5 reasons to love French restaurants

Le-Cochon-lOreille-menuYou may be surprised by this list – it’s not about the food. In France, good food and wine are pretty well a given. But there are a few things about the restaurant experience itself that I appreciate. Of course, by ‘French restaurants’ I mean restaurants in France rather than those that serve French food.

1. Professional wait staff

One thing you can be assured of in France is that you will never be subjected to the phrase, “Hi, my name is Bob and I’ll be your server this evening!” No introductions will be performed, nor will you be asked where you are from or expected to engage in witty repartee with your waiter. And, outside of the touristy parts of Paris and Lyon, chances are the service will be not snooty but smooth and professional. I’ll take efficient service over fake friendly any day

2. You get what you pay for

Restaurants in France have a strict hierarchy, from the simple café-bar that serves the odd jambon-beurre to the Michelin-starred restaurant gastronomique. In between are all the traditional and family-run establishments where you can get a full meal including starter, plat du jour, dessert and coffee at a very reasonable price. It won’t be fancy, but it will be what it claims to be: nothing more or less. A recently voted French law comes into effect in 2015 obliging all restaurants to clearly identify on their menus freshly prepared foods or dishes with a ‘fait maison’ logo.

3. Mineral water

Flat or sparkling, large or small bottle: whether as an apéritif or an accompaniment to any meal, you will always be offered eau minérale (at a cost) along with your wine. If you insist, of course, all restaurants are obliged by law to provide a carafe d’eau (tap water) for free. But don’t be afraid to ask twice.

4. Everything in good time

The French take the time to enjoy a proper meal at lunch and even more so in the evening. You will never feel rushed at table, or (horror!) have your plate removed before you are finished, as has happened to me more than once outside of France. Assuming you are dining at a full-service restaurant, you will be offered, in this order: apéritif, appetizer, main course, cheese or dessert, coffee. You can try to speed it along; it’s like trying to swim against the current. My husband, who prefers the speedier North American style of service, repeatedly asks to have his coffee served with dessert; it invariably arrives after.

5. No need to leave a tip

Tipping is entirely optional in France (as it should be!). Not just in theory but in practice. Service is included with the tax so if you do leave a tip, there’s no need to make it 10% of the bill as you would in many English-speaking countries. Leaving a few coins at the end of a meal is standard recognition for good service and will be appreciated by the wait staff.

And here’s something else I enjoy…

When I first came to France I was frustrated by the fact that you could not find many places in Paris to enjoy a coffee with the wonderful croissants and pastries on offer at every boulangerie-pâtisserie. Now, the advent of Starbucks and the rise in coffee culture in general has led to many bakeries like Paul opening up café service, or ‘salon de thé’ in the fancier places. Truly the best of both worlds.

Et vous? What’s your favorite thing about French restaurants?


  1. cheergerm · November 28, 2014

    Thank goodness you are now able to get some decent coffee with all that gorgeous patisserie! From my one visit to France, the patisserie’s remain my very favourite thing. My other would be the fantastic potato preparations I enjoyed whilst dining out, be it frites, puréed or some other way. And lentils and duck and….I will stop there.

    • MELewis · November 28, 2014

      Clearly you could go on….and agree the frites are fabulous! I even know true Frenchies who like the ones at McDo! 😉

  2. davidprosser · November 28, 2014

    I’m with you Mel all the time,efficient over fake friendly wins the day. There’s nothing worse than the “Have a nice day” that’s said by someone who isn’t even looking at you and is said in such a bored way you know it’s an automatic reaction that’s part of the training. Not a sincere word in sight (so to speak).
    Having said that, I think interaction is fine since it shows the waiting on staff that they’re recognised as individuals.No doubt I’m spoiled by the attention I get where I eat but at the end of the day, it’s why I eat there. I’ve allowed friendships to develop so that I’m a friend rather than a customer.I think I’m more comfortable like that.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • MELewis · November 28, 2014

      You are so right, David! And I agree when you are a regular at a place (as I know from reading your blog that you are…), it’s entirely different. In that case, friendly banter with the server is in order. Some even do the salutary cheek kisses when they know you well. As long as it’s sincere, it works for me. Big Bises xxx

  3. alifesgayventure · November 28, 2014

    is it still not ok to order a cappucinno after hours at the boulangerie-pâtisserie places you mentioned? or does the unspoken law of not ordering cappucinno in the afternoon still applies?

    • MELewis · November 28, 2014

      Oh dear…I am not aware of any rules regarding times for ordering cappuccino! Only café au lait, which is a breakfast drink for the French. But none of the bakery cafés will be open after about 7pm anyways!

      • alifesgayventure · November 28, 2014

        lol, i think i have my leg pulled. i read in a blog that if u order a cappucinno anytime other than at breakfast you will get scorned by the waiter and be told off .

  4. Multifarious meanderings · November 28, 2014

    Great article – number four made me nod my head 🙂 I’m a real meanie, but what I enjoy the most about french restaurants (apart from the food) is the English translation of the menu. Last weekend I ended up crying with laughter and was inches from being frogmarched outside by my girlfriends.

    • MELewis · November 29, 2014

      Oh, that’s terrible. I would never do anything so crass as to laugh outright at the poor French! 😉 Tee hee.

  5. Food,Photography & France · November 29, 2014

    Beautifully and concisely explained. When it all comes together it’s my ideal eating experience…nice post;)

  6. jackiemallon · November 29, 2014

    Very informative.
    Fave thing would be the gluttonous use of butter 😛
    We should not fear le beurre!

    • MELewis · December 1, 2014

      Oh, yes, butter is better….although a little moderation never hurts, along with copious amounts of red to wash it down!

  7. Mélanie · December 2, 2014

    excellent and delicious post, as usually, MEL… ❤
    * * *
    @n°5… I always leave 2-3 euros(or more!) if everything has been fine en fonction du rapport qualité-prix et de l'amabilité du personnel… 🙂

    • MELewis · December 2, 2014

      Agree, Mélanie! Rewarding good service with an appropriate tip is always a good idea. Personally, I tend to overtip compared to my French friends, so 2-3 euros sounds perfectly correct. Cheers for that!

  8. Osyth · December 9, 2014

    Only just caught up with this … and so glad I did! I’m very interested in the new law. 🙂

    • MELewis · December 9, 2014

      So glad it was helpful! Personally, like most French laws, I find the intention is good but the execution backward. Why oblige restaurateurs to post an ‘authentic’ label next to home-cooked meals – it would make more sense and be more transparent to have those who use frozen or prepared foods have to disclose this on their menus!

      • Osyth · December 9, 2014


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