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Dining in Paris for the Uninitiated, or Why is There a Dog at the Next Table?

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Vivant Table restaurant

Dining in Paris is not quite the same as dining at a restaurant in America. There are a number of important differences. Let's review the variety of things you should keep in mind when you step into a Parisian restaurant.

1. If you ask for a menu, the wait staff will think you are interested in getting the restaurant's fixed-price meal (also called a "menu fixe," which is a list of their daily specials). You want to request "la carte," which is a complete list of dishes you can order. The menu fixe will be cheaper than ordering la carte, but you will find more choices by ordering from la carte.

2.  If you want to fit in and avoid sniggering from the staff, do not order coffee with your meal. That comes at the end of your meal. On the other hand, do you really care what they think?

3. Are you trying to save money? Lunch is always cheaper. Eating out a few times each day in Paris is not for those on a budget. I have more pointers on saving money in my tenth point, below.

4. Do not complain to the management if you spot a dog sitting comfortably in its own chair. Vive la difference! The French love their pooches, perhaps a bit too much.

5. At most restaurants, the tip is included in the bill. If the tip is included, you will see either the words "service compris" or the initials "s.c" on the bill. If the tip is not included, you will see "service non compris" or the initials "s.n.c." In this case, leave a tip as you would anywhere else in the world.

6. The bill in a restaurant is called "l'addition." However, in a bar, however, it is called "le compte" or "la note."

7. If you see an item on your bill for "couvert" then you are at a restaurant that has a cover charge. If you want to play it safe, ask before you sit down whether there is a cover charge.

8. The typical mealtime for dinner begins at 8 p.m. If you arrive at 8, you will likely meet very few other patrons. Parisians eat later than we do.

9. If your server brings you water or if there is water already placed on your table and you drink it, you will pay for it. If you want water with your meal and don't wish to pay for it, ask for "eau du robinet," which is tap water.

10. Eating two or three meals a day in restaurants will set you back many Euros. One way to avoid breaking the bank is to shop at a food store, wine shop, or food market. Then make yourself a picnic lunch. The food will be excellent and your wallet will thank you. There are lots of wonderful food markets throughout the city, including along the Rue Montorgueil, the Rue Mouffetard, and the Marché Raspail. Plan to arrive at a food market before noon or you will likely miss it.

Bon appetit!




Jul 7, 2014 7:47am
Or eat at a café instead of a restaurant, and order the 'plat du jour', or daily special. Another thing to do in Paris is to go a couple of streets away from the main tourist sites, and you'll find eateries aren't quite so pricey.
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