Transcript for Episode 209: Do's and Don'ts at Restaurants in France

Categories: France How To, French Culture, French Food & Wine


This is join us in France Episode 209. Bonjour, I’m Annie and join us in France is the podcast where we talk about France. Its many quirks, its history, its language and of course destinations in France you want to hear about because hopefully you’ll be visiting soon. On today’s episode, let’s talk about some do’s and don’ts at restaurants in France. If you’re interested in how to avoid rude restaurant experiences in France, you should also listen to Episode 161 50

must know French Phrases for hungry visitors because speaking some French always helps. episode nine are French people rude. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Episode 93 table manners in France, there are some differences you’ll want to know about an episode 9110 Things You Didn’t Know About friends and this is where we talk about tipping, and family restaurants and all of that good stuff. For show notes and photos for this episode, go to join us in And then number 209. Join us in France is brought to you by Patreon supporters and addicted to France, the small group tour company for people who want to enjoy friends to the fullest with a couple of goofy locals. Yours truly, and Elise at their side, we have a new tour planned for September 2019 right now, and it’s only up for sale until December 26 2018.

So check it out on addicted to

is possible for visitors to have a lousy time in France. It doesn’t happen very often. But it is possible. Sometimes people set their expectations. So hi, they’ve read so much about Paris, they’ve read so much praise about Paris. And when you set unrealistic expectations, nothing will ever measure up. There’s even a name for that. It’s called the Paris syndrome. And maybe they’ve read lots of news article and blog posts about how wonderful friends is. But that was talking about friends on $1,000 per day per person. And maybe they can only spend $50 per day per person. That makes a big difference.


most often, visitors complain about restaurant service in France. And when vacationing we eat out a lot, maybe three times a day sometimes. And if the restaurant experiences unpleasant, it will add up to a vacation with lots of unpleasant moments. So on today’s episode, we will concentrate on the do’s and don’ts at restaurants in France. And if you arrive in France, understanding some of the differences between a waiter’s job in America and in France, you will fare a lot better. To see that list of do’s and don’ts again, listen to the episode of course, but then go to the show notes. They’re all listed there. And also in this episode, I teach you a lot of French sentences that will be helpful at restaurants. So listen up. Here are seven reasons why some American tourists believe French waiters are rude. waiters, don’t help me understand the menu. If your French is minimal, you might want to try restaurants that can bring you a translated menu. You could also use Google Translate, but your results may vary. Inexpensive restaurants you know maybe under 12 bucks at lunch or along Paris, it’d be more like 16 bucks at lunch. And restaurants in really rural parts of France, you you won’t have menus in English as a rule. You have to know that French waiters don’t like to play 50 questions with customers? You You have to study the menu carefully and then only ask one or two questions. Understand that waiters in France take care of many more tables than do American waiters. And also they may be embarrassed by their English. And so if you keep asking questions, it’s it puts them in a difficult situation. Then also French people are raised to eat what’s in their plate. And 15 years ago, it was the same in America. Right? It seems to me like when I moved to America in 1990, you know, you picked up something from the menu. And that was the end of that. It’s still like that in France, even at restaurants. But when I go back to visit friends and family in America, they all ask all these questions about the menu items. Ordering takes 10 minutes over there. And if you bring that habit to France,

it’s gonna be difficult, because French waiters are not used to that for you know, for 10 people in France to place an order, it might take two minutes, because French people well, that’s the biggest thing is French people know what those classic dishes contain, and they know what to avoid. But as a visitor, you may not be you know, you may not know that much about French dishes. Now, if you’re at a high end restaurant, no problem, they will take care of you, they will be mindful of that they will explain anything you want. But if you’re eating in an area that normally doesn’t attract tourists, because maybe you’re outside of the very central part of Paris, and you’ve decided to stay outside of that to, you know, save some money. Well, you might be out of luck in those areas. And of course, if you’re outside of Paris, or in a village or something, then you know, forget it. So come prepared. Listen to the episodes I’ve mentioned before, we’ve had many, many episodes about food in France, this is the list of the ones that will help you clear up misunderstandings. Another thing is people say waiters in France look upset and never smile. Well, there’s some truth to that. French waiters don’t think that they need to be a friend, they have a job to do. And it does not include making you feel happy. I’m sorry. Friendly does not equal professional in France. So French waiters are not working for tips. They’d like a tip. But they’ve realized that even American visitors, as soon as they arrive in France, they stop tipping. So don’t expect American level waiter service for no tips. Another thing people complain about is that they they won’t let me make substitutions. This is a biggie and it’s entirely cultural. French chefs love their food and believe, right or wrong, that it’s perfect. Just the way it is. When you ask for substitutions, they, some of them anyway, take it personally. In America, even if you’re eating at Denny’s, it’s fine to ask for substitutions, or ask for the dressing on the side or what have you. This is not okay, in restaurants in France, unless you’re eating out of fine dining establishment, or you’re paying higher level of prices. So if you dinner is going to be 25 bucks and up. Well, yes, they’ll

help you. But if you paying 15? No.

So the more you pay, the more you can ask for. Also, if you’re This is ridiculous. But if you’re allergic to shrimp, don’t order shrimp gumbo without the shrimp, it’s never gonna work. Don’t ask them to double the meat because you’re on a paleo diet. You know, they don’t even know what that is. Instead order to meet entrees instead. Don’t ask for a half portion because you eat like a bird. We don’t do these things in France. And besides, the portions are not that big. Even people who eat like a bird might finish up their French portion. Other people say, Well, we got our food and we never saw our waiter again.

Well, this is another cultural trait of French people.

French people don’t like to be interrupted with has everything today or do you guys need anything else, we we find out rude. You know, we came to eat with a person or a group and we’d like to be left alone. So the waiter is supposed to notice that you’re out of water or out of bread without you asking. And sometimes because they take care of a lot of tables that takes too long, which makes people impatient. It’s happened to me too, it’s normal, but just just be patient.


they have a lot of tables, and they’re not working for tips. And also and I’m going back to the price of things. Don’t expect stellar service. If you’re at a place that charges 12 bucks for lunch, I don’t know kebab place or a sandwich place. You know, they won’t tack on anything for either tax or service. Remember that. So when you look at $12 for your meal at lunch, that’s what you’re going to pay, you’re not going to pay $12 plus 10% was for tax and plus 20%. For

for tip, because that would mean you know that would be up to what $16 in France, if it says $12 you pay $12.


So sometimes for your 12 bucks, you get stellar service. But that’s not the norm. You know, of course in France like anywhere else, the more you pay, the better the surface. And because of the tipping system in America, even if you eat at Denny’s, you will find well, anywhere. Really, you get waiters that are super friendly.

They’ll take time to answer your

questions. They’ll just tell you all about all the entrees which which one is their favorite, which one the people love blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, it takes forever. I’m telling you, it’s like they’re making friends with you.


French waiters know that you won’t tip much, if anything. So they they would their focus is on is doing their job efficiently and not so much the pleasantries. One more thing that people complain about. It took 30 minutes to get my check. Well, yes, wait, French waiters will not bring you to check automatically. Because French people find that rude because when you know, once they bring you the check,

it means pay and get out. Even when you ask for the check, sometimes the waiter is busy, it won’t, you know, it won’t come for a while. So in that case, what you should do is get up and go to the cash register to pay for your meal and leave. They sometimes they leave a piece of paper upside down on your table or under the tablecloth. That’s what you take to the register. And if they didn’t do that, it means that the register is keeping track.

So now that I’ve told you the basics, let me tell you how this episode came about this happen and the winner will air next week we’re in inspired, I guess by an exchange I had with a Facebook group member who had

a terrible

time in France. And she wanted to vent about it. Unfortunately, as soon as she spoke up, many people piled on against her, as happens on the internet. It would have been better if people had said, Well, sorry, you had a bad time. I’ve been lucky myself. But that’s not what happened. Because I live in France and most of my listeners do not. I was asleep when this whole thing happened.

So I woke up to

dozens of comments and exchanges that I could, you know, I didn’t think I could do much about those because feathers had been ruffled already. But I should have used the delete button on a lot of comments. hindsight is everything right? I really want people to be able to vent on the group about bad experiences without being snapped at. If there are lessons to teach about France, let me do that. After all, I am French born and raised. I live in France full time, and I have a podcast dedicated to that. So going forward, be warned, I will use the delete button a lot more on the Facebook group. And if you post gets deleted, or worse, if you get put on moderation, you’ve probably posted something that rubbed me wrong, it wasn’t necessarily offensive or terrible. But it’s just something that doesn’t fit my vision for the group. Don’t take it personally, I have a very clear idea by now of what the group should be about. And I want to keep it to that pretty strictly going forward. And I haven’t been decisive enough in the past. So I’ve spent way too much time and it’s just driving me batty. So I cannot take the time to explain myself to each person. Because I have work to do. Other than babysitting the Facebook group. I used to explain by messaging people, but half the time, they just call me names and and they’re upset that I won’t let them run the group the way they wanted to run. So the purpose of the group Let me repeat is to exchange and share personal experiences that you had in France or ask questions about France, please exercise self restraint in what you post or comment. And if I don’t think your comment, or your post fits that purpose, I will delete it. And I may put your moderation. And it will be a little bit arbitrary, I have to say because we do know I’m not a judge. I’m not saying Danny, I have opinions. And sometimes I get it little snappy about some things. But even if something gets deleted, or you get put on moderation, it’s only temporary, you know, make my life a lot easier. At any rate, I’m not sure how many of the episodes, this person had listened to. Many group members don’t listen to the show. It’s kind of strange, but they don’t because they joined the group as a suggestion for from Facebook. And I don’t advertise the group on Facebook or anywhere else.

But when Facebook sees a group with a lot of engagement, they keep sending people to me, and I like it. But

it’s hard to convince people who don’t listen to podcasts that they should, which is why I keep you know posting links to episodes. So this person felt confident that she was well prepared for her trip to France, because she had taken French at school.

And that’s good.

She also felt confident because she loved France so much before she ever visited. And I would say that’s a bad sign. If you love a place you’ve never been to, you’re probably emotionally bit too involved.

You know, it’s a little bit like you expected to see the sunflowers fields in full bloom. But you misunderstood something, and you didn’t realize that there’s only certain conditions under which you will see the sun flowers in full bloom. Namely, you know, the from the middle of July to possibly the end of July, depending on what part of France the rest of the year, they’re going to be looking ugly and dry. And you know, they’re not nice.

So, again, it’s about managing expectations. Also, this person and her husband when they’re young, and they were on a tight budget. I think it played a role in this as well. She said it didn’t but no.

But no matter what the particulars of her situations were, I put this episode together in order to show you how to avoid rude restaurant service in France. It’s not a fatality. It’s only a cultural misunderstanding. And you have to know that some people are jerks, even in France. There’s no getting around that fact in any countries. So even if you do everything just right, you may run into somebody who is plain rude. But if that happens every day, you may ask yourself, Is it new? Or is it dumb? Alright, so let’s get to my French dining etiquette do’s and don’ts. Every time I open the show, I say we talk about Francis quirks, and we do have a lot of them, especially when it comes to food. So let’s go down the list. Feel free to add more in the comments. I’m sure I missed some number one of the do’s start every interaction with anybody with bone Zoo

number to us all the French you know, even if you don’t speak French, try to say it in French Junior bar above Hong See, Renault Pavlova fancy. And be mindful of the fact that your waiter may be embarrassed by his or her English. And if they try to speak English anyway, praise them for trying and they will probably do the same to you. Number three, when dealing with waiters who speak good English, and we have them increasingly.

And if you prefer if you would like to use your French, which I understand, ask them if it’s okay to do this in French. Realize that they’re not French teacher they have a job to do. using English might be faster, but maybe they’re open to that. So ask them. Number four for people who have allergies. If you’re allergic to certain foods, show them the names of the food in writing and in French before you sit down. If the waiter is going to be a jerk about it move on. Some restaurants in France are surprisingly helpful when it comes to food allergies, and others are not. So download and print the allergy card on the website, join us in forward slash two nine and show it to the waiter as soon as you arrive. Number five, vegetarians and vegans, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, make sure they have something that you can eat. at that restaurant before you sit down. restaurants in France must display a menu with prices outside of the restaurant. It may not be the most updated menu, but if it shows nothing that you can eat, move along to another restaurant.

I really

think it’s awful that more French restaurant tours are not aware of vegetarians and vegans. Things are changing slowly. And you can help by walking off and telling them why. In my village, we have just one restaurant. And they never I mean we go eat there, maybe once a month or something. They never have a single vegetarian or vegan option. But it’s a small village in the Toulouse countryside and they never get any tourists. So be mindful of that when you’re traveling to France, vegans especially need to plan out what they’re going to eat carefully. Because in large cities like Paris to loser, all the other ones, you have many options. But in small towns and villages,

it’s pretty hard.

We’ll do an episode about this when my daughter very soon she’s, she’s vegan. And so she has stuff to say about that. Number six, what to do to get a quick drink in France. And this is something that this person specifically complained about. She said it would take forever to just have a coke anywhere or a coffee or something if you want to quit coffee or coke and you also need a bathroom break order at the counter instead of sitting down. Counter service is meant to be quick and efficient.

Table service is not. Now I know in America, the counter at a restaurant is usually where they serve like hard liquor. But it’s not in France in France, it’s just where you go sit,

where you could

have art hard liquor, I guess you could have anything you want there but people go to just order a coke and check it down quickly problem. This is how I usually do it. I go sit down for a second the waiter comes over I say I would like a Diet Coke. Sure. And I go and and I just say I’m going to bathroom, go use the bathroom, come back, drink my coke leave. Okay. And that sometimes take just five minutes. It doesn’t have to take very long but if you sit down at a table, they will be very French and assume that you just want to see look at the world go by you know and you have all the time in the world and they will not rush you. So

number seven.

When you ordering food, if you show any hesitation, the waiter will leave this happened to us with the group a lot. So when the waiter comes over to your table, be ready to order. If you hesitate, if you keep looking at the menu, the waiter will just go away and may not come back for 20 minutes. So they don’t do that because they’re rude. But they they do that because they think you need more time and more time maybe much too much more. You know what I mean? Number eight. If you’re in a hurry, you have to tell your waiter as soon as as soon as you arrive, say something like new some crazy provable new mosey happy to mo new some spicy, proven new motion happy demo. Sometimes they’ll say no problem. And sometimes they’ll say we’re too busy today, we can’t serve you quickly. So feel free to move on if you need to. Again, it’s best to ask before you sit down. And if you’re in a hurry, ask for the pleasure. Most restaurants can serve their daily special within like maybe 10 minutes of taking the order. So but again tells them that you are in a hurry, or they’ll give you all the time in the world to eat you daily special.


nine French waiters will accommodate children. French Raiders are typically I’ve never seen one that wasn’t really friendly to children. She asked them they will warm up a baby bottle, they’ll bring you some bread or soda right away for the kids. Most places though, they don’t have games for the kids. So bring your own coloring book. They normally won’t bring bread to the table right away for grownups. But they will usually do that with parties for parties with children.

Number 10. The standard kids menu in France is ground beef patties and fries. And they will make that even if it’s not on the menu, they may or may not have other things. You know, I know American kids love chicken nuggets. And they may not have that they definitely won’t have kiss ideas or mac and cheese. Because those are not things we eat in France. And I know those are a favorite of American kids, they might be able to bring you spaghetti ball in years. But see what I mean about vision Italian and vegan. Everything on the menu for kids has meat in it. So we have a long way to go about that in France. Number 11. Order the drinks that you want even soda. I often read that in France, you should only order wine or water to go with your food. Well tell you what this hasn’t been true for many years. French people don’t drink wine at lunch every day anymore, and many will order a soda instead. So order what you want. And don’t worry. Number 12. Tap water comes free with your meal but not as soon as you arrive. So you can ask for tap water to go with you meal you say India half do seed will play in your calf to play. But that will arrive at the same time as your meal. Not as soon as you sit down like it does in America. You’re dying of thirst, order Bianchi or coke while you’re looking over the menu. Now let’s look at some don’ts. And I don’t have very many of them.

Number one, don’t use the bathroom. If you’re not a customer.

You know, that’s pretty obvious to me. But if you ate there an hour ago, it’s fine to go in and use the bathroom. Again, nobody’s gonna say anything about that. Number two, don’t expect ice water. So in America, you sit down within two minutes, you have ice water in front of you. It’s lovely. But most French restaurants don’t have a big ice machine. And even if you ask for ice, they’ll bring you you know, few little piddly cubes of ice. Because they don’t use ice themselves. And they don’t really and they don’t have an ice machine. This goes even in the middle of the summer when it’s really hard. And it’s not my favorite thing about France. Wish we could change that. We boop me you know, baby steps.

Number three, don’t expect bread and butter while you wait. Well, French people only put butter on their bread at breakfast time anyway, your bread is included in the meal, but it comes at the same time as your food or even soon after your food. They will make an exception for people who come with kids, you could ask something like Oprah of Well, I’m also the pump or repetition will play? Well, Hamas would have been poorly pretty simply. But normally, they will do it without you asking. Number four, don’t ask the waiter to split the check. If you’re eating with a group and you want to split the check, that’s fine. But don’t ask the waitress to split it, go to the cash register and sort it out there. They’re used to doing it that way. So how it works is you go with your new big long check that has all these things that everybody already you tell the person at the cash register, I ate this and I had a glass of wine and did I have

this dessert, whatever.

And then they check it all off and you’ll figure it out. We’ll take a few minutes. But

that’s how we do it.

Number five, don’t think you’ll get served anytime.

This is something most Americans have a hard time wrapping their heads around. If you show up five minutes before their cook leaves, because cooks don’t stay at the restaurant the whole day. Well don’t expect to be served. French people eat at set times and so restaurants are open between noon and 2pm. And then 730 until nine in smaller French cities and rural friends showing up outside of those hours means you will not be served. But in cities, you will find places that serve non stop that’s called savvy school continue. And number six, last but not least, don’t expect American style service in France. American waiters are super nice because they work for tips 20% of the price of your meal. That’s a big tip. French waiters would love a tip of a euro or two. But by now even Americans won’t give them that the Americans used to you know, some Americans anyway used to tip 10% because you know that’s that to them felt like the minimum by now everybody’s read on TripAdvisor and everywhere Oh no, you don’t need to tip in France. And so that means they tip zero, which is less than what French people do. Really if you get good service, you should take a euro or two French people do. You don’t see it because it happens at the cash registers. Usually they have a piggy bank or they have a little basket or something. But French restaurants will not ask you for a tip and you can cannot add it to your credit card slip even if you want to.

Well, I guess you can.

I think that bad you can but it’s a bit convoluted. But if you have some coins in your pocket tipa euro or two for good service because karma

join us in France needs your support to see all the ways you can support the show visit join us in France. com forward slash support. Thank you Steven rough funds burger. Lynn Galliano, Jessica Bell and Sean Raines for pledging to support the show on Patreon this week. And my thanks also to all the other patrons who support the show month after month. Thank you for giving back to support the show on Patreon. Go to forward slash join us. And thank you so much at 138 patrons this week, up three,

thank you so much for joining up that always makes me feel good. For my personal

update this week. Well, my husband and I went to see a play or a theater play called the level he was in a small theater in Toulouse. And we don’t get to see plays very often this was a gift from a friend. But this was such an enjoyable experience. And we may just have to do that again. It was a contemporary play. It was both funny and touching. You know, when I was a student and we went to the theater more often the plays they put on we’re just strange. Not so much anymore. authors are making us laugh and think and it’s really lovely. I recommend if your friendship is good you try some plays when you visit France. We also want to see the movie first man in a really fancy new movie room with Dolby sound and all that huge seats, rumbling seats. It was amazing. I can’t believe how much they can do in you know in a movie theaters, and those were recliners to like I thought I was going to fall asleep but without movie can fall asleep anyway.

It was just great. And now there’s this new movie star is born, you know, with apparently has a Labradoodle in it so I might have to go see that. What else I’m listening to a book about Napoleon and it’s really freakishly interesting. It’s in French. by Max Gallo. It’s called Alou. Shonda Deepa is the first in a series by this author. At least his husband recommended it and she and he, you know, he was right. It’s really good. So I’ll be telling you more about that. We still have mostly wonderful weather in to lose in the fog in the morning. Sometimes when it clears up nicely. It’s really been lovely. And yeah, still no hedgehog in my hedgehog habitat. I’m told they like to sleep on dried leaves. So I’ll be gathering leaves when I’m done putting this episode out tonight. Hopefully only so late that the doom got to the leaves and it’s too late. If you’d like to tell other people about the show, let them know that they can find join us in France, anywhere they hang out online. Just search for the join us in France travel podcast. If they are podcast listeners, they already know what to do. If they’re not maybe it would be easier for them to listen via the website at first, either from their phone or from their computer. Join us in France. com is where they go for that. Or they could use their Amazon smart speaker and the young ones will appreciate the fact that we’re on Spotify, so we’re easy to find. And thank you for spreading the word to connect with me email Annie at join us in France. com or leave a message at 1818061215 You can also ask to join the join us in France closed group on Facebook but when you do answer the questions or I will not let you in. Join us in France travel podcast is written and produced by Annie Sargent and copyright 2018 by addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution non commercial no derivatives license.

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Categories: France How To, French Culture, French Food & Wine