While you’ll find certain similarities in dining out in France to dining out in the US, beware that there are some important differences. It’s important to familiarize yourself with local etiquette and customs in areas such as dining before your trip, so as not to encounter an embarrassing situation or confusion. Here are some quick tips to help:
1. Restaurant Hours
Restaurant hours are a little different in France. Whereas many lunch and dinner restaurants in the US are open from 11am until 10pm or so, and we even have 24/7 diners, it is not so in France. Breakfast typically consists of a small meal of meat, cheese, and bread at home or a pastry at a local cafe, brunch is served from 11am to 3pm, and lunch is served from 12pm to 2pm with restaurants usually closing afterwards and not reopening for dinner until 7:30 or 8pm.
Coffee is not ever served with dessert in France, it is always served at the end of the meal.
You’ll find that it’s common for waiters not to take your entire order all at once. Often they will go around and take orders for appetizers, then go around again for entree orders. Drink orders are not taken until after all meal orders are placed.
Don’t be surprised if your drink is only filled half way. It’s considered poor taste to fill a glass all the way. Also, drinks are not re-filled until the glass is completely empty. Topping a drink off is not a typical practice as it is in American restaurants.
Tipping is not required in France, but it is appreciated. If the service was good, a tip of 1 Euro or up to 5% of the meal price can be left.
6. Special Menu Change Requests
In US restaurants it is common practice to customize your meal, asking for this or that to be left off or this or that to be added to your food. It’s not the same in France. In France it is considered an insult to ask a chef to alter the way he has or is preparing your meal. You eat things the way they are prepared.
7. Left Overs
Asking for a doggy bag will get weird looks. Taking home leftovers is considered taboo. It’s not that you can’t do it, just be prepared to get questionable stares.
8. Hands on the Table
It’s bad manners to have your hands out of sight. Keeping your hands within sight at all times, or on the table, is important etiquette in French restaurants.
9. Paying Your Ticket
In France, a quick table turnover is not a priority, so waiters will not be trying to rush you out the door, and they definitely won’t just bring your ticket over to your table without you asking first. Simply ask, and you shall receive.