Although French restaurants might seem similar to the ones in North America, there are some differences you should know about. Eateries in France are essentially temples for worshiping food. Each part of the country has its own specialties which beguile your nose and tickle your taste buds. But in order to feast like the French do there are a few simple rules to be followed:
French do not like to rush their meals; they view them as an integral part of their daily plans.
Lunch is served between noon and 12:30 pm. Be sure to arrive on time because the restaurants stop seating around 1:30 pm.
Dinner starts around 7:30 pm, since it is customary to eat at 8:00 pm. Do not arrive later than 9:00 pm or you may not be seated.
It is most necessary to make reservation for dinner especially if you are dining in the countryside. Call the restaurant in the morning or the day ahead to reserve a table. It is courteous to book ahead, so the restaurant owners can plan accordingly. The great thing about reserving a table in the countryside is having it for the whole night, since the restaurant doesn’t expect a table turnover. Reservations are usually not needed for lunch except for Sundays which is popular day for families to eat out.
Upon arriving at the restaurant ask to be seated by saying:
• Je voudrais une table pour (un, deux, trois), s’il vous plait (Juh voo-dray oon tah-bluh pohr (uhn, duh, twah), s’eel voo play) – I would like a table for (one, two, three), please.
If there is a line in front of you, you may want to ask:
• Combien de temps faut-il attendre? (Com-byan de tohm foh t’eel ah-tohn-druh?) – How long is the wait?
In response you may hear une heure (one hour), quarante-cinq minutes (forty-five minutes), une demi-heure (a half-hour), or quinze minutes (fifteen minutes).
Upon arrival to the restaurant, wait for someone to greet you and show you to your table. In France, when couples sit down at the table it is customary to let the woman have the better seat. Example: the man takes the chair that faces the wall; the woman assumes the chair that faces the view of the room. If you do not do this, no one will say anything but they will think it is odd.
Most menus in France offer three of four courses:
• Entrée: in North America we call the main course the “entrée”, but in France this term is used for the appetizer course.
• Plat Principal: this is the main course, which includes meat or fish with a side.
• Cheese: (fromage) small piece of cheese is sometimes enjoyed after the main course.
• Dessert: ice cream, cake, or fruit tart are common choices.
• Coffee: (café) this is served afte the dessert and is ussually espresso.
You are not obligated to order something from each course. You may pick and choose whatever you desire.
carte – menu
apéritif – pre-dinner drink
carafe d’eau – jug of water
boisson – drink
amuse – gueule-appetizer
plat principa l- main dish
plat d’accompagnement – side dish
viande – meat
bœu f- beef
poulet – chicken
fruits de mer – seafood
poisson – fish
légume – vegetable
fromage – cheese
Other important phrases you may need to use when ordering:
• Je suis un végétarien (Juh swee z’uhn vay-jay-tahr-ee-ehn) – I am a vegetarian.
• Je suis allergique (aux noix, aux crustacés) (Juh swee z’ah-luhr-jeek (oh nwah, oh croo-stah-say) – I am allergic to (nuts, shellfish).
The Set Menu
Some restaurants offer a set menu which is well priced and offers daily speacials. They allow you to select two or three dishes from each course. This is a great way to try new cuisine, although be careful about making substitutions on the set menus. It is an insult to the chef to change his recipe.
Restaurants offer wine by the bottle or glass. Vin de pays wine is less expensive than the AOC wines which are the official wines of the regions.
To ask a waiter’s advice about wine, say:
• Quel vin proposez-vous? ( Kel vehn pruh-poh-zeh voo?) – What wine do you recommend?
It is customary to order water with every meal whether it is with gas or flat.
The bread is brought out after you have ordered the meal. Although, the French do not eat it with butter or oil, and they do not have bread plates either. The bread is eaten with the meal.
Paying for the Meal
As in most European countries the bill is not presented when you have finished your meal because they do not want you to feel rushed to leave. In order to get the attention of the waiter say:
• S’il vous plait (please) or S’il vous plait, l’addition (can I have the bill please).
In France service is always included in the prices listed on the menu. You do not have to tip, but it is customary to leave a 5-10% tip if the service was good.
Still hungry for more French? Here’s an awesome language game to play here