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Parisian Dining Etiquette
Parisian dining etiquette involves good manners, but it also has some local quirks. From later mealtimes and longer dinners to the way in which you interact with the server, you should know the proper customs before dining out at restaurants in Paris to avoid any embarrassment.
Parisians typically eat a small, light breakfast in the morning. Lunch in Paris is eaten at times similar to those in American, between noon and 2 p.m. Dinnertime is much later than the time to which most Americans are accustomed. A typical dinner time starts between 8 and 9 p.m., although it is acceptable to eat as early as 7:30. Don't be surprised to see Paris locals dining as 11 p.m. Meals are long and leisurely, so plan several hours for dining.
Parisian dining etiquette dictates proper dress, although jackets and ties are not absolutely necessary. Business causal clothes are acceptable, but anything less is frowned upon, especially at upscale restaurants. For example, common tourist wear like t-shirts or tennis shoes is not appropriate. Brasseries and pizzerias are more laid-back options if you don't want to dress up. You will also look out of place if you show up unkempt, in a sloppy outfit.
Each person should order their own entree, as main courses are small and intended for a single diner. Many restaurants in Paris offer a set price menu, called a formule, that includes your appetizer, main course, and dessert. At the most upscale eateries, you might have many courses. Don't expect the chef to customize dishes for you by leaving out sauces, substituting ingredients, or changing side dishes, unless you have a medical condition that makes this necessary. It's considered bad etiquette and an insult to the chef, who likely takes great pride in his or her culinary creations.
A typical gourmet meal consists of a kir, which is a white wine drink, followed by an amuse bouche, a very light appetizer. The regular appetizer follows, and then you receive your main course. Expect a cheese plate to follow, with dessert as your final course. Often an expresso caps the entire experience. Bread is served with meals, and it's acceptable to put it directly on the table if you are not given a bread plate.
While dining, speak in a quiet voice, which is the customary demeanor. Loudness calls negative attention to yourself and your dining companions.
Waiters and Waitresses
Despite the Hollywood stereotype, it's not polite to call your server garçon in Paris. Instead, refer to males as monsieur and females as mademoiselle. If you speak some French, don't be afraid to try it out when ordering. Your server is not insulting you if he or she responds in English. This is simply a way to make things easier for you.
The waiter will offer bottled water, but there is no need to incur this extra expense. Tap water is Paris is safe for drinking with meals. When dining, use silverware, even for foods like chicken that are often considered finger foods in America.
Waiters in Paris do not bring your check until you request it, since meals are expected to be leisurely. Ask for the bill when you're done with your meal, and don't expect the restaurant to give you separate checks if you have several people in your party. You'll need to do the math yourself. If you have anything left over, never ask your server for a doggie bag as this is not customary in France.
People in France do not typically drink soft drinks with their meals. Drinking wine is the customary beverage with dinner, and restaurants have sommeliers to help you make an appropriate selection. Typically, dry white wines are paired with appetizers and seafood, while sweeter varieties go well with cheese plates and desserts. Red wine is also appropriate for cheese and is paired with red meats. Champagne is enjoyed before a meal, although it is not unheard of to pair it with your food or drink it with dessert.
Tipping is not expected in Paris as it is in America. Your gratuity is already included in your bill, and adding extra money is optional. If you were especially pleased with the service, you can add a few Euros. However, this is not necessary because Parisian waiters and waitresses are paid a living wage and do not depend on gratuities as an integral part of their income.