage) to clean the palate. These dishes are meant to complement each other’s ingredients and it’s recommended to try at least one set menu before leaving France. On the days you want a lighter meal you can ask for ala carte, where you select from a menu, or ask the waiter to reduce the number of dishes. It is common to ask for a cup of coffee with one’s dessert, not during the meal.
Only the bigger restaurants in major cities are open for the whole day. Not all will serve both lunch and dinner, so it’s best to make your reservations and double check their operating hours. It is typical for a restaurant to start service during lunch, close at around two, and then reopen for dinner at about 7:30 pm. Many close during Sundays or during the off-season.