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Can we eat well in Paris without reservations?

This is my first trip to Paris and I've been restaurant reading reviews on TripAdvisor. It seems that most restaurants are rated at 4 out of 5 stars, more so that any other city I've visited in the US. Because we weren't planning on spending over $100 for the two of us for most of our meals, we thought we'd be able to just stroll until we got hungry, then check the posted menus and pick a little bistro or cafe since they are apparently mostly very good. But... I'm having second thoughts on this plan and am thinking that the same people who eat at bad restaurants in the US and love them are also reviewing restaurants in Paris. :)

So...do you think the quality of most places to eat in Paris is really that exceptional that we will not be disappointed by the no reservations approach? Or should I rethink this strategy?
Thank you!

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  1. The answer to your post title is: no.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      Even if you want to eat at certain place in an hour, make reservations. It is polite in this culture and if you change your mind, no worries just cancel.

      1. re: Parigi

        Anybody who says you cant eat well in Paris without resos is Crazy! Paris is a big city and there's alot of crap but if you do your homework, of course, you can eat well without resos particualrly at lunch. Most people even on these boards get streamlined into certain places but the city is full of delicious places to eat that do not cost a fortune. Just watch what you order and unfortuantely go light on the wine.

      2. No. and why would you want to take chances like that on your vacation?

        First off, sad to tell you there are MANY restaurants you absolutely DON'T want to get stuck eating in. On the other hand, it is also easy to eat VERY well, and not necessarily expensively, but you must plan ahead.

        Read the threads in this forum. There are many containing current information. Then, when you've culled a list that sounds good to you, come back and ask your questions. There are a whole host of folks on this forum who can give you really good advice.

        1. Well, the general answer is indeed no, but with a big caveat: you can make last minute reservations everywhere, and you will usually find a very good place at the last minute. Weekends are unlikely to work, though, where so many good places are closed and almost all decent ones that are open are packed.

          1. Souphie brings up a good point: you can sometimes find a cancellation at the last minute. So go ahead and call late in the afternoon or early evening.

            But heed Delucacheesemonger's advice also: making a reservation in France is just plain polite. Like calling a good friend to say you are dropping by so you don't catch him in the shower. It's part of playing the game correctly. And playing the game correctly will carry over throughout your service.

            Also, it's cool to just walk in to a restaurant and up to the maitre d' and be welcomed and shown a table, rather than either being turned away or being offered a seat at the bar for an hour.

            Let me put it one other way: I live in San Francisco. I cannot think of a single restaurant where I would want to eat and could walk in off the street and get a table. Period. Good restaurants, particularly restaurants that serve excellent food at reasonable prices get booked up. And that is the sad story, for us as well as for you.

            3 Replies
            1. re: mangeur

              Same for Manhattan. And, anyway, considering the dinner hour in Paris typically starts not much earlier than 8:30pm, it will be cold and dark as you search for something delicious.

              1. re: mangeur

                I agree with the statement that Paris is just like SF, or NYC, or just about any reasonably sized city, in this regard. I really don't think there is anything special about Paris or France here. There are some places, or nights of the week, etc. where you should really make a reservation if you want to be sure to eat at a specific time and place. This is true the world over.

                I don't believe that in other situations (i.e. where you called ahead, but also could have just walked in off the street), the fact that you made a reservation is communicated to all of the staff and results in you receiving better service throughout the meal than the walk-ins seated at the next table, because you "played the game correctly". Some restaurants in Paris/France may play this game, but it's not a specifically French/Parisian game.

                To the OP, I would say, do the same thing as you would do when visiting any big city that you don't know very well. Whether this means (1) researching for months, planning out every minute of every day, and reserving every meal weeks in advance, (2) wandering around the whole time with zero plans and zero expectations, or (3) (hopefully) something in between.

              2. Is it *better* if you make reservations? Yes.
                Will you get a table at any of the "hot spots" without a reservation and a huge dose of luck? No.

                Will you get a decent meal (sometimes better) without reservations and without spending your lifes' savings? Yes.

                Will it be a sublime experience, worthy of rapturous memories the rest of your life? Probably not - -there aren't many of those around.

                It's more of a gamble, but it can be done. If you're tired and have had a long day -- it may or may not be worth that gamble...but if you just want something simple and unassuming, your chances of a decent meal are pretty good.

                (will there be a collective coronary on the France board because I dared write such unholy sacrilege? Damned straight.)

                4 Replies
                1. re: sunshine842

                  Walking in off the street is never a good idea ANYwhere when you want to be sure you are going to have a lovely dining experience.

                  Of course it is "Possible." It's just also "unlikely!"

                  And OP intimated in the original post she was thinking of winging it for all their dinners. Not a good idea anywhere, I suggest.... and certainly not in Paris (or anywhere in France, for that matter).

                  1. re: ChefJune

                    For all dinners, no -- for one or two? It's really, truly not a problem.

                    We've eaten in large and small restaurants all across France -- if it is possible to make a reservation, we do -- but when you are traveling and don't know where you will end up -- well, something's gotta give.

                    I can count on one hand the number of times we've been turned away, and have NEVER had less than gracious service.

                  2. re: sunshine842

                    No coronary here. But when someone takes the effort to ask the question, I have the feeling that they are looking for more than a satisfying omelet or salad at a corner bar (which we have enjoyed completely when arriving back into town by train, tired and just wanting something before bed).

                    If one insists on adventuring out without reservations, my advice is "Keep it simple!". The more ambitious an unknown kitchen is, the more likely one is to run into poor food and a high tab. In fact, ordering basic and simple is often a good way to avoid disappointment.

                    1. re: mangeur

                      and I agree with all of that....I was just trying to reassure the OP that if for whatever reasons reservations didn't get made once or twice, well, it happens, and there's still decent food to be had.

                  3. I'm glad I asked! I am wondering now though -- is it the custom to make reservations at ALL eating establishments, or just certain types of restaurants? And does this apply to all meals, or just dinner?

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: MissLori

                      "is it the custom to make reservations at ALL eating establishments, or just certain types of restaurants? "

                      It applies to good restaurants.
                      There are enough empty restaurants where you can walk in, but do you want to ? :-)

                      How about if you ask yourself this:
                      If you reserve and then it turns out the resto has available tables any way, you only waste a phone call. If you do not reserve and are turned away at 9pm in a neighborhood you may or may not know well, how do you see the trade-off then?

                      1. re: Parigi

                        "Good" doesn't mean fancy or expensive. It means places where locals and visitors want to eat. We even call Machon d'Henri, which is a neighborhood dump. Occasionally we will walk by and the waiter will come out and ask if we are looking for a table, offering to hold one in a half an hour, but more often we will call from our hotel even a half an hour before we plan to arrive. You can probably get into pizza places, and neighborhood bar/terraces may have a table.

                        And once more, making a reservation is part of the eating-out ceremony. It tells the house that you care enough about being there that you will schedule it into your day. You become a valued client. Again, part of the French way of doing things.

                        1. re: mangeur

                          Here's another concept: I usually carry with me a list of restaurants we are interested in trying. When I find that we are going to be anywhere near one of them during the day, we take a detour to check out the menu (which is always posted in the window) and check out the lunch scene, food and people. If it looks right, we will pop in and make a reservation for that or another open night. Also, It is not unusual for us to decide the restaurant, for any number of reasons, does not look like one we want to waste our time and money on.

                          1. re: mangeur

                            Agree. Reservations made face-to-face for later in the day or in the week are a great way to introduce yourself, and get a feel for an unknown restaurant.

                      2. re: MissLori

                        Reservations are *mostly* dinner - unless there's somewhere you really want to be for lunch. Lunch tends to be considerably less structured.

                        If you've got your heart set on someplace in particular, or you're going for more than the "menu simple", then reservations are a good idea.

                      3. "we thought we'd be able to just stroll until we got hungry, then check the posted menus and pick a little bistro or cafe since they are apparently mostly very good."

                        Two things:

                        First of all, this is a pretty lousy strategy (if it can even be called a 'strategy'). In my hometown of DC, I am always wondering about the clueless who are squinting at posted menus. What are they looking for exactly? A menu is not going to tell you if the food is any good. The fact is that almost all the choices on a stroll-by basis are not going to be nearly as good as the one or two gems if you already have in mind where to go.

                        Second, there is plenty of lousy waaaaay overpriced food to be had in Paris. Many bistros now look to food service suppliers as their chef. Gravies are purchased in Sysco-like plastic tubs.

                        At whatever price range you are looking for, definitely take suggestions and try to stick to those. That way, you may get to explore neighborhoods you wouldn't normally visit, and it's a great way to get to know a city.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Steve

                          As I mentioned in my original post, all the reviews I was seeing showed pretty much every restaurants with at least 4 stars, and I was temporarily lulled into believing they were really all that good. I have seen the error of my ways.

                          1. re: MissLori

                            "I have seen the error of my ways."
                            Your humbleness is disarming. Have a great trip.

                            1. re: Parigi

                              Thank you! I can't wait! Lots more research to do though.

                        2. Here's what we always do in Paris, and works out very well: Lunch, typical corner cafe (or Leons if you want quick mussels or Breakfast in America if you get homesick). Parisians use cafe's the way we use diners, standard inexpensive and usually decent food.
                          For dinner, pick up Zagat for Paris, also check David Lebowitz's web site, decide which restaurant you want and make reservations asap. Call the day of the reservation to confirm. The only good restaurant we've been to that does not take reservations is Cafe Constant, but you will need to show up at 7pm. Other reasonably priced gems we like are Le Regalade, Temps au Temps and Bistrot Paul Bert but you will need to make reservations NOW.
                          If you want higher end, Guy Savoy is always nice but again, reservations please.

                          1. Hi,

                            It's been fascinating for me to read this thread because I now live in Italy but I used to live in Paris -- but it more than two decades ago.

                            It used to be one of the great joys of living in Paris that it wasn't necessary to think ahead if you wanted a good meal prepared for you, including a good dinner. If you decided on your way home you didn't want to cook, or if you wanted to squeeze an hour at a museum before eating, you could, and the strike zone for finding a memorable, delightful meal by simply walking into a place you'd never eaten at before and that nobody chattered about was incredibly high.

                            Two decades later, I can still remember the mushroom gratin at one place whose name I'm sure I didn't even know at the time. I can remember precisely the steamed globe artichoke whose leaves were fanned and stuffed with herbed chevre in a stuffy-decor restaurant in a stuffy part of the 8th arr. where no foodie today would go looking for memorable meals.

                            Of course, there were restaurants that were famous or buzzed about and you most definitely had to make reseravations if you wanted to eat there. And on weekends, local popular or trendy restaurants turned away customers. And I get it about flattering the restaurant by calling ahead and not insulting them by showing up at their looking like you assumed they'll be mostly empty.

                            But it was a real education in food to live in a city whose fundamental high standard for cooking and quality ingredients was so high. It really made you look at the French differently. I mean, being in Paris really wasn't just like any other city (NY, DC, SF) when it came to restaurant norms.

                            In recent years, on visits to Paris, I've noticed this most definitely is no longer true, so I think the people advising MssLori to reserve if she wants to eat well are on the money. But I have to say that I enjoy being in Paris far less than I used to, because formerly was an intense pleasure to be in such an exciting city as Paris and simply keep going wherever one felt like until late in the day, without the nagging thought I'll need to be near where I made my restaurant reservation when I get hungry.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: barberinibee

                              I wonder if the city changes in twenty years or your tastes change. Twenty years ago i rarely booked and thought i ate very well. Looking back i wonder if i really did eat that well in comparison to what was available.

                              On our recent trip to Paris we booked the key dinners andlunches andtook pot luck with mixed success. We got the practically last lunch table at Papilles at 12:30 and that was lucky, we scored a no show at Au Passage after waiting for an hour at lunchtime, and ate standing at the bar for most of the meal at Le Dauphin as source information was wrong and it is a must book despite being a wine bar selling tapas. Places like Frenchies wine bar are no booking but you need to get there early if you want to eat.

                              Random eating in Paris is like playing russian roulette with five chambers loaded - no problem getting a result, but probably not the result you really wanted.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                No knowing the answer with certainty, but I will add to the database that I still know people living in Paris and they think everyday-eating food quality has sunk, in particular for informal eateries that never even dream of creating a buzz. I don't think my memory serves me incorrectly that during my first extended stay in Paris, a quite ordinary restaurant nonetheless served market fresh vegetables. I mean, where else were they going to get the vegetables if not at the market?

                                And I also think my memory doesn't deceive me that the aromas of Paris have changed, and I think that is a sign that there are fewer small places baking, stewing, braising, roasting for the small trade. The smell of food cooking used to permeate so many streets.

                                But I think 20 + plus years ago a discussion about reserving restaurants would have been confined to a very few restaurants -- which I and my friends only would have wanted and couldn't have afforded but once in a blue moon anyway. We ate plenty of merely serviceable food -- we had to. Most of us had no time or much inclination to cook. We ate junk food if the mood struck. But it was remarkable to be fed so happily so often for so little effort and not much money.

                                Food and restaurant culture has undergone wild changes in the past two decades everywhere in Europe and the US major cities. But I will point out It is still possible to have this carefree experience in a great many cities in Italy. After a while, one picks favorites, one looks for certain markers or warning signs before going in, but you can get some really interesting honest food without calling ahead. If you show up and they are full, you walk down the street to any number of back-ups. These places are surprised if you call for "reservations," and I'll bet some still don't have phones or staff to answer them if they do. But I worry that will begin to change shortly, and perhaps even disappear over the next decade.

                                Anyway, bottomline to MissLori is: go ahead and reserve in Paris.

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  "I wonder if the city changes in twenty years or your tastes change. "

                                  Sometimes I wonder about that too. I think it's bit of both.
                                  When I first visited France, which was in the last century, I ooh-ed and ah-ed at every simple tomato salad. How can tomato taste so different? I ordered it very often in restaurants. Now tomato salad is just a tomato salad and I never order it.

                                  Yes my taste has changed. First of all, after living in Paris for so many years, I have come to expect vegetables to, duh, have taste. Secondly, even tomato itself has changed. It has its "crus". Some years it is extremely tasty. Other years it is so-so. Thirdly, somewhere down the road I have - inevitably - learned to make a reliable vinaigrette. Why order it in restaurants and pay so much more than what I can make, perhaps better, at home?

                                  And, the fact that one pays so much more in the just-ok genre of restaurants for things one can make at home with good ingredients so readily available in the markets has perhaps created a restaurant gap: There are better restaurants, serving food that indeed one can't reproduce easily at home, to which everyone wants to go, which makes reservation necessary. And there are empty restaurants where one can walk in, and tourists do…

                                  What stuck in my mind, no, what traumatized me was the post on the Spain board by a visitor who had insisted on NOT reserving and came hme with the conclusion that the secret to eating well in Spain, SPAIN !, was … to eat Chinese. If that does not convince one to reserve, I rest my case.

                                  1. re: Parigi

                                    Sorry, but I have to disagree.

                                    I live in Italy now, and a tomato salad is never just a tomato salad. And when I visit Paris, the tomatoes are seldom as good, and many of the vegetables no longer have taste.

                                    Vsiting some regions in Italy, I wouldn't dream of not eating as many tomato salads as possible. If you eat a vegetable out of season in Italy, or out of its region, it is not going to be as good, but when it is good, it is just as memorable as the first one you ever ate in Italy. Seventy-year-old native Italians still ooooh-and-aaaaaaa over a delicious tomato salad. You can see them doing it at the table next to you.

                                    Restaurant culture in Italy of course is just about the polar opposite of that of Paris. The prize kitchen in Italy is the kitchen that makes a tomato salad as good as the one you could make at home. People who want variety and innovation in restaurant eating do much better in Paris than Italy.

                                    Anyway, I've been back to Paris in this century often enough to note that a certain kind of eating fun has disappeared from some corners and shifted into others. I don't think the MissLori or anybody should be put down for valuing a form of travel style that favors spontaneous choices, including for dining. Paris isn't the place to go for that, and she seems ready to adjust to Parisian norms, so I'm sure she'll be able to find enjoyable dining. Paris has many excellent places to eat.

                                2. re: barberinibee

                                  I first came to Paris about 12 years ago and moved here 1 year ago and the quality of food has definitely declined. Another expat explained the concept of Metro (frozen) food to me soon after we arrived, and I just saw this article last week about a documentary that tackles the subject : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddri.... I

                                  In any big city in the US, you can walk into just about any restaurant and get a good meal, maybe not amazing, but you'll leave feeling you got good value for the price. I can't say the same for Paris...too many places serve frozen food at high prices. I have no problem with the Picard frozen food store - it's very good quality for the price, but I don't want to pay 15 euros at a resto for something I could get at Picard for about 4 euros. We eat at home much more often than we did while living in NY or LA, and I don't leave the apt without a definite plan for where to eat - usually at an ethnic resto now, which I avoided when first moving here because I had heard they weren't as good as what you find in the US or London, but I'm sick and tired of steak and canard. Sometimes I feel like there is just one menu in Paris because every place serves the exact same thing!!

                                  Frankly, I think Paris is resting on its laurels and has been left behind by cities like NY or London, where great food can be had at a range of prices. And I only make reservations in those cities for places that are high-end, because I hate being beholden to a restaurant for a specific time, I'd rather hang out at the bar for 45 minutes and enjoy a glass of wine. I like Cafe Constant for this very reason - it's a tiny bar but I don't mind waiting I know it will be worth it.

                                  1. re: perduinparis

                                    "Vsiting some regions in Italy, I wouldn't dream of not eating as many tomato salads as possible. If you eat a vegetable out of season in Italy, or out of its region, it is not going to be as good"

                                    Funny, Italy has something in common with France and Patagonia and North Korea and many other countires. :-)

                                    1. re: Parigi

                                      I'm not sure I understand what you are trying to say, or maybe I didn't write clearly the first time.

                                      There are some regions of Italy that are travel destinations because of their local produce, including particular varieties of tomato. If there, you'd be missing something to say: "I can make a tomato salad at home, so why order one in a restaurant?"

                                      Globalization and other economic pressures changed the food experience in Paris and France in general for the worse. (Interestingly, it had just the opposite in London.) Italy has retained far more of its local ownership of food because of antiquated food distribution methods and real estate pecularities that make it easier for families to retain ownership of expensive real property in cities and in farming areas.

                                      Italy is under tremendous pressure to "reform", but in the meantime, it is possible for even modest workaday Italian restaurants where no reservations are needed to serve food that is memorable, even in the large Italian capital of Rome. For special occasions, Italians do seek out and reserve at restaurants that serve special food for special occasions, but you needn't call ahead to eat very well in most of Italy. The same formerly was true of Paris, and Parisians themselves did not reserve ahead at most eateries when all they wanted to eat was good French food.

                                      But today, a visitor is well-advised to reserve ahead, because if you just walk into a restaurant in Paris you haven't been guided to by knowledgeable people, the tomato salad isn't likely to impress you, even if this is your first time in Paris.

                                3. I'm not a big TripAdvisor fan. Chowhoudn is much more depoendable as supplemented by some bloggrs liek John Talbot (who tells how mch he spent and what he ordered.) You can find many moderately priced restaurants in Paris, especially now with the Euro in the tank. Three courses of really good food is widely available for 30-35 Euros (plus wine). You really should plan your days and solicit the help of your concierge in picking restaurants convenient to your destinations. I find that you can do especially well for little money by dining outside the inner ring of arrondisements - and the atmosphere tends to be much warmer. Andif it's crowded, it will be sensational

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: dcbbq

                                    >>>"especially now with the Euro in the tank<<<"

                                    The euro has held steady within a fairly narrow range against the dollar for at least 16 months now (maybe 2 years) and in the past few days has gone up against the dollar (to $1.32).

                                    I agree with the negative opinion about Tripadvisor, and I admit I have never asked a hotel concierge in Paris for a restaurant recommendation, but often hotel staff have reasons that have nothing to do with fine food for recommending a restaurant.

                                    1. re: dcbbq

                                      I disagree strongly with relying on a concierge to give good restaurant advice. I know far too many people who did that and had not one memorable meal in a week or more in Paris. There are too many other places to get reliable advice. Especially these days with so many blogs and with chowhound...

                                      1. re: ChefJune

                                        Concierges make recommendations accoridng to their perception of your expectations. If you tell them that you want to go to the original la regalde, you will get different recommendations than if you tell them you want to go to au pied de cochon or of you ask an open -ended or unsophisticated question. if they recommend a restaurant that your research says is not good, tell them why you do not think it isa good recommendation. That principle holds true in cities generally. They can be great resources and it is foolish not to tap (and test) their knowledge

                                        1. re: dcbbq

                                          Maybe I should give concierges another chance, but in general I usually get very poor advice from them especially those in larger hotels. I always assumed it was because most guests had lower expectations than I, and a far lower tolerance for adventure.

                                          I often get warned off my choices by concierges in big hotels because my choices are too grungy or local when compared to what their usual clientele want. I assume that as a concierge it is better to be safe and conservative rather than take a risk and upset a guest with an adventurous choice.

                                          However, when I stay in small hotels, gueshouses or B&B's, with the owner or manager running the desk, the advice is more personal and tailored to my needs....but these are not really conciarges.

                                          1. re: PhilD

                                            It's all about having a conversation - sharing information so that they understand what you are looking for - and asking questions about their recommendations. Some are bad at their jobs, but you can tell from what they say. Most will know some places that are just what you want - and the non-standard places are often willing to do a little extra at the prosepct of getting more recommendations from the concierge.

                                            1. re: dcbbq

                                              Jock Hound has a great tip: When he is in a city he does not know well, he picks out a wine shop that sells interesting wines, and he asks the owner/manager for recommendations. The theory is that a man who cares about his wines will care about his food and will know good local places.

                                              1. re: Parigi

                                                Excellent! Best alternative rec on this thread.

                                    2. But now the conversation has returned to the usual tenor of the Paris board -- that you have to reserve weeks or even months in advance, and you have to spend a boatload of money, or you're just going to eat crap.

                                      And it just isn't true.

                                      Yes, for popular places or to ensure you will eat at the time and/or place you want, you need to reserve.

                                      But if you don't make reservations, the world will not open and swallow you whole, nor will you be relegated to McDonald's.

                                      There is plenty of food across Paris that is anywhere from decent to very good and doesn't require months of anxiety and planning, nor a second mortgage.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        Whilst there is truth to your POV the issue i have with it is that most visitors average 4 or 5 meals in Paris. To me it is far too much of a risk to take pot luck and hope you stumble on a good place that has a spare table. Clearly it isn't impossible to do that, it's just that i think it is good advice for visitors to do some planning and make reservations. We all agree that Paris has some pretty grim restaurants especially in the areas visitors find themselves (and that doesn't mean good has to be expensive) but this is chowhound and aren't we all looking for good rather than average food?

                                        As i said upthread we planned our key meals an booked, we the planned our ad ho meals, but these were for places which didn't take reservations, so it was an risk i was going to take as i had options and i like to eat late. Now, i am happy doing this as i lived in Paris and have high degree of familiarity with the dining scene. But, isn't it sensible advice to book especially for an infrequent visitor or first timer - after all it isn't difficult is it. So i can't really understand why you always encourage people to take such a risk? (but i do agree some do seem to get far too obsessive for their own good which i find quite amusing).

                                        1. re: PhilD

                                          I'm not encouraging anything -- just trying to reassure first-time or infrequent visitors that not making a reservation and not spending a bucket of cash does not relegate you to dumpster-diving.

                                          1. re: PhilD

                                            <the issue i have with it is that most visitors average 4 or 5 meals in Paris. To me it is far too much of a risk to take pot luck and hope you stumble on a good place that has a spare table.>

                                            I completely agree, Phil. I did NOT make most of my reservations ahead of my trip in December, but I DID reserve every single meal ahead, to ensure I was dining where I wanted to dine. The one meal I did not reserve -- the Sunday lunch when I had just arrived -- was abysmal. Thankfully it wasn't expensive. I would have been better off to stop at McDo.
                                            (and for me to say that.....!)

                                        2. I think the seeming stridance of many of the Chows is that they demand that restaurant food be better than what they can turn out at home on a Tuesday night.

                                          Or on a personal basis, I don't go out to eat because I'm hungry. When I'm just hungry I shop for food. I think this is essentially what Parigi was saying.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: mangeur

                                            True, but when you're on vacation, shopping for food isn't always a viable option -- and a week of stars just isn't possible...sometimes it's late, sometimes you're exhausted or feeling a little unwell, and sometimes a multi-course, expensive restaurant just doesn't sound like fun.

                                          2. I've been to Paris at least once a year for the past 7-8 years...mainly on frequent flier miles and on somewhat of a limited budget, budget being relative but definitely meaning no stars as of yet (when I hit the lotto that will change). I've always done my research but on several occasions, for whatever reason, didn't reserve, and I can say that as I look back, every time I left things up to chance I ended up with just an ok dining experience. I've been fortunate that I can count on one hand the number of really BAD meals I've had in Paris (the crown goes to a restaurant in Castlenaudry, happened upon because, yes, we failed to make a reservation at the place I wanted to go to for cassoulet!. But if you care enough to take the time to come to chowhound (which people who don't care about food don't even know about), then why take a chance? There are many fabulous and affordable restaurants in Paris serving really wonderful food...and there are others serving affordable, serviceable or ok food. The former are bound to be crowded, especially on the weekends. I'm ok with the latter for lunch, but with just a little bit of effort (i.e. making a reservation) you can have SUCH a better dining experience! I say that from experience. It might take some of the spontaneity out of the trip, I can see that. But again, if good food (and good value food ) is important to you then you make that trade off. At least that's how I see it. Not to mention that as others have said, it is appreciated by the staff. Even if it's not a place that fills up every night.

                                            We did leave a few meals unplanned this past trip and that was ok...one day we ended up making a picnic lunch which was great fun, and another I had a wonderful salad for dinner. But overall? Reserve.

                                            I was on one of those non-reservation trips with a friend who doesn't share my love of food. she wanted to eat wherever and we fought because she kept saying "Why can't we just stop here"? in front of some place that I knew by instinct would be awful. She finally shouted "You know, some people just eat to live". And that will be the LAST time she ever comes to Paris with me!

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: sistereurope

                                              "You know, some people just eat to live"

                                              That people who live in developed countries not plagued by famine still think that way is baffling. And indeed if that is how one thinks, one does not need to go on chowhound to look for the Top 10 Unremarkable restaurants list.

                                              1. re: Parigi

                                                Sistereurope makes a great point ~ if you are going to take the time to go on food centred websites and ask for advice, you have to be prepared complete the second part of the equation which will lead to good food experiences ~ plan and reserve.
                                                I know lots of people who don't care what they eat when they are on vacation ~ food is just a fuel for them. Den and I, on the other hand, plan our trips around the food culture of our destinations. I have no interest in going to Germany, England, the Northern European countries because I am not attracted to their cuisine. I'm definitely not saying there are no good restaurants in these countries, but that the national cuisine does not interest me as much as that of Spain, Italy, Greece and France.
                                                We rarely eat out at home because we can make better meals at much less expense than what is available in our little town. When we do decide to have a meal out, I do research and make reservations ~ usually in Montreal and sometimes in Ottawa. Spending money on a meal out means it has be to both better and different than what I can make at home. I think that is what Parigi has also pointed out a few times above.
                                                Our time in Paris now revolves around the restaurants we go to ~ why would I leave that to chance (and what would I do with my time if I wasn't obsessing over my food choices on CH, PBM, John's blog, etc!)
                                                Some people will never get this food obsession, but that's ok ~ i don't get many things my friends and family spend their money and time on ~ skiing, golfing, and thinking that surf and turf is the best possible meal they can order at Red Lobster, lol. To each his own.
                                                Wow, what a rambling post ~ I need to get a life :)


                                                1. re: BrettLove

                                                  I have eaten in a Red Lobster -- but mostly nights when my choices were Olive Garden, Bennigan's (showing my age...), and Red Lobster when I was traveling on business and stuck in suburban-mall-chain hell.

                                                  It's not great....but you could do worse. At least there are things there that look like food.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    I'll see your Red Lobster and raise you an Applebee's.

                                                    When we've been traveling-for-purpose in the US, we often elect to go to Applebee's. If you order a steak salad cooked very rare with dressing on the side, you will have a rather decent simple meal. My husband orders by the glitzy pictures on the menu and always gets something close to inedible. He should follow the advice I give for unknown places in France (or elsewhere): keep it simple, basic, classic, uncomplicated and you have a good shot at being served a competent meal.

                                                    1. re: mangeur

                                                      I was pleasantly surprised at Applebees during a recent visit back to the States - we were catching up with friends, and it happened to be a good halfway point. They now have a variation on a prix-fixe menu (1 appetizer and 2 mains for $20) for a very reasonable price -- other than my steak being rather seriously oversalted, it wasn't a bad meal at all.

                                                      I'd choose a local place over a chain if given the choice, but it was respectable.

                                                      1. re: mangeur

                                                        I can always do better than Applebee's anywhere in the US.

                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                          7-11 believe it or not there are actually places in the US where the choice is Applebees or 7-11 or similar unless you want to drive 30-45 minutes for some equally uninspired chow for no reason. There are many places even in California where you don't have much more than the above choices for many many miles. Been stuck in my hotel Room more than enough times to think with just those choices.

                                                          1. re: mick

                                                            yup -- it's late, you're running up against closing time, if you don't get something to eat the steering wheel's gonna start looking good, and you're in a strange city with NO idea where you are.

                                                            AND you're exhausted, you've got a breakfast meeting at oh-dark-thirty, your boss called and needs that report on his desk first thing in the morning, so you'll be grinding a few more hours in front of the screen, so you're really not in the mood for surfing the web to find some esoteric little hole in the wall, nor the energy to sit there through three or four courses...

                                                            Traveling for work isn't the glamorous tale of bottomless expense accounts and starred restaurants and hotels that non-travelers think it is. It's a ton of late nights, fleabag hotels, crappy meals at screwy hours, marathon driving sessions, and hours (even days) spent wasting time at airports because of crummy weather.

                                                            And no, I miss my old job, but I don't miss the road warrior life at all.

                                              2. We were in Paris for 4 nights in July and were able to get reservations after our arrival (through the concierge) at la regalade (dinner) and chez l'ami jean (lunch) and to walk in to le reminet (lunch). Also le petit marguery. We had a number of other options in case those didn't panout, and got some excellent suggestions from the concierge. We've had great luck on all trips at lunch, mainly by eating on the late side. Unless it is a weeknight in the dead of winter (we once walked in to Bofinger and le dome) reservations are important, but you can do very, very well by making reservations a day or three ahead - at least at my price range. I think that the key to eating well in Paris is doing your research and having a list of options before you leave - which is why God invented Chowhound.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: dcbbq

                                                  dcbgg - makes a good point. When we talk about reservations it does't mean bookings months or weeks in advance. There are a few tricky reservations which require a booking months in advance (Spring, Le Comptoir, Septime, Frenchie etc) but these are the exceptions. Most can be booked a day or two early, popular ones especially at weekend a week or so in advance, and many (esp for lunch) can be booked on the day.

                                                  I worked first in Neuilly then La Defense, and we would often head out to a local spot for a €14 set lunch. But we always booked, the two or three good restaurants (out of ten or twelve) would always fill up and not reserving would have been foolish - that said we would decide by 11:00 and book then for a 12:30 meal. If we didn't we would be lucky to get into our third or fourth choice.

                                                  1. re: PhilD

                                                    Well put PhilD and agree with Sunshine 842. YES, you can eat well in Paris without reservation and don't let anyone tell you its impossible. Sure, there are definately places that must be booked in advance be it months or a day or so. But if your doing your homework/research you should be able to eat well and not have everything reserved in advance. I'll take a week in Paris with nothing booked in advance and for the most part will have fabulous meals. Not so serious

                                                2. I don't see any problem in playing restaurant roulette on week nights but at weekends (especially Saturday night) the deluge of tourists and suburbanites makes it suicidal. Exceedingly difficult to find a table at even the most mediocre places.

                                                  For mid-week potluck, we Parisiens have the advantage of knowing what streets and areas to head for. For instance, the rue Lavandières Sainte-Opportune behind the Chatelet is always a good bet: if Au Vieux Comptoir is full or closed, there's always BAM or La Robe et le Palais or, last resort but by no means a bad choice, Le Zimmer (on the place Chatelet). And the same with the area around the Palais Royal: start off at Au Gourmand on rue Molière, then the rue Richelieu (les Bistronomes, Au Comptoir de Tunisie, Les Juvéniles, Verjus) and, if no room at the inn, continue on to rue des Petits Champs/ rue Beaujolais (Willi's, Macéo, Reflets de Scènes, Aux Bons Crus); still no luck? head toward the place des Victoires (Les Fines Gueules and Bistrot des Victories) or, last resort, try le Grand Colbert on the rue Vivienne Just a few examples in areas favoured by tourists but you find streets with good food karma everywhere in Paris. The rue Marie-et-Louise in the Canal St-Martin area; rue de la Cotte or rue Paul Bert in the 12th; the rue Bretagne/ rue Saintogne/ rue Turenne/ rue Dupetit-Thouars in the Haut-Marais; many many more. You may end up with French, Italian, Japanese, Argentinian, Créole or Indochinois, but that's part of the fun. Of course, there are areas where I would never ever venture in search of a good meal without a specific destination in mind and reservation in hand. The horrible Champs Elysées (and most of the 8th), the boulevard Saint-Michel/ La Huchette, Quartier Latin/ "La Mouffe", Sacré-Coeur/ la Butte Montmartre, etc etc.

                                                  I seem to remember Parigi and Ptitpois compiling a list of streets with good food karma. Maybe that's something that visitors who prefer to wander would appreciate.

                                                  15 Replies
                                                  1. re: Parnassien

                                                    Very good point and I totally agree with the idea of the mid-week pot luck for locals. The bit that makes it tricky for a visitor is the lack of familiarity with the geography. Looking down Petit Champs for example it looks like the action runs out after Willi's so how many will continue down such a "boring street" to find the other gems, or "stumble" across Frenchie's wine bar.

                                                    And if you have done enough research to have this list of places in your pocket why stop at that, easy to pick up the phone and call to save the angst. Different obviously if you meet up for work for a drink and decide to head out for food and let the mood make the choice - but by definition that is most likely to be a local scenario.

                                                    1. re: PhilD

                                                      This is 2012. With smartphones, iPads, etc and the right apps almost anyone can be a local. Figaroscope's restaurant map plotting is superb. Plus Lafourchette, etc for reviews. With free wi-fi access hotspots all over the city, Paris is much more wired than most North American cities.

                                                      1. re: Parnassien

                                                        You assume the visitors data-plan is good enough to allow access to the map servers on a lot of these apps. And whilst there is free wifi you often have to register/sign-in to the provider when you are roving around. I thought i had good plan with full roaming but my google maps wouldn't work in Paris at Christmas, and this is a Hong Kong plan designed for someone who travels a lot - my old Paris Practique came in very handy. Also remember the maps and research are only part of the solution - Petit Champs can look very unattractive as it is dark with long strips of boring buildings between the islands of culinary joy - if you don't know what is along the street you may not bother to try it.

                                                        1. re: PhilD

                                                          Other examples: would one ever "by chance" turn down the narrow dowdy street to find Saturne or Chatomat or Le Galopin or Rino or Le Baratin?

                                                          1. re: mangeur

                                                            well, that's exactly how i discovered Le Galopin a day or two day after it opened... the Sainte-Marthe area-- atmospheric, increasingly hip, and with a cluster of good restaurants, bars and cafes-- is a flâneur's paradise ... and the same for Rino ... in the same cluster as Septime and the rue Cotte/ rue Charonne restos... but yes, the best destination restaurants are rarely stumbled upon ... even if they are, they are surrounded by such buzz that rezzies are essential.

                                                            but that is not the point... the point is you can still have a great mid-week meal, although rarely the best, by just following your nose and mood in the streets and areas that have clusters of good restos... such an adventure is sometimes even more satisfying than a dinner or lunch at a highly touted resto that fails to live up to expectations or requires a second mortgage to eat there

                                                            1. re: Parnassien

                                                              Thanks for posting all this Parnassien. I'll try it the next time I'm in Paris. I still ooooh-and-aaaaa over unplanned tomato salad in Italy, and it would be nice to feel they are just around the corner in Paris as well, if you turn the right corners.

                                                          2. re: PhilD

                                                            the rue des Petits Champs sparkles with life ! and it links two of the most magnificent patches of real estate in Paris, the Palais Royal and the place des Victoires ... and the galeries Vivienne and Colbert ?!

                                                            boring ?!!! i feel faint :)

                                                            1. re: Parnassien

                                                              I suspect a visitor (me) and a native (you) view things through a slightly different lens. All I can say is I am glad I booked most of my meals. I gave me a focus and bought me time with my partner who was weary after shopping and sightseeing - she was on the verge of rebellion a number of times refusing to walk another step.

                                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                                yes... as a local, where and when i eat is built around considerations other than purely gastronomique ... what else I'm doing that night, the quartier, the friends I'm hanging out with ... atmosphere, convenience, and value are usually more important than the quality of the cuisine ... and there's no need to cram in A+ noshing in just a few days... i've got about 365 days a year for the next 50 or 60 years to find fabulous meals... no rush

                                                                yet, I do think that tourists would be able to enjoy Paris more if they mixed up the planning and the search for excellence with a little dose of whimsy and the "insolite"

                                                                as for your rebellious partner, I can feel for her. Next time, I urge you (and all visitors) to learn how to use the bus system. I can never understand the tourist urge to walk absolutely everywhere when you can so easily hop on and off a bus (even if for just a few stops) to save the footsies and actually see more of Paris at the same. If you get travel pass and if you download the RATP apps (which shows where the bus stops are and how to get there), it's a cinch.

                                                                1. re: Parnassien

                                                                  We used to live in Paris and are masters of the bus system and I agree it is the best way.

                                                                  1. re: PhilD


                                                                    The thread started because an about-to--be-first-tim-visitor was asking about a travel style that may be a minority style, but a valid one, I think, nonetheless: The traveler who does not have a daily "itinerary." You know, if it's 11.30 Tuesday, this must be Sainte-Chapelle. At least some travelers to Paris at least some of the time, can't predict where they will at mealtimes, not to mention some people would prefer not to make up their minds what type of place they want to go to until they are actually closer to eating.

                                                                    So the emergence of a strategy for widening the strike zone for eating a good meal is really welcome for the spontaneous minded traveler, even the one who is coming to Paris for the first time.

                                                                  2. re: Parnassien

                                                                    "i've got about 365 days a year for the next 50 or 60 years to find fabulous meals... no rush"

                                                                    How I envy you, on either/both counts. :)

                                                                    1. re: mangeur

                                                                      I'm not that hungry to be 20 again but to have time to eat and never in a rush,I'll take.

                                                                    2. re: Parnassien

                                                                      I walk to try to burn off may last meal and prepare for the next. Preparing for the next is always easier

                                                          3. re: Parnassien

                                                            This is a brilliant post that makes this thread a keeper. Good and specific addresses with just enough editorial to give them substance. Many thanks.

                                                          4. I agree, very good thread and thanks :-) Maybe not the exact connection but close - i'm "before reserving" stage, and my list is more or less CLJ, Septime, Le Galopin, Chez Casimir and Das Les Landes - are there websites that may allow online resrving ? I guess there aren't actual sites, maybe possible trying emailing the restaurant itself (all concerned of course at least for the mentioined list, and not all places has websites, i think).

                                                            1. So this is going back to the future and asking what places do not take reservations where you can eat very well at.
                                                              And with 29 posts, I'll start a new one.