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Feb 8, 2012 08:28 AM

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. :) 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.