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Ordering Food in Paris

Because of its strong cooking tradition, France has some of the best cuisine in the world, so people frequently travel there to tour the wonders of French cuisine. However, many arrive in Paris ill-equipped to order in a restaurant, and locals frequently side-eye tourists for their etiquette snafus.

Ordering food in the City of Light can therefore be somewhat daunting to many travelers. While you may have a guide to help you on a walking tour, you'll need to venture out on your own eventually. However, with a bit of knowledge, you'll easily be able to navigate the culinary wonders of Paname.

how to order french food in Paris

Understanding French Cooking Tradition

When ordering a meal in Paris, you must understand that this country has an incredibly strong and proud cooking tradition. Chefs train for years before opening their own eateries, and even low-level staff take pride in their work. Therefore, you should take care to avoid certain faux pas that may offend your service staff or worse, the chef. For example, adding loads of ketchup or extra cheese to your preference may be common in the US, but doing so will offend the staff in a Parisian restaurant.

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Tips for Ordering in Paris

Ordering famous and authentic dishes may seem difficult at first, but with a few helpful hints, you'll be eating like a real Parisian.

  • Learn a Little French

Many menus don't have English translations, so knowing basic menu terms like carte de vins (wine menu) and l'entree (the starter) will help you figure out what you want to order more easily. Your server will be able to help a bit, but they will not want to spend 20 minutes translating. Additionally, a few basic phrases like "excusez-moi Monsieur/Madame" will please your server, and if they must accommodate your special dietary needs, asking en français goes a long way. Even if you garble the pronunciation a bit, they'll be happy that you're trying.

  • Take Your Time

Many tourists complain of slow service, but in France, taking your time is customary, especially in a fine dining establishment. You should eat at a relaxed pace and savor your courses, and if you need something quick, grab a street crêpe or other on-the-go fare.

  • Tipping is not Expected

Servers are paid a living wage, so tipping is not so common. In general, you may not tip unless you were particularly impressed by the service or if the server went out of their way to accommodate you (e.g. helped translate the menu or provided for a vegetarian in your party), and you only need to leave a few Euro, generally about 5% of the check. 

Don't Expect Fine Dining Service Everywhere

Though cafes and boulangeries are some of the best places to enjoy Parisian cuisine, expect service to be a bit more brusque there. Because these establishments have higher customer turnover than fine dining restaurants, the service staff will be more focused on getting their lines of customers what they need.

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