HOME > Chowhound > France >
Brewing beer, curing meat, or making cheese?
TELL US

Most profitable attitudes in top tier restaurants in France

i
inasmuch Feb 4, 2011 10:40 AM

Some "dilemmas" that come to mind:

1. Should you often ask the maître d' for advice? Will you be better treated if you chitchat with them as some customers do?
2. If you happen to dislike every choice available in a course in a ménu dégustation, may you ask for another item from the menu? Or will they think you're trying to be smart?
3. If you ask for “une carafe d’eau”, will they tag you as cheap and abandon you - or rush you out?
4. Does anything you say to the waiter ever reach the kitchen, or do they say “merci” but actually think “who cares, man, shut up and eat - or leave”?
5. Did someone say here in Chow that some restaurants will accept that you share one menu dégustation, if you think it will be too much food?

Thank you for any insights and personal tales.

  1. mangeur Feb 4, 2011 11:51 AM

    Hmmm. Just my thoughts:
    1. Ask advice if you want it and if you are willing to take it. i.e., don't exercise the waiter. It is clumsy to ask for a recommendation then ignore it. Do remember to praise any dish that you find distinguished. This, in itself, will help establish a relationship.
    2. Few dégustations hit the bull's eye with every course. Unless you have a true allergy to a food, I would not ask for substitutions or exchanges. If you go with the chef's inclinations, you may learn that you do, indeed, like something that has been a bugaboo in the past.
    3. Drink your water. You will not be abandoned.
    4. If your comment truly reflects a problem with the food, your thoughts should definitely be conveyed to the kitchen.
    5. I would not try to split a dégustation. You may, however, create your own by ordering, say, 2 entrees and two mains and ask that they be served as four small plates to each of you.
    6. Not that you asked, but if you take a polite and positive attitude into the dining room, you will most often be rewarded by being taken care of by your waiter as well as the kitchen.

    1. m
      Maximilien Feb 4, 2011 12:06 PM

      (In my limited experience,)

      1. I don't chit-chat with waiters or maitre d'hotel; so I would'nt know.

      2. If you know the menu in advance or are allergic or do not like something in a menu, you can contact the restaurant in advance to let them know; or as soon as possible when getting in the restaurants. But if you go to a restaurant knowing that you dislike "high-end" products (foie gras, truffle, shellfish, butter, cream, wine) ... and want them to custom make a menu especially for you, you should not go to that restaurant.

      3. no. ( If I remember correctly, Pierre Gagnaire for example offer their own filtered water at no extra charge); and in any case, the cost of a bottle of water should not be "that" important considering the prices at the top restaurant in France (*)

      4. no, waiters in "top tier" restaurants are professionals, that what makes those restaurants "top".

      5. IMO sharing 1 tasting menu is tacky and the way the different courses are made and presented makes it difficult to share (small portions, 1 or 2 bites), ... A tasting menu should be constructed so that a diner will be able to go from start to finish without being over-stuffed(**)

      (*) IMO one must go to those restaurant with the accepted notion that it will be expensive and one should not "care" about money until way later after the meal.

      (**) contrary to popular belief, high-end restaurant offer a good amount of food for the money; you should not have to go to McDo to fill up after.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Maximilien
        k
        kerosundae Feb 8, 2011 03:06 AM

        Re: #3, Just out of principle, even when bottled water was free, I still asked for tap water. Sometimes it's not about the cost.

        1. re: kerosundae
          uhockey Feb 8, 2011 03:19 AM

          Agreed - only time I'd drink bottled water is if I'm in a developing or 3rd world country. In the developed world I feel that if the water is good enough for the locals it is good enough for me.

          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

        2. re: Maximilien
          Delucacheesemonger Apr 14, 2011 09:15 PM

          Gagnaire actually talked me out of bottle fizzy to give me theirs gratis.

          1. re: Delucacheesemonger
            uhockey Apr 19, 2011 07:06 AM

            ...and L'Astrance couldn't figure out what was fizzy and what wasn't. :-)

            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

        3. Parigi Feb 4, 2011 12:43 PM

          "1. Should you often ask the maître d' for advice? Will you be better treated if you chitchat with them as some customers do?"

          I ask the waiter and sommelier for advice, but would not describe it as chitchat. I don't know if it's the quote chitchat unquote that does it, but when the staff knows more about your likes and dislikes, they steer you better.

          "2. If you happen to dislike every choice available in a course in a ménu dégustation, may you ask for another item from the menu? Or will they think you're trying to be smart?"

          If I dislike every choice available in a course in a ménu dégustation, I order à la carte. -- Obviously one does not want to déguster.

          "3. If you ask for “une carafe d’eau”, will they tag you as cheap and abandon you - or rush you out?"

          I don't know what others think and have never been abandoned and rushed out.

          "4. Does anything you say to the waiter ever reach the kitchen, or do they say “merci” but actually think “who cares, man, shut up and eat - or leave”?"

          Dude, whether you are at home or travelling, especially travelling, it is best not to imagine how everyone hate you.

          "5. Did someone say here in Chow that some restaurants will accept that you share one menu dégustation, if you think it will be too much food?"

          I remember fellow hounds say that in some restaurants, one can share a dish. Could you give a link to the thread that you are talking about?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Parigi
            i
            inasmuch Feb 4, 2011 05:51 PM

            can't find the thread, but maybe it was Souphie referring to L'Arpège?

          2. PhilD Feb 4, 2011 03:06 PM

            1. I often ask for advice if I need it, especially when choosing wine, and just about always when I want good wine at the cheap end of the list (it always works). We also try to get on with the staff, maybe not chitchat but something to build a relationship, for us it makes the meal fun. A good example was yesterday in a three star when the sommelier happily wrote down the contact details for the supplier of a wine we enjoyed.

            2. As other have said if you don't like why order it? I also think you have the term "degustation" mixed up. A degustation won't have choices, instead you are led through a structured 8 to 10 course meal by the chef (obviously kitchens substitute or amend dishes for allergies). I think when you talk about "choices" you mean from one of the (set) Menu's. Generally a top tier restaurant will have a number of menus at different price points if you don't like the contents of one Menu choose another Menu. Remember the Menu may be €80 for three courses but a single dish from the ALC can be €100 thus a restaurant isn't going to substitute ALC dishes for dishes on a Menu.

            3. No problem at all.

            4. This is top tier - complaints and issues yes. "Wow that was great" maybe less so - the clean plate is enough.

            5. Others have said it, on a Degustation (8 to 10 courses) the serves are too small to share, and I can't see any restaurant doing it. I doubt that many will let you share a Menu either as these are structured to offer good value to start with, and many offer a choice of two, three or four courses at different price points to suit different appetites and budgets. If you want to share then both order a two course menu, one chooses the starter and main, the other a different main and dessert, then share the four dishes. Or go ALC and ask for dishes to be split.

            1. sunshine842 Feb 5, 2011 01:30 AM

              1. Depends on what you're calling "chit-chat" Talking about the weather, a big sporting match, or the news? No.

              Asking for details about something that's on the menu? Wine recommendations? Absolutely.

              2. If you dislike every choice available, don't order that menu. Period. Those courses are meant to go together, and requests for substitutions will be interpreted as an opinion that the chef doesn't know what he's doing...which is a really bad way to start a meal at a highly-regarded restaurant.

              3. If you want a carafe d'eau, ask for one. In France, they have to supply a carafe d'eau by law, believe it or not...they might try to bump you to bottled water, understandably, but if you ask for une carafe, they have to bring it to you.

              4. We're not talking about Pizza Hut here....waiters in nice restaurants are professionals (and in France just might be the owner's family) -- a compliment probably won't make it to the kitchen (it might) -- but any legitimate issues (not to include "my parsley is a little wilted" or something equally inane) will be communicated to the kitchen and handled well.

              5. Don't share a single menu -- it's tacky and just not done. Order and split as detailed elsewhere.

              And yes...get that chip off of your shoulder before you come to France. It's weighing you down and is way too much excess baggage.

              1. uhockey Feb 5, 2011 04:45 AM

                Perhaps France differs from the United States in terms of service attitude, or perhaps I've done a whole lot of solo dining, but I have found that getting to know my server is always beneficial - not in an annoying way, but in the way where they know what I like/dislike, sometimes talk about work or sports, etc. At Per Se, The French Laundry, Guy Savoy, and Joel Robuchon I did this - and in every case they initiated the conversation.

                Obviously this only works in restaurants with a 1:1 or 1:2 server to table ratio, but in every instance I had a great meal not just because the food was good, but because I actually enjoyed my server's input and felt like the menus were being tailored to our conversation.

                As for question 2 - it ties in to question one for me. I think the degustation is the chef's "conversation." He/She clearly crafted these courses to play off of one another - to create an experience of his/her vision. Sure, chefs like Gagnaire are a bit more Pollock in their execution - but it is STILL his vision and asking to nix a course for something else is not putting yourself in his stream of consciousness.

                Now obviously if you have an allergy or if there is something you really HATE then it makes sense to skip it, but as I learned at Per Se, Manresa, and Alinea - even mustard (probably my least favorite smell or flavor) can be palatable in the hands of an expert.

                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                7 Replies
                1. re: uhockey
                  sunshine842 Feb 5, 2011 05:50 AM

                  It IS different in France. Your presence at a waiter's table is a professional relationship only as far as he is considered, and you have absolutely no business in asking about his personal life.

                  That's not to say that he won't be friendly...but business and personal don't mix here.

                  1. re: sunshine842
                    uhockey Feb 5, 2011 06:07 AM

                    As stated, if you'd have read, I did not initiate the conversations - nor did I ask about his personal life.

                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                    1. re: uhockey
                      i
                      inasmuch Feb 5, 2011 06:19 AM

                      Thanks for the quick and great input from so many of you. I apologise if any question was offensive, it was not intended to be.

                      1. re: uhockey
                        sunshine842 Feb 5, 2011 09:23 AM

                        but that's what I mean...your waiter in France won't ask any personal questions about you, either, and likely won't hang around to talk about the weather.

                        (I also wasn't snarking on you...so growling at me was pretty uncalled for.)

                        1. re: sunshine842
                          2
                          2FlyingYorkies Feb 8, 2011 09:31 AM

                          I wouldn't generalize quite so much about French waiters. We had dinner at L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon in Paris and had a great conversation with one of our waiters. He overheard us mention where we were from when another couple seated next to us asked about it. It turned out that he had a connection to our area and he jumped in and started chatting with us. It was totally initiated by him, and totally welcomed by us. We had a similar experience at a restaurant in the Loire, and another at different starred restaurant in Paris. Sure, most of the waiters will maintain a purely professional relationship with you if they sense that that's what you want out of your dining experience, but the really good ones can tell if you're the sort of person who doesn't mind a little social interaction as well.

                          1. re: 2FlyingYorkies
                            sunshine842 Feb 8, 2011 10:35 AM

                            My point was that it's the exception rather than the rule, and that walking in and starting a personal conversation with your waiter will not usually break any ice, and might indeed freeze it even further.

                            1. re: sunshine842
                              v
                              vielleanglaise Feb 8, 2011 12:46 PM

                              Business clientele is very important for high end restaurants, especially in Paris. When the fatcat capitalist is trying to close his deal, he doesn't want to know what the waiter's name is. Trained waiters know this and are been taught to be as discreet as possible.

                              They're also trained to "listen" or "feel" the customer. In France, while he's never going to draw up a chair sit down at the table to take the order, a good waiter will be attentive to his clients needs and establish a "relationship" with them accordingly.

                              I can recall many meals where the service was suitably discreet. I can also remember many where things have been much more relaxed, to the point of my tutoying the waiter.

                  2. p
                    Ptipois Feb 5, 2011 04:57 AM

                    "3. If you ask for “une carafe d’eau”, will they tag you as cheap and abandon you - or rush you out?"

                    What the natives usually do after abandoning you is wait until you've paid your check and then rush you out, beat you up, chain you to a big iron ball and throw you in the nearest lake. Order bottled water.

                    "4. Does anything you say to the waiter ever reach the kitchen, or do they say “merci” but actually think “who cares, man, shut up and eat - or leave”?"

                    Man, why travel to France if you suspect that?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Ptipois
                      Parigi Feb 5, 2011 05:10 AM

                      "What the natives usually do after abandoning you is wait until you've paid your check and then rush you out, beat you up, chain you to a big iron ball and throw you in the nearest lake."

                      100% true. So many nights I was fished out of the Seine.

                      1. re: Parigi
                        p
                        Ptipois Feb 5, 2011 05:35 AM

                        And you still order château-la-pompe. Go figure.

                    2. h
                      HoosierFoodie Feb 6, 2011 11:47 AM

                      I don't have a ton of experience but here are my thoughts....

                      Ask advice if you need it. If you don't like every choice in the degustation then order a la carte. If you have an allergy they will certainly work with you. Though it would help if you tell them before-hand about the allergy. A top restaurant will keep you water glass full. We always order bottled. Yes, if there's a genuine problem or compliment it will likely make it to the kitchen. I wouldn't recommend sharing a degustation menu b/c of the serving size. Last year at The Bristol we were stuffed and skipped desert and just had cheese. Didn't bother them one bit.

                      You're going to France and dining at a top restaurant-sit back, relax and enjoy the experience. The staff are all professionals and want to make you happy. I would also advise that you let them serve you and be as adventuresome as possible. They didn't get to where they are by serving bad food with bad service.

                      We had a fantrastic bresse chicken cooked in a pig's bladder. Oh, the truffles, morels, crawfish and cream sauce didn't hurt, either! Not something that one would likely get in the states. We ordered it because the waiter said it was tremendous-and it certainly was! Have fun.

                      1. uhockey Apr 19, 2011 07:09 AM

                        1. I found chatting with the captain was of mixed benefit - it never hurt, but it didn't always help.
                        2. If you don't like the degustation, don't order it.
                        3. No. Not at all.
                        4. It certainly reaches the kitchen at some places - I experienced this at Gagnaire, Ledoyen, Jean Francois Piege, Guy Savoy, L'Arpege, L'Ami Jean, and Chez Dumonet.
                        5. I have no idea if that would be allowed, but many had no problem with one person ordering the degustation while the other went ALC or for the shorter lunch tasting.

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                        Show Hidden Posts