You 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?