Restaurants in France: Things you might not know about dining out

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

Restaurants in France pistachio dessert Succulent duck, hearty beef bourguignon and some of the best cheeses and desserts in the world…Eating out in France can be a one-of-a-kind experience that you’re not soon to forget. From top rated restaurants to cuisine like nowhere else in the world, French food ranks high on my “why I love France” list. But even if you’re not a foodie at a fancy restaurant, there are still some things you need to know about dining out at restaurants in France.

Read on for more on restaurants in France!

General info on restaurants in France

Dinnertime is never before 7 p.m. at the absolute earliest

If you want to look like a tourist, go eat dinner at 6:30 p.m. Tom rolls his eyes when I say I’m hungry before 8 p.m. Early dinners just aren’t part of the culture here, and in many restaurants, you cannot get a reservation before 8 p.m. for dinner. So what do you do? Snacks. Lots of ‘em.

Many restaurants in France are NOT open all day

They close in between lunch and dinner. In touristy areas in Paris, restaurants are open all day long, but in the country, this is not the norm. So if you’re looking to have a late lunch at a specific restaurant, call ahead. No coffee to go in France

No take out coffee

Unless you’re in Paris and go to Starbucks, the concept of taking coffee to go in a paper cup is unheard of and not part of French culture. Coffee is not sold to go in bakeries or cafes, so if you want your morning cup of java (and you aren’t in Paris), be prepared to sit down at a cafe or make it at home.

No doggy bags

At restaurants in France, do not ask for your meal to be wrapped up if you have leftovers. Many establishments will find this rude and might oblige out of politeness but many will absolutely refuse. Spare yourself the embarrassment and don’t even ask.

Ordering info at restaurants in France

French restaurant appetizer

Entree is the appetizer

An entree in French is the appetizer. The plat principal is the main course. Also, a fun side note is that French people LOVE to get dessert. Many restaurants offer formules/menus that consist of several courses which end up being cheaper than ordering a la carte. So whichever option you choose, be French and make sure you indulge in dessert.

Meals start with an aperitif

Waiters usually ask if you’d like an aperitif, a beverage that is usually alcoholic and consumed before your meal comes, before ordering. They’re not asking for your drink order with your meal here (so don’t tell them water at this stage). The aperitif is a beverage course and is sometimes served with a little snack consisting of crackers or nuts. In many cases, it’s fine to say no thank you, but waiters just about always ask if you’ll be ordering an apero and it’s certainly part of French culture.

If you want tap water, you need to ask

At restaurants in France, if you want regular tap water, you need to ask for une carafe d’eau. Otherwise, if you don’t ask, water won’t be brought to you automatically. When you do ask for water, make sure you don’t just say de l’eau s’il vous plait if you want regular tap water. Most waiters will bring you a brand name bottled water and might not even ask. You’ll realize your mistake when you see the extra 10 euro charge on your bill.

French restaurant tips

If you need more water, wine or bread, you have to ask

In most French restaurants, you won’t receive a refill on anything unless you specifically ask for it.

Paying at restaurants in France

You have to ask for the check to pay

It doesn’t automatically come and in most cases, you can sit at a table for as long as you want.

It’s normal to get up and just go to the register to pay

This is not seen as impatient or rude. Sometimes the waiter isn’t available and if you’re ready to leave, feel free to get up and pay at the register.

When you pay by credit or debit card, the payment terminal is often brought to you at your seat

The waiter doesn’t take your card to a register in the back somewhere to ring you up. The card never leaves your sight.

Leaving a tip is not customary

The service is included in the prices you see on the menu. If you have extra coins at the end of your meal, you can leave a couple of euros if the service was exemplary, but definitely not 15% or more.

Did any of these things surprise you? Tell me what you found different about restaurants in France!

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Comments (10)

  • Vanessa


    Late dinners: Another reason I should be European.

    What is a typical apertif?


    • Diane


      Hi Vanessa! There are a lot of aperitif options with many of them being regional drinks. Pastis, Kir, Calvados and Pommeau are just a few. You can also get a cocktail like a martini or cosmo. Anything goes really for this course, but when in France, I highly recommend trying one of the regional flavors. ;-)


  • Alasandra


    I would starve in France as I am asleep by 8PM and would never get dinner.


  • Carolyn


    Fantastic and very useful info. I often order the formule and it’s great value – particularly if it includes dessert!

    You’ve made me wish I was going to be eating at a French restaurant tonight.!!


    • Diane


      Glad you liked the post, Carolyn! And yes, the formules are great. Better value overall.


  • Agness (@Agnesstramp)


    Great post Diane. Sounds like you an expert when it comes to dining out in France. Do you cook yourself a lot? No take away coffee? NOOOOOOOOO!!! :-) I would love Starbucks in France even more.


    • Diane


      Hi, thanks! I’m far from being an expert but learned by trial and error after committing these restaurant sins myself (in most cases). I wish I cooked more, but our kitchen is tiny!!


  • Jennifer


    I’m French and what I used to find weird when I moves to the US: people having dinner at 6pm, not having bread on the table unless it’s a French or Italian restaurant, tap water is actually good, doggy bags, how fast they are between dishes and to bring the check, all the “levels” of employees (hostess, waiter, busboy…).


  • Marloes


    Interesting post! I was surprised in how many restaurant whole families come in for dinner, with young kids!


    • Diane


      Yup, kids enjoy their meals just as much as adults!


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