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.
General info on restaurants in France
Dinnertime is never before 7 p.m. at the absolute earliestIf 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 dayThey 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 take out coffeeUnless 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 bagsAt 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
Entree is the appetizerAn 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 aperitifWaiters 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 askAt 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.