French Lesson: Restaurant Etiquette & Expressions

If you come to France to do one thing, it might as well be to eat! Did you know that French Cuisine is officially recognized and protected by UNESCO as an intangible world heritage of humanity? That’s right - French Food, and its significance here and beyond France, is paramount to all those who have the pleasure of enjoying it, as well the ceremony around serving it. So when in France, you would be wise to spend as much time as possible dining out in the best bistrots. When you do, there are surely some French expressions and manners that will come in handy to know.

Paris Rendezvous

For starters, here are a couple things that might surprise you about dining in France that you’ll find different from the United States….

En entrée in France is actually a starter or appetizer, not a main dish as you might be accustomed to it being in America.

• Your waiter won’t bring you the check unless you ask, even if your plates have long been cleared. Bringing it to you before you ask would be considered quite rude.

• Most restaurants do not have continuous service, meaning lunch ends before 3PM and service doesn’t start again until 7PM at the earliest. You might find it hard to eat outside of these hours.

• Tip and tax are included in the prices of each item on the menu, but at the end of your meal it’s nice to leave a bit of extra tip anyhow if you were pleased with the service. Something like 5% extra would be suitable.

• At bistrots, it’s generally okay for you to go ahead and seat yourself where you like if no one is waiting or unless otherwise written to wait for the host.

• It is not customary to ask for changes to a dish in restaurants and usually not possible.

When it comes to communicating with the staff, a few easy words and phrases can come in handy, especially when outside of Paris where English is less common. Waiters in France don’t make small talk, so restaurant conversation is quite formulaic and predictable. You can get the hang of it in no time!

une table pour un, deux, trois, quatre → a table for 1, 2, 3, 4 // simple as that
pour manger → to eat // when a waiter asks if you’re there to boire (drink) or manger (eat)
la carte, s’il vous plaît → the menu, please // in French menu actually means a fixed menu
une carafe d’eau → a pitcher of water // the simplest way to ask for table water
je prends le… → I’ll have the… // the only prefix you need to ordering anything on the menu
saignant / à point / bien cuit → rare / medium / well done // la cuisson when you order meat
un verre du vin blanc / rouge → a glass of red / white wine // because when in France
un café, s’il vous plaît → a coffee please // it is customary to finish a meal with coffee here
l’addition, s’il vous plaît → the check please // don’t forget, you will have to ask for this

This little guide should give you the courage to try out some French when dining out in France or at your favorite French bistrot nearby! I’ll leave you here with one last little tip. If you’re looking for a lip color able to last through a long luxuriating meal, might I recommend a Matte Shaker? Their long lasting high pigmented color means you’ll be chic all the way through to the last course!

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