Survival Guide to Eating Out in Paris
Most foreign visitors to Paris end up having a love-hate relationship with the city’s restaurants after just a few days. They’ve probably spent years dreaming of a romantic, candle-lit dinner with their partner in a gorgeous little place along the Seine, only to be disappointed by rude staff, bad food and overly touristy menus.
While we don’t doubt the fact that there are some less than desirable dining choices to be had in Paris, especially in the excessively touristy areas, we also would like to point out that many problems arise from ‘lost in translation’ moments. Cultural differences, alongside disparity in habits and customs, can all play a part in the making of a less-than-average night out in a Parisian restaurant. But there are a few things which you can do, as a guest, to ensure that you don’t start your evening by inadvertently rubbing the waiter, or chef of a restaurant, the wrong way. To help you plan the kind of dining experience you’ve always dreamt of, we’ve compiled a survival guide to eating out in the French Capital. Follow our handy hints and you’ll soon discover that the City of Lights is brimming with exceptional gastronomic experiences, whether in a tiny little corner cafe’, bustling bakery or riverside restaurant.
Paris Food – When a little effort goes a long way
Unlike popular belief, you do not need be completely fluent in French to be treated nicely in Paris, but at the very least, you should learn the basic greetings before hopping on a plane. A few well timed bonjour (good day), bonsoir (good evening), merci ( thank you) and s’il vous plaît (please) will be very rewarding for you, and much appreciated by locals, which will result in much better service in restaurants.
Dress to impress
If you’ve been in Paris for longer than 2.5 minutes you should already have realized that the French dress to impress. Always! Turn up at a restaurant wearing baggy jeans and a pair of sneakers, and don’t be offended if the staff looks you up and down and then refuses you a table. Sorry, but the Parisians literally invented the fashion police. In this glamorous city, gym shoes are only ever acceptable footwear at the gym. In a city of old-school charm, it makes only sense that old-school charms should still apply: the better you dress, the better the service. Plain and simple.
Book it or take second best
Parisians don’t just stumble upon a restaurant for dinner, it is neither habit nor is it considered polite. What they do is book a table, even if it’s just for an hour later. Here’s the theory: the French take their food, meals and cuisine very seriously. Restaurateurs even more so: this isn’t just their ‘business’, this is the heart and soul, their lives, their home and their bêbe. Most French people would never consider showing up unannounced at a restaurant; to them, it would be like showing up at a friend’s house at 8pm, with three kids and grandparents in tow, expecting dinner to be ready in half an hour. Go to effort of booking a table (ask your hotel concierge for help!) and not only will you receive excellent service, but you’ll also have the chance to research your restaurant of choice.
Research, research, research
Good point! In this wonderful modern age of technology, there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t be up to date with the latest reviews of the best restaurants in every arrondissement in Paris. Sites like this are particularly helpful, because they’re run by ex-pats who have been living in Paris for decades. Research your restaurant of choice, and you’ll lessen your chances of stumbling across a less-than-ideal eatery.
The surprising tactic
We know it’s annoying as hell having to ask for the bill half a dozen times, or being forced to act like you’re having an epileptic fit just to have the waiter actually acknowledge your existence. In case you’re wondering: yes, they are purposely ignoring you, but for very good reason. While in other countries, waiters (just like shop assistants) buzz around you in case you ‘need anything’, in Paris they do the complete opposite. They go to extra lengths to stay out of your way, to give you a chance to enjoy your meal (or select that dress) in privacy, at leisure and with ample time. They know that should you need anything, you’ll find a way to let them know. So don’t get offended…just get louder and louder ‘till they get the point.
Now for the great news…
Paris is one of the few major world cities where a single cup of coffee can still buy you endless hours of people watching, or book reading outside a trendy city cafe. In more industrious cities, you’ll either be moved on within ten minutes, or be asked to keep ordering more. Not in Paris! The waiter’s not hanging for your every word, does not live off your tip, and has probably forgotten you’re sitting there; so enjoy your coffee or meal at leisure, chat to your companion, read, have a snooze, or do what the locals do…just simply be. There are 101 ways to enjoy eating out in Paris, and sitting down for a restaurant meal is but one of them. Fill a picnic basket with a crusty baguette, stock up on gooey stinky cheeses and cured hams from the local Carrefour, pick up a bottle of red and enjoy a sunset picnic by the Seine. Of all the brilliant dining experiences Paris has to offer, we dare say this may just be the best of the lot.
Gideon via Flickr
Clelie Mascaret via Flickr