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RESTAURANT ETIQUETTE IN FRANCE: SIMPLE PRIMER (WITH TONGUE IN MY AMERICAN CHEEK)

My recent reading of a poor internet review of a favorite restaurant of ours prompted this post. Some people simply should not be allowed internet access. Speech may rightly be free, but it shouldn't be worthless.

From reading the review, I could determine that the reviewer was a tourist who started out in a bad mood because he had to pay extra for parking a camper van that exceeded the maximum height for parking in the free lot. His party arrived at the restaurant at the end of lunch and without a reservation. At first, he was told that an empty table that he pointed out was reserved. When he persisted, he was informed that lunch was over. Since none of the other restaurants in town were still open, the reviewer had to miss lunch.

Let me count the ways...

RESERVATIONS ARE NECESSARY. Maybe not at Burger King, maybe not in a touristy restaurant in a touristy destination. But if you are really hungry, if you really want to try that restaurant that everybody's talking about, or if you just want to be certain to get eats, RESERVATIONS ARE NECESSARY. In some cases, that's because the house has prepared the exact number of covers for the reservations in hand. I've seen consistent regulars on a first-name basis with the chef/owner turned away because they forgot to call ahead. And arriving for lunch after 1:30pm without a reservation is almost always a deal breaker. Yes, the posted hours may run until 2:00pm, but that's closing time, not the time of the last seating. In fact, in many French restaurants, there's only one seating for lunch. Arrive by 1:00pm to be safe or you take your chances. And don't forget. RESERVATIONS ARE NECESSARY.

Don't expect to be the exception. Be gracious if you are turned away.

Wait at the door to be noticed. Don't seat yourself. Some restaurants move around the tables and chairs based on the reservations. That cozy table for two in the corner was reserved last week for the newlywed friends of the chef. If you've called ahead, there'll be a place for you. If you haven't, you'll just have to take what you get...or nothing at all. Wait at the door. 

While you are waiting at the door, and if you haven't made a reservation, practice the French for the number of people in your party. Numbers aren't that hard. And if you can't say Bonjour or Bonsoir or Merci or S'il vous plait at the appropriate times, what are you doing in France anyway?

There will be dogs. There will be large dogs and there will be small dogs. Some will not be groomed to American Kennel Club standards. Some will appear to have completely avoided any grooming at all. Deal with it. If the dog has been brought into the restaurant, the dog has probably been in every restaurant that its masters have visited, as many restaurants as you have visited. I have never eaten in a restaurant in which a dog has misbehaved. Adults, yes. Children, yes. Dogs, no.

Speaking of children, French children don't run and scream and throw things in restaurants. (They don't throw tantrums in grocery stores either, for that matter.) If yours do, the French won't think that it's cute. They'll think that you are a lousy parent.

Don't whistle or snap your fingers at your server. Just don't.

You can request off-menu items. You can request a vegan or a gluten-free option. You can request substitutions. Request is the operative word. Every server in every French restaurant that I have visited has listened to such requests politely. Honoring such requests is another matter. Désolé is French for I'm sorry. In other words, NO. Accept and move on.

Service compris means that the tip is included with your bill. There are various ways that this fact might appear on your bill (SC, STC, TTC) because the French like to confuse you. Assuming the usual, that service is included in the bill and that the service itself was proper, we will often leave change in a bar or casual cafe, a small bill in a fancier restaurant.

Study carefully. There will be a quiz.






 

Comments

  1. Just one question: Are reservations necessary?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. RESERVATIONS ARE NECESSARY 😁😁😁

      Delete
  2. So rocking up at Le Pourquoi Pas without a reservation is not a good idea?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In truth, i've taken my chances there on a whim and been disappointed. I have come to learn the meaning of the phrase: FERMETURE EXCEPTIONNELLE...

      Delete
  3. A great list of things that might seem obvious if you live here but definitely aren't to tourists. TTC means tax included rather than service included, but the principle is sound -- I've never been in a restaurant in France where service wasn't included. Although like you we will always add a small tip for excellent service.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I've never been in a restaurant in France where service wasn't included" It's a legal requirement, and avoids the odd scenario where you're pretty much forced to leave a tip no matter how crap the service.

      Delete

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