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Table etiquettes in France - anything to watch out for those from New Zealand?

Hi guys,

I'm curious about whether there will be any table etiquettes in France that may differ from New Zealand? Something which may trip visitors up? I didn't grow up with cutlery but am now okay and comfortable with it when eating out with native-born Kiwis.

For those of you not familiar with NZ the etiquette a are fairly similar to English, only more laid back and occasional use of knife on wrong hand or not using the knife at all are all fine.

Thanks.

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  1. Advice from a fellow kiwi - please note that this is Paris-centric:

    In most casual to mid-level places, you won't need to wait and be shown to a table. Walking in and asking for a table will generally just be met with a polite "of course, please take a seat", or if you want to sit outside then usually you would just sit at a table. A waiter will then come and greet you and offer a menu.

    Service is relaxed. A bill is usually not presented until you ask for it, and you aren't hurried out. Lingering over a coffee or glass of wine (I'm often a solo diner in Paris and like to take my time) has never gotten me shifted along, only some friendly advice to make sure that my bag is secured.

    There aren't too many strange rules, or pieces of cutlery, unless you happen to order snails or crustaceans, then you might receive tongs, crackers and special forks.

    Tipping is quite normalised, but is not excessive - a few euros to round the bill up, rather than any kind of mathematic equation of food bill - tax + drinks less mark-up to the square root of 3. Service is often included - simply ask.

    The stereotype of rudeness from Parisians is not something that I have witnessed with any frequency. I only know a handful of phrases in French, that I use in an attrocious accent, and usually it gets me a smile for making a lame effort and a response in perfect English. The only server who I can actually remember being rude to me was a waitress. She was simply in a bad mood because I was after a late lunch and she wanted to have a break before dinner service - this was explained to me by the nice chef who delivered my lunch when grumpy-pants flounced off. He stayed to have a glass of wine and tried (in vain) to teach me slightly better pronounciation.

    Whenever in doubt, use the Kiwi card. Declaring "thank you so much for your help - I'm from the other side of the world" usually wins points and starts the inevitable conversation of what NZ is like.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ultimatepotato

      I disagree about the advice about not waiting to be seated in mid level places. France is a society that revolves around good manners and greeting the staff when you enter a shop, cafe, restaurant etc is required (as is saying thanks and goodbye) or else you will be ignored.

      In many places a greeting to the server and getting the nod to sit in a particular seat is sensible, although some will seat you, and then a few have some systems/rituals you need to observe. Generally in a cafe or bar you seat yourself, in a bistro or restaurant you will be seated. But it's wise to try and suss out the system.....if you get it wrong and just sit you may get the rough end of the servers tongue and get shooed away (La Palette, Le Comptoir etc).

      Shakti makes a good point about service hours - lots of restaurants open for lunch from 12 to 2:00, then reopen at 7:30. So eating times are pretty fixed unless you only eat at cafés or bars.

      Apart from that I don't see anything that different from NZ.

      1. re: PhilD

        Agree. We always greet a staff person first and let them indicate a seat or if we are free to choose.

        1. re: PhilD

          Thanks Phil I stand corrected, the only difference I can see is that we tend to let the staff greet us first in this country, and we never go get our seats first. So we should be the person doing the greeting first.

          Also it's not too bad with a fixed restaurant or casual cafe hours as it is pretty much the same with what we have here in NZ de facto. Nothing that will cause any big drama for us.

      2. Thanks ultimatepotato, sounds like it's not that terribly difficult to follow if you know what to do when eating out in NZ!

        1. Not really table etiquette but some random stuff which a lot of visitors I know have problems with :

          - Finding a conventional hot meal outside regular lunch/ dinner hours can be difficult. I'd say just head straight to a cafe where you can get a salad, a burger or a grilled cheese sandwich to tide you over, without banging your head on other (closed) doors. Sunday night is also tricky in terms of finding a meal - your Chinese meal may be a good option then, or perhaps a casual couscous place.

          - Allow at least 90 minutes each time you sit down for a conventional 2- or 3-course meal. Enjoying your meal and your dining companions is a big part of dining in France, and is how most eating establishments are set up, with perhaps 1 or 2 waiters looking after a small bistro. Again, no point banging your head against it, just go with the flow.

          - Paris's very potable tap water is required by law to be available at eating establishments without charge : 'a carafe d'eau, s'il vous plait' will do it.

          Enjoy your trip !

          6 Replies
          1. re: shakti2

            I wonder do places do table service or order at counter? Table service is normally restricted to "proper restaurants" or many ethnic eateries in New Zealand, if you head to a cafe type establishments you order at the counter even if you 'will be required to ordering full breakfasts or steak frites.

            Also do you pay at the counter or table in France? Even the poshest five star places in NZ require you to pay at the counter.

            Thanks again.

            1. re: johung

              Table servie always for restaurants.
              Counter orderng in some cafés, only if the waiteris overstretched.
              You pay at the table.

              The information about meal time is very precious.
              On another thread,you mention you are of Asian origin. Asians (like me) come from a culture that has meals around the clock and has a flourishing street food culture. In France, there are two main meals and not much snacking in between .

              Do bear in mind: lunch time is 12:30 to about 2:15pm (last order). Dinner time is 7:30pm to about 10:15pm (last order).

              There are brasseries with round-the-clock service and less good food.

              1. re: Parigi

                Hi Parigi,

                Thanks so much for your helpful information. Particularly on the bits about forgetting about street food and food available all day. We are happy to settle for the two main meals at set times without doing small dishes round the clock - it's like "when in Rome..." Or I should say "when in Paris...".

                The only thing that may cause trouble is dinner time, it sounds about an hour later than NZ or HK norms but nothing like dinner at 9 pm type of drama in some countries neighbouring France.

                1. re: johung

                  Ref dinner: you can eat at 7:30 at a number of places - and most tourists do - but the locals tend to book for the second sittings after 9:00. I find you get a better atmosphere later.

                  1. re: johung

                    You can dine as early at 7:30pm. It is considered early-bird geezer hour. Pourquoi pas ? :)
                    At le Bat, - my fave cantine these days, - you can even eat at 7pm at an empty restaurant, and take advantage of the "Happy Tapas hours" prices.

                    All over Paris, you can always pop into a pastry shop and have a pastry if you need refueling.

                    1. re: johung

                      if the 'off hours' are sought - look for the term 'service continu' otherwise they will clearly let you know what is out of the question (HA! Parisians are nothing if not methodical and orderly!).

                      where you sit is often how you are charged, au comptoir (counter) is slightly cheaper than le salon (main room), which is slightly less than la terrasse (please somebody correct my atrocious use of articles)

              2. While not a Kiwi, I'm the grandfather to two; I can add that a short black in France is a café serré and chips are frites.

                1 Reply
                1. re: John Talbott

                  Kiwis don't eat chips they eat chups.

                2. And since we have discussed it much elsewhere but not here, one should reserve a table and if need be, cancel, and French restos do not have the sort of web-presence for reservations and menus that some other countries have, so telephones and SIM cards are useful.