Ordering lunch in Paris is no easy feat. Parisian waiters are not naturally friendly and most restaurants do not accommodate for special dietary requirements. This isn’t for being unfriendly on purpose, but for the sheer amount of tourists these waiters see and serve each day. So it’s handy to know the game and also helps to speak a word or two of French. Here’s a guide of what to do and what not to do when ordering lunch at a Parisian cafe.
How to order lunch at a Parisian Cafe
Do always greet the waiter
First things first, always say “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” depending on whether it’s daytime or nighttime. In France a greeting must come before any request or question and will go a long way to getting you a table. If you’d like to learn French, I can highly recommend language course French is Beautiful by Carrie Ann James.
Do ask for a table in French
In France they simply state how many people there are rather than asking for a table. So if there’s three of you, simply say “nous sommes trois” and the waiter will do his best to find you a table for three. The best bit? All you need to remember is your numbers.
There are two of us – “nous sommes deux”
There are three of us – “nous sommes trois”
There are four of us – “nous sommes quatre”
Do lunch like a Parisian
Lunching in France is something, which ought to be enjoyed and not rushed hence why Parisians take long lunches and consequently work late into the night. Lunching is seen as a pastime where you can spend a good couple of hours drinking wine, conversing with those around the table and savouring the food. After all eating fast will only cause indigestion…
Do eat like a Parisian
Parisians tend to eat very delicately, very politely and very slowly. It’s the little things that count such as putting your napkin on your lap, eating with your mouth closed and chewing each mouthful properly.
Do learn the basics
A little bit of French can go a long way. Buy a little book of phrases to get you started. It’s a fun challenge for the trip and the best way to learn a language is by practising. Here’s a couple of sentences to get you started:
On peut avoir une carafe d’eau – Can we have a jug of water please?
Quel est le plat du jour? – What is today’s special?
Je voudrais du pain – I would like some bread
Quelle sorte de poissons avez-vous au menu? – What kind of fish is on the menu?
Don’t ask for your sauce on the side
Parisian women may all be lovely and slender but maintaining their slight figures comes from moderation instead of deprivation. If you’re watching your weight, eat less of your dressed salad but heaven forbid asking for your sauce on the side. Whilst they kindly cater for it in the States, Parisian waiters disapprove and may instantly dub you as the American in Paris.
Don’t take photos of your meal
Unless you want to initiate heavy sighs and rolling eyes from the surrounding customers and waiters…
Don’t get too drunk
As nicely as the wine is going down, French waiters have little tolerance for drunks around the table and won’t hesitate to ask you to leave, especially if you’re a tourist/expat.
Don’t be lactose intolerant
Dairy is engrained into French cuisine so being lactose intolerant is pretty much incomprehensible in Paris. Magrit de Canard without the butter? Pas possible. Croque Monsieur without the cheese? Pas Possible. Steak without the peppercorn sauce? Pas possible. Alas so is the attitude of the Parisian waiter…
Don’t speak in English
Even if you don’t speak a word of French prior to your trip, it helps to learn a few words and make a bit of effort. It can be deemed slightly obnoxious to assume that everyone will understand you speaking English.
Do finish with an espresso
It’s the done thing and after all you’re tying to fit in so don’t slip at the final hurdle…
With these tips, I’m sure you’ll fool everyone into thinking you’re a natural Parisian luncher. Bonne Chance!
Photography by Faye Bullock