In a world city like Paris where three million people rub shoulders with one another, it is important to be familiar with social conventions.
1. What time?
In Paris, you can eat out at any time of the day or night … but not everywhere. Every restaurant keeps its own hours. For popular places, it is best to book and/or get there before 8pm if you want to be sure of getting a seat. Note that, after 10.30pm, many restaurants close their kitchen! You will always find a restaurant open in the middle of the night, but you will have less choice. If you prefer to dine early, some restaurants serve food throughout the day and are therefore open before 7pm.
2. Dress code?
True, we do not dress the same when eating at a bistro and when eating at a starred-restaurant. But whatever the occasion, keep it simple. Parisian chic combines elegance, comfort and discretion.
3. Where to sit?
Even in busy establishments, Parisians always try to find a quiet table. And as soon as there are a few rays of sunshine, the rule is to opt for a table out on the terrace, even if it is only 13C degrees outdoors. The choice is yours!
NB Restaurants are non-smoking so outdoor terraces are often full of smokers. Best avoided if you hate cigarette smoke!
4. What to drink as an aperitif?
Just like for the question of what to wear, the best thing is to keep it simple. As well as regular drinks, don’t hesitate to try out the latest Parisian trends for an apero: spritz, cocktails, aperitivo, etc.
5. How to choose your wine?
In Paris, people like to show that they are knowledgeable about wine! Choose your words carefully when speaking to the wine waiter: a white wine that is ‘vif’ and ‘sec’ (‘lively and dry’) or ‘fruité’ and ‘moelleux’ (fruity and smooth), a red wine that is ‘puissant’ and ‘ensoleillé’ (powerful and ‘full of ripened fruit’) or ‘léger’ and ‘doux’ (light and sweet) … Don’t worry, if you don’t know a lot about wine, you can always ask for some advice.
6. Are some things free?
You can always ask for a carafe of (tap) water in a restaurant, even if the waiter has already offered you still or sparkling mineral water. A carafe of (tap) water is of course complimentary and once you have drunk it, you can ask for another! In France, bread, cutlery, glasses, serviettes … are also complimentary. The same goes for appetizers offered at the beginning of a meal by some restaurants.
7. Are there menus for children?
Some restaurants have special children’s menus. They are cheaper, serve smaller portions and the dishes are more adapted to the taste of children.
8. Where to put your telephone?
In Paris, people have a habit of leaving it carelessly on the table. Having your phone stolen is always a possibility however, so it is best to keep it out of sight in a pocket or bag.
Parisians do not have (too) many scruples about answering a call or sending an SMS during a meal. Nevertheless, don’t indulge too much in this habit out of respect for the people around you.
9. Should you leave a tip?
In Paris, the bill in bars and restaurants includes a service charge, so you do not have to leave a tip. However, if you have been satisfied with your meal and the service you are welcome to do so. A tip in general amounts to 5 to 10% of the bill.
10. How to react to flower sellers?
On cafe and restaurant terraces you are bound to be approached by someone (persistent but never aggressive) selling roses. Don’t hesitate to buy one if you wish to give a flower to the person you are with.
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