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Champagne by the glass (in Paris) - what is your strategy?

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This (at least for me) is a tricky one: Is there a smart, polite and friendly way to figure out whether you should order a glass of champagne in a restaurant in Paris, or indeed anywhere in France? :)

This SHOULD not create a dilemma... but it DOES, because you almost never know how much the restaurant is actually planning to charge you for the pleasure. Let me give two examples that really got me thinking about this:

1) Dinner at Les Papilles, we have two glasses of an unnamed Champagne. It turns out to be very decent. When we get the bill it lists two glasses and they are complimentary. Result? Happiness, and if anything was needed to want me go back to this place even more - that was the final reason!

2) Lunch at Le Cinq, we have two glasses of excellent Champagne (forgot the name unfortunately). When we get the bill it lists two glasses at EUR 30 each. 30? Result: Although I know I should not, I feel that I am being taken advantage of, because of this high price. Of course, I COULD have asked, and then decided against it, so it is not the restaurant's fault. But still, but still - they KNOW I am not going to ask, right?

So my question for you is - how to solve this dilemma, without the waiter making you look cheap? I have little practice with this situation. I live in Italy and it is rare here to charge sky-high prices for aperitifs, even at the priciest restaurants you can be relatively sure that a glass of prosecco is going to be within your budget.

So how do you French folks solve this? Really curious about your thoughts, thanks!

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  1. The price for champagne for the glass should be listed on the menu.
    If not, take a look at the premium cocktail prices. That should give you an idea.

    A cocktail in the big hotels (am thinking Ritz, Plaza; can't say I have sampled in all) runs about 26 euro upward.
    Therefore I would say that 30 euro for a coupe of bubblies at Le Cinq is about right.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Parigi

      Parigi, although the price for the Champagne is probably on the menu, I think gatsby was probably referring to the practice of asking if you'd like to start with Champagne even before the menu has been presented.

      ,But still, but still - they KNOW I am not going to ask, right?> I always fool them. Any time a special of a ny kind is offered and no price is stated, that question is the first thing out of my mouth. ;)

    2. Me think the 2 "complementary" Champagne glasses are a very rare exception you take it with a smile and NOT talk about it on a public forum, it creates false expectations about the restaurant.

      What will happen if the next time they are not "free" ? you will be pissed off and rant about that on a forum.

      if I go to Papilles tomorrow and expect a free champagne glass and do not get it what will happen ? Show them this thread and argue about it ? I will leave ? rant on a forum, ....

      Anyway, I don't think restaurants can give out free glasses of booze (wine, beer, ...) and expect to have a long life.

      I went at Le Cinq last january, and I got a glass of Champagne, it's hard to refuse when the trolley comes by your table, and I expected to be expensive.

      In short, when ordering expect to pay for it. if it comes unasked, just ask the price, refuse or not if it fits your budget.

      14 Replies
      1. re: Maximilien

        Maximilien is right. If the glasses of champagne or of any other sparkling are brought to your table without your asking, they are complimentary. Most of the time the waiter will add "C'est offert par la maison". The case is quite rare but less rare in wine bistrots, for instance a glass of Plageoles' mauzac nature at Le Pré Verre.

        If the glass of champagne is proposed to you, generally as an apéritif, it is not complimentary. Neither of course if you order it.

        Any glass that comes unasked should be free, otherwise it is a form of "vente forcée" and it is illegal.

        Sometimes the glasses of champagne that you ordered will be listed as complimentary on the bill, as at Les Papilles. That is strictly the choice of the restaurant owner and should be understood as a nice exception, or a mark of friendliness.

        1. re: Ptipois

          "If the glass of champagne is proposed to you, generally as an apéritif, it is not complimentary. Neither of course if you order it."
          The snare, my dear Pti', is when the "would you like" is ambiguously stated - when it's plopped down (Mon Vieil Ami) or asked for (elsewhere) there's no doubt, but "would you like"?
          It took my mother-in-law a while to learn not to ask her three stapping sons if they'd like to take out the garbage.

          1. re: John Talbott

            Which is why "would you like..." calls for "if it's for free, sure!". (although sometimes the right response to the house champagne is "never!").

            1. re: souphie

              Like Souphie said.
              There is nothing ambiguous about "would you like", it means it's not free. When it's free, they let you know. Or, more likely, they bring it to you without a word.

              1. re: souphie

                Right on, altho' the only reason I keep bubbly in the frigo is for my crazy friends of both stripes, who expect/drool over it.

                1. re: John Talbott

                  Wait 'til you've had Beaufort champagne and they will find the bottle empty when they arrive.

                  1. re: Ptipois

                    I confess to a most non-Chowhound penchant: I go for the bubbly mostly for the festive association and because Marilyn Monroe called it bubbly, and not really for the taste. I mean I don't like bad champagne. But all the non-bad ones are fine with me…
                    JT, Sophie, will you deign to talk to me again?

                    1. re: Parigi

                      "JT, Sophie, will you deign to talk to me again?"
                      Of course, I, at least, have no memory any more.

                      1. re: Parigi

                        I don't like Champagne. I have no idea why it is supposed to be festive. To me it is pure waste, Of course there are exceptions: I remember some old Dom Perignon and some Selosse that were exciting wines. But, as I always say: if you only like it when it's exceptional, you don't really like it.

                        I'll have a Petit Chablis over Champagne any time. And pineapple juice is a truly underrated drink.

                        I like Marilyn, though.

                        1. re: souphie

                          Indeed Marilyn is, or was, nice, but so are sparkling wines.

                          At Chez Grenouille recently we were comp'd a glass of fantastic Vouvray,

                          Like Italy - and Spain, tho I know the wines less well - France has some fantastic non Champagne price bubblies, and sometimes they're available in restaurants. They won't necessarily offer them for free, but they'll give you less of a headache both the next morning, and when it's time to pay the bill.

                          1. re: souphie

                            "I don't like Champagne."
                            Ah Soup, I love you not only for this but your new de-departmentalized licence plated car.
                            Why can no one on this site be blunt (without being nasty - cf the Japanese thread, which I too will boycott.)

              2. re: Maximilien

                Maximilien, I certainly did not write this to create false expectations about Papilles. I simply wanted to illustrate the possible outcomes to ordering a glass of bubbly, using my own experience.

                But I have not been precise probably. On the one hand I am wondering about the rules, i.e. when can you expect it to be complimentary and when not, and your and Ptipois's posts explain that well. But on the other hand I am wondering whether if you suspect it is not free--the typical case, right--how to ask smoothly ask about the price, especially if you are not fluent in French.

                1. re: greatgatsby

                  "when can you expect it to be complimentary and when not,"

                  As a general rule, you never know and you should never expect complimentary "stuff" from a restaurant.

                  "how to ask smoothly ask about the price, especially if you are not fluent in French."

                  if a drink comes to your table and you did not order it, just refuse it and if the waiter say that it's complimentary ("sur la maison" (it's on the house", "c'est la patron qui l'offre" (the owner's offering it) , "ça vient avec le menu" (it's included in the menu ...)

                  Language can be an issue, if not fluent and not comfortable, just refuse if you don't want surprises.

                  1. re: greatgatsby

                    <how to ask smoothly ask about the price>

                    "Combien sa coute." How much does it cost... one of the phrases I recommend to all non-French-speaking folks to memorize (along with hello, goodbye, please, thank you, how are you and where's the toilet).

                2. The 30 EUR glass of champagne you had at Le Cinq is probably from a bottle that retails for 100+ EUR. I remember I had Taittinger Comte de Champagne 1998 once or twice there for example, the other times these were equally pricey bottles.
                  One bottle yields 6 glasses, so that's around 17 EUR per glass if you bought the bottle at your favorite wine shop. Paying around twice this price at a restaurant is not such a bad deal, really, as coefficients are usually more in the x3-x5 range.

                  That said, I totally understand that almost paying the price of a full menu at a restaurant like La Régalade for just one glass of champagne can be shocking, and maybe you weren't aware that what you were offered was exceptionnal, and to put it bluntly a real luxury.

                  As for the price, I know it's always awkward to ask to the server, but if you were to do so, they should answer you, and whether they think you're cheap or not is their problem, not yours. As a rule of thumb, I'd say it may usually be around 15 EUR in a "bistrot" and 30 EUR indeed in starred places.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: olivierb

                    Olivier you are right in all counts.

                    "As for the price, I know it's always awkward to ask to the server, but if you were to do so, they should answer you, and whether they think you're cheap or not is their problem, not yours."
                    But but but. It is awkward to have to ask in front of one's date.

                    As I said before and Olivier confirms here, the 30 euro price is about right for a coupe of bubblies in a "palace" hotel. I think one should always, without having to ask, assume that it is going to cost, et ce, around 30 euro.
                    Bearing that in mind, you say yes or no to a coupe.
                    And if it turns out to be complimentary, then it is an extra delight.

                    1. re: Parigi

                      Oh yes, the date thing didn't occur to me... was already far beyond that with my better half when we started dining out! (that and I usually rob a bank or a rich grandmother before *** meals, so the money problems come later)

                      1. re: olivierb

                        Mon dieu, you must be some hot date !

                  2. This is an interesting question and one whch we often confront, although I am not on a tight budget. Frequently I ask if there is an apéritif maison, which is more likely outside of Paris. That gets the conversation going. My wife likes to ask: "Qu'est-ce que vous proposez?" You can also just ask for a glass of white wine; then they will normally propose alternatives, including sparkling ones, or show you the list. Language issues can complicate this, but surely you can speak English at a place like Le Cinq.

                    1. When they ask you if you want an aperitif, you could always ask for the aperitif menu (I guess that's la carte des aperitifs), and that would solve it.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Theresa

                        at a multi star you always know the champagne will be really high priced, so I usually ask for a Cremant d'Alsace, will always be half the price of the champagne, maybe less, assuming they have it.

                      2. There is not much of a strategy. As many of the earlier posters state, if the staff ask "would you like", it is not free. For me, expecting something complimentary usually leads to disappointment, therefore, I don't. I usually have an approximate idea how much a glass cost by the type of restaurant I am dining at. For the top restaurants, I know it will be at least 25E. For places like Le Regalade, etc, might be around 10E. The champagne served at Le Cinq might be a tete de cuvee while something lesser but still good at Les Papilles.