What to know when it's time to go to dinner!

Ordering at restaurants in France (or just in restaurants where French is the primary language) can be confusing at best and intimidating at worst. There are important differences in culture, language and custom that are important to know when it’s time to go to dinner at a French restaurant and here are a few to keep you well-equipped for an enjoyable meal!

  • Greet the host or waiter and ask for “une table pour deux s’il vous plaît” (or however many you may have in your party - I would suggest taking a glance through a French Phrasebook before you even go on your trip, it’s a much more comfortable experience when you know a few words here or there!)
  • Start with a beverage, just like you’d expect in the US - however, you may need to flag down the waiter to get your service started! In many European restaurants, there are a minimal amount of waiters working and they will be serving tables fast and furious. You’ll need to make the waitstaff aware you are ready and need something.
  • Use your French Phrasebook to learn the names of a few different meats/dishes you know you like and make note of any food allergies. For instance, before we left for our first French meal, I knew to look for “magret de canard” or “poulet” (duck or chicken) dishes and to avoid anything with “niçoise” (not an allergy, but I hate olives!).
  • Call the waiter and bravely read your selection. Point if necessary. In my experience, it’s always best to try to speak the language - you’re being respectful, even if you’re butchering pronunciation!
  • You may be in a restaurant that’s offering a variety of fixed price meals or “prix fixes” (PREE FEEKS). You will probably also see these types of meals listed as “le formule”. These are great for beginners because you have the luxury of knowing the cost of your meal (no surprises and no need to know French numbers!) upfront. You’ll select an entrée, a “plat” and a dessert. Not bad depending on the price - and I’ve found many affordable meals while traveling in southern Belgium.
  • That’s an important difference in lingo: in America an entrée is the main dish. In French an entrée is an appetizer! You’ll know the main courses when you see references to “plat” or “plat principal” and if you’re in the mood for a beer, keep an eye out for “biére” or for “bouteille” (bottle).
  • Finally, remember your busy waiter? You’ll need to call them over again when you’re ready to pay and get on with your evening. Catch their eye or give them a subtle wave. If they’re zipping around and you can’t catch them non-verbally, say “Excusez-moi” to interrupt politely and request “l’addition s’il vous plaît.” You’ve asked for the bill and after paying, you’ll be stuffed full and on your way!

Eating in French restaurants, once you know the ropes, can be an incredibly relaxing and elegant experience. European culture places emphasis on living in the moment and savoring your meals, without interruption. So be sure to do just that: sit back, relax and enjoy your meal. Bon appétit!