Dining Etiquette In Paris: Here’s Your Survival Guide

Love your restaurant experience in the city of love with these tips. 

Paris is a place of many treasures. It’s the City of Love. The City of Haute Couture. The City of Lights. But beyond the beauty lies another one of its pleasures: food.

An internationally celebrated culinary hotspot, Paris boasts some of the finest dining Europe offers. Chefs, critics, and foodies come from all corners to experience its restaurants and cooking.

Paris is renowned for its food, but more importantly, its rules. If one wants to dine at Paris’ best, there are dining etiquettes to follow. This guide will help anyone learn the proper etiquette of Paris and respect the French dining experience.

dining etiquette in Paris
Photo by Alex Harmuth on Unsplash

Patience is essential when eating in Paris and almost anywhere in Europe. Meals are a means of enjoyment for Parisians. They are social occasions for people to relax and catch up with others. Lunches and dinners are not quick affairs and can last anywhere from two to four hours, depending on the time and place.

Dining in Paris is not meant to be rushed, and the service reflects that. Often tourists will complain that their service was terrible or slow, but they fail to recognize the French laissez-faire culture of eating. Waiters do not expect a quick turnover time for tables. Restaurants and cafés encourage their customers to get comfortable and truly enjoy their meals.

Paris takes pride in its dishes, and dining is an experience. Waiters will not be cumbersomely attentive and come by the table often. They respect the space of diners and assume the customers will make it known when they need something.

French meals are not meant to be devoured but slowly worked through, appreciating the skill and flavor. Don’t expect a course to come right after it has been ordered. Parisian chefs are artists, and food is their craft. There’s a reason Paris is a renowned food city.

Part of dining in Paris is the experience of eating. A traditional French meal will consist of a starter (l’entrée,) the main dish (le plat,) and a dessert (le dessert.) Some luxury Michelin starred restaurants will have additional courses.

French waiters are trained not to clear plates until every party is finished eating. It is not necessarily rude to leave food on a plate in Paris, but when someone is finished eating, they should place their knife and fork across their plate to indicate to the waiter they are done. Otherwise, the plate will not be cleared.

Also, one should not immediately expect the bill. Often, Parisians will stay for long after the food is gone, simply enjoying an espresso, and talking. It is considered discourteous for a waiter to bring the check without the patron’s request. When ready to leave, one must directly ask for the bill.

Dining etiquette in Paris
Photo by Baptiste Gousset on Unsplash

America’s tipping etiquette does not translate across the Atlantic. In Paris, tips are pre-calculated into the bill, so there is no need to leave more than the amount shown. Sometimes, people will round up and leave an euro or two, but never a 20% tip. French workers are trained professionals in the food industry, they take their jobs seriously. Restaurants pay all their staff livable wages, and tips are never the bulk of a paycheck.

Also, when arriving at a café, there is no need to wait for a host to seat you. People are encouraged to choose a table and a waiter will find them.

Beyond the important dining etiquettes, one can consider these minor details when eating out in Paris. For one, clothing is essential, and people should dress with a purpose. Parians love their food like they love their fashion, so tourists should dress to impress.

Ordering a nice bottle of wine can go a long way. The French adore their wine and will appreciate those who take an interest. Plus, a glass of ​​Bordeaux is an unregrettable pleasure.

dining etiquette in Paris
Photo by Simona Sergi on Unsplash

Don’t expect to eat at 6 p.m. Paris loves late lunches and even later dinners, and many people eat dinner around 8 p.m. or later. Many restaurants won’t even reopen for dinner until around 7 p.m.

Cigarettes on outside terraces are normal and encouraged in Paris. Don’t be the one who flashes dirty looks. Smoking culture is still very prominent across Europe, and you never want to be the one to flash unnecessary dirty glares. You will never be forced to partake, but don’t expect the French to pause their ritual cigarette out of convenience for a tourist. It’s a part of their local culture.

And finally, if one wants to eat at all, don’t forget to say “bon appétit,” which translates to “enjoy your meal.” The phrase is a courteous gesture, just remember bon appétit means ready to eat! Some will even say: bon app!

If given a chance, everyone should experience the exceptional cuisine of Paris. But following the proper dining etiquette anywhere is a sign of respect. Hopefully, this guide will help one’s dining experience in Paris reflect the same opulence as the food.

George Hashemi

Content Editor Associate

George admires the power of the written word and its ability to communicate different cultures and destinations to others. He is an avid reader, foodie and voyager. You will probably find him on a food-tour in Madrid, or curled up with a book in the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen, Morocco.

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