Eating out is not just something you do to provide your body with sustenance; in France, it's an experience, one that has a few little rituals about it. Because the dining experience is so prominent a part of the culture, you can be over-faced, especially in the larger towns and cities, by the choices available.

Fixed price menus

Almost all mainstream restaurants in France offer you an à la carte menu, plus three fixed price menus. The latter are generally made up of dishes from the former (but not always), and offer a choice of, usually, three courses, at different prices from €20 upwards. The price differences simply reflect the number of courses, the complexity of preparation and no doubt the cost of ingredients, too. Within each menu are a selection of dishes, so it is unlikely that you’ll fail to find something you like. What it is unquestionably true to say is that the fixed price menus offer excellent value for money.

Dish of the day (Plat du Jour)

Away from the high-end dining, you'll find that just about every restaurant in a town offers a dish of the day. There won't be any choice; just three courses, sometimes four, and generally quite basic in their choice of ingredients. These are usually priced around €10-€15, and are exceedingly good value for money, and may well introduce you to some dishes you maybe would not have thought of trying. Order a jug of house wine (un pichet), and you'll get change from €20.

Time to eat

Lunch is generally served between noon and 2pm, and dinner from 7pm to 10pm. Outside these times you may struggle to find somewhere to eat, other than in the large cities. Moreover, the smaller the town or village, the more likely it is that you need to be knocking on the door at noon, or you may not get in. Better still, reserve a table, if you can.

Dressing down

Smart casual is perfectly acceptable in all restaurants in France, even the very best – although, to be fair, you may feel a little discomfited in a Michelin-starred restaurant in jeans and a casual shirt, although it has been known. That aside, the important thing to remember is that lunch and dinner are dining experiences, not fashion parades.

Settling up

In most restaurants, you won't be given the bill until you ask for it (L'addition, s'il vous plaît), and certainly not while there's still coffee in your cup. When the bill comes, service and tax will have been included, so there is no need to give another tip – although you can if you wish.


Most restaurants in the cities and larger towns have staff who speak English, but it is always nice, and courteous, too, to understand and respond to some of the spoken niceties.

So, here is a little vocabulary for a French restaurant:

On arrival
Bonjour/Bonsoir: Avez-vous (or Est-ce que vous avez…) une table pour deux, s’il vous plaît? – Do you have a table for two, please?

As you enter, the staff may ask: ‘Pour deux personnes?’ – Is it for two people?

Making a start
Qu’est-ce que c’est le plat du jour? – What is today’s special?
Qu’est-ce que vous recommandez? – What do you recommend?

After a while the waiter will ask…
Vous avez choisi? – Have you decided?
Je vous écoute – What would you like? (Literally: I’m listening to you’.)

You can respond with…
Je voudrais… – I would like...
Je prends… – I’ll have...

If necessary…
Je suis allergique à… – I’m allergic to…

The waiter may approach and ask: ‘Tout va bien?’ – Is everything okay?

To conclude…
The waiter may ask…
C’est terminé? – Are you finished?
Ça a été? – Was everything ok?

Le serveur/La serveuse – The waiter/waitress
La carte – The menu
Le menu – Fixed-price menu
Les entrées – Starters
Le plat principal – Main course
Le repas – Meal
Saignant – Rare
À point – Medium rare
Bien cuit – Well done
À la – In the style of; for example, ‘à la française’, which translates as ‘French style’

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