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
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.
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.
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
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...
Je suis allergique à… – I’m allergic to…
The waiter may approach and ask: ‘Tout va bien?’ – Is
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’