If there is one thing the French are famous for, it sure is their cuisine. Eating in general, but more specifically eating out is a huge part of the French way of life. Should you be heading to Paris anytime soon, let me tell you all about the dining etiquette in Paris. Including all the essentials you need to know when eating out in Paris. From ordering water to how much to tip and everything in-between.
OK, so this isn’t a guide to the best food in Paris, let alone one to give you all the must-eats in Paris (although I might throw in a suggestion or two throughout the post). This is more to give you an idea of what to expect when eating out in Paris.
I will focus on everyday breakfast, lunch and dinner, not necessarily on fine dining in Paris. Simply because I haven’t had much fine dining here (since almost all of my Paris travels are work related and therefore eating out in Paris happens on a rather strict budget).
Eating out in Paris: Breakfast
If you stay in Paris as a tourist, there is obviously a chance that your hotel booking will include breakfast (unlike the US, this is fairly common in European hotels). In that case you can expect a standard ‘European breakfast’.
Should your hotel booking not include breakfast, you can grab one pretty much at every little café and brasserie in Paris.
A typical French breakfast consists of coffee, pressed orange juice and a croissant and/or half a baguette with butter and jam. That’s it.
Whilst rather yummy (you can usually expect croissants to be very buttery and quite often still warm), it might not necessarily be the healthy breakfast you were hoping for. Let alone leave you full for hours. But these breakfasts are usually rather cheap. You can find this typical Parisian breakfast for around five to ten Euros at most cafes.
As an added bonus, if the weather is nice, you could sit outside and enjoy your Parisian breakfast with some people watching thrown in for free.
When after a bigger breakfast with eggs etc, you might have to look a little harder. There are places that offer brunch, but this is usually something for the weekend and comes with a hefty price tag (25 Euros and more). So maybe not ideal, if you are visiting Paris on a budget.
Eating out in Paris: Lunch and Dinner
If you are looking for a quick lunch or dinner in Paris, head for a brasserie. You can find brasseries pretty much at every corner. These are usually good value for money, and you can eat in a rather informal setting.
Keep an eye out for their daily menu. Many restaurants and brasseries offer a ‘Formule Midi’. A set menu, specifically during lunch time. Often for little more than the price of a main course, you can choose 2 courses (starter and main or main and dessert) or even three courses (starter, main and dessert). Chuck in a small glass of wine and you are set.
Some places will also offer a ‘Formule’ at dinner time, so it is always worth keeping an eye out for those deals. In addition, quite a few offer a happy hour (usually from something like 5 till 8 in the evening) where you have special deals on cocktails, beers and house wine. Cocktail for a fiver anyone?
If I don’t feel like a massive dinner, I love going for the charcuterie board, that a lot of the brasseries will offer. So, instead of a hot meal, you will get a plate with different cold meats and salamis, sometimes even cheeses. Plus, cornichons, bread and butter. The size of those plates can differ greatly. Sometimes you only get a few slices of meat, sometimes it’s heaps of stuff, that you can hardly managed between two of you. But then again, if you can’t manage it all, they will often offer to pack up the leftovers for you. On one particular occasion, I bought a charcuterie platter for dinner, that was so huge that I ended up eating it for dinner again the next day and still had enough for lunch on the third day. How is this for good value?
Generally, you will be served a basket of bread with your food. Don’t worry. There is no extra fee for this, you can just tuck in. And you can even ask for more, if you run out (or they might replenish automatically).
And talking of free stuff. Don’t be shy to order tap water with your meal (carafe d’eau). This is normal when eating out in Paris and you won’t be charged for it. No one will look funny at you for ordering tap water in a Parisian restaurant, even if you don’t order yourself another drink. Quite different to eating out in Germany for example.
Can I pay with credit card when eating out in Paris?
Yes, you can. Credit cards are widely accepted in Paris and I very rarely had an issue paying for my dinner by card. Occasionally you might be asked to go and pay at the counter, if they don’t have a portable card machine. But overall, it is not a problem to use credit cards when dining in Paris.
Is a tip expected when eating out in Paris? And how much should I tip?
Service is generally included when eating out in Paris, so you don’t have to pay extra for it. And tips aren’t generally expected, especially when eating in brasseries and cafes. But that being said, if you receive good service, I would always recommend leaving a little tip as appreciation. On the other hand, don’t be shy to not give any tip at all, if you were unhappy with the service.
How much to tip would probably depend on where you are and what you have.
When only having a short break with a cup of coffee, I would probably advise to just round up to the next full Euro.
Should you have a huge meal at a restaurant, I would recommend around 10% of the total amount.
Can I get an English menu when eating out in Paris?
I have good news. Yes, you generally can. Whilst French are generally known for not being very accommodating to anyone that doesn’t speak French, fortunately this isn’t really true anymore in Paris. Nowadays, you will be able to get around Paris with little to no French and most people will understand at least a little English.
So yes, getting an English menu when dining in Paris usually isn’t a problem.
My French is very limited (despite learning French at school for seven years, I can rarely string a sentence). As I visit Paris so frequently at the moment, I try my best to use the little French I have and order my food in French when eating out in Paris. Unfortunately, my pronunciation makes it very obvious that French clearly isn’t my first language. So more often than not will the waiter answer in English and hand me an English menu straight away.
Dining etiquette Paris: Can I smoke in Paris restaurants?
There are smoking bans in place for the European Union and these laws obviously also apply in Paris. So, smoking inside a restaurant is a no-no in Paris. But the same doesn’t apply for the outside areas (unlike the rules in the UK for example). You will find that most Parisian restaurants and brasseries have an outside area for drinking and dining. Even in winter, then usually covered and often even heated. But as it is still classified as an outside area, smoking is allowed. And I am sorry to say, very little consideration will be given to someone eating at the neighbouring table (or even at their own table). So, if you don’t fancy inhaling someone else’s cigarette smoke whilst eating, you might be better off eating inside (very annoying when visiting Paris in summer).
I hope you’ll find this little guide on eating out in Paris helpful. And I’ve answered all your questions about the dining etiquette in Paris.
Tell me, have I forgotten anything? What was your biggest surprise when eating out in Paris?