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Ten Tips to Help You Enjoy the French Dining Experience

Eating out in France is not so much an experience as an event. Visitors to the country often find themselves bemused by French meal times and the length of time taken over even the simplest of mid-week meals. However, if you relax and take the time to savour the atmosphere you will be left with wonderful memories of a fabulous evening.

The French are renowned for some of the best cuisine in the world. It is therefore unsurprising that they take the time to enjoy it. Here, we have compiled a list of top tips to guide you through the gastronomic minefield and help you to avoid making a faux pas.

Tip One - The French Don’t do Breakfast

The French do not approach mealtimes in the same way the British do. Going out for breakfast is almost unheard of. The traditional French breakfast of croissants and coffee is most often enjoyed at home, or in your hotel, and while it can be experienced in some of the smaller establishments, it is most definitely not a meal which the French celebrate.

Tip Two – Try to Make Sure You’re Seated for Lunch by 1 p.m.

Lunch time menus tend to be available from 11.00 a.m. until 3.00 p.m. However, with most locals arriving for lunch around 1.00 p.m. you are unlikely to find a table after this time. While self-service and fast food restaurants do tend to serve food all day, you are unlikely to experience the culinary delights on offer in many of the small cafes and restaurants. It is well worth arriving early to ensure you find a place.

Tip Three – Don’t Go Early for Your Evening Meal.

Most restaurants don’t open until 8.00 p.m. As stated in the opening paragraph, dining out in France is a lengthy affair and realistically you can expect the meal to take 2-3 hours. Evening meals in France may consist of up to six courses and they are almost always accompanied by wine. Simply relax and go with the flow and you will have a fine night.

Tip Four – Don’t Fill Your Glass

The French will never fill a wine glass to the top, it is purely and simply considered to be bad manners. Refills are always available, but will not be offered until the glass is drained. One subtle difference worth mentioning at this point is that in France you will always find your wine glass to your left, not the right as you do in Britain.

Tip Five – Order what is on the Menu

French Cuisine is a delicately balanced blend of flavours which has often taken a considerable amount of time for the chef to perfect. If you ask for a change to the menu not only may you offend, you are also unlikely to be accommodated. If you don’t like an ingredient in the dish you are considering, it is always best to choose something else.

Tip Six – Keep Your Hands on the Table

In France it is considered bad manners to place your hands under the table. Simply don’t do it.

Tip Seven – Know Your Condiments

One of the main differences between the French and British dinner tables is the salt and pepper pots. In France the salt pot has many holes while the pepper has just one. Something you definitely need to try and remember before adding them to your meal!

Tip Eight – Coffee is Never Served with Dessert

Coffee is a course in its own right and is served at the end of the meal. It is never served as an accompaniment to a dessert.

Tip Nine – French Waiters are not in a Hurry for You to Leave.

At the end of the evening make sure you know how to ask for the bill. Many tourists have been caught out by being unable to request the total for the evening, and have ended up sat at the tables long after they were ready to go. Of course, you can go and stand by the door with your coat on (and in some very relaxed restaurants you may need to do this!) However, a simple phrase such as “L'addition s'il vous plait.” Should ensure you receive your bill in a timely manner.

Tip Ten – It’s okay to leave a Tip

Up until recently tipping in France was relatively unusual. In recent years, tipping has grown much more commonplace and now it is usual to leave an amount equivalent to 5-10% in small notes and change as a tip.

Bon Appetit!

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