Can I eat in Paris without reservations?
I keep reading all about the importance of making reservations for dinner meals especially..I will be in Paris for 4 nights and I just don't know it I can committ to a firm reservation - one never really knows where the day will lead...with that in mind, do the more Paris -experienced think I will be able to find a nice meal (not necessarily Michelin Star) even if I don't make reservations? I was in Paris about 6 years ago, ate very well and never had a reservation..have things changed?
Only 6 more sleeps till I wake up in France!
Paris has so many restaurants you never need to reserve if you simply want to eat. However, like everything, the demand for better ones (or the most hyped) is high so you are advised to book if you want to be certain of a table.
I tended to find that restaurants fell into five categories in Paris. I am certain this holds true in many towns but in Paris the vast number of restaurants and diners makes it more obvious.
1. The impossible to get into - these are booked months in advance. Le Comptoir for dinner is an example. With these taking potluck and getting a cancellation on the day may work. These are top restaurants, well reviewed with international reputations (lunch is often easier).
2. Need advance planning - these generally book up approx two weeks in advance (although you may get a late table (10:00pm) or a Tuesday night at the last minute). L'Ami Jean, Gaya, Aux Lyonnaise, Senderens, and Spring are good examples (although expect Spring to go to category #1 soon). These are usually good value, good quality and well reviewed.
3. Some thought required - these generally book up a day or two in advance. If you walk past and it looks good you may get a table that night or the next day (it is a good sign if the reservation book looks full already). If you simply turn up it would be a 50/50 chance (easier early or late). Fish, Maceo, Willi's, and Pasco are examples.
4. You can't book - there are a few places that don't take bookings so you have to simply arrive and take potluck. Le Comptoir for lunch (or the weekend) for example, or L'Atelier Joel Robuchon which books for 12:00 noon or 6:30 but for other times you have to get on the list or stay at the hotel.
5. No booking required - there is always space - usually for a reason...!
One of my rules of spotting a good restaurant is how easy it is to get a reservation. If I can walk in on a Friday or Saturday night without a reservation then there is a high probability it isn't going to be that good - not 100% accurate but from a lot of experience close to 90%.
Best advice is to book a few well in advance, but leaves a few days free between the bookings so you can be more spontaneous and find the gems in category 3.