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How to Order a Restaurant Meal in France

January 21st, 2011

french-restaurant.jpgFrance is one of the most popular vacation destinations. It boasts stunning scenery, historic towns and villages, and of course good food. There are a number of tips for enjoying French cuisine to its fullest. This article shows you what to expect in a French restaurant.

The French eat lunch at noon (midi). This is earlier than most English-speaking people are used to. If you want to eat at a popular restaurant and have not booked a table, it’s worth turning up on the dot of noon to avoid finding it already full. In the evening, most restaurants start serving at 8:00 pm and normally do not accept diners after 9:30 pm. There is usually only one sitting, so you are unlikely to be asked to finish your meal quickly to make room for the next customers.

French restaurants are required to post their menus outside the establishment itself. This means that you can decide if they offer the kind of food you want without the embarrassment of going in and then realising it was not what you expected.

What if you don’t speak French and don’t understand the culinary terms for the dishes on the menu? You would be well advised to invest in a French phrase book before your vacation. Try to choose one that is organised by theme: eating in a restaurant, for example, or booking a hotel room. The book should contain the basic phrases you need as well as vocabulary about food and menu items.

You have chosen a suitable restaurant. You go inside and the waiter/waitress takes you to a table. These days smoking is banned completely inside all restaurants in France. The only place you are allowed to smoke is on an exterior terrace. You no longer have to tolerate someone else’s cigarette smoke but you are not allowed to smoke if you are inside the building.

French restaurants normally offer at least one fixed price (prix fixe) menu and a free choice menu (à la carte). Normally, there are two or three choices per course on the fixed price menu and more on the à la carte. In some country restaurants, however, you might find that the only menu is a fixed price one and there is no choice. Often, a restaurant will offer a cheaper fixed price menu only at lunchtime and a more expensive fixed price menu in the evening.

Many restaurants also offer a plat du jour – a dish of the day. This is often worth choosing since it is freshly cooked with ingredients bought that day. If it is not already indicated on the menu, ask the waiter or waitress, “Quel est le plat du jour?” (what is the dish of the day?). Fish is still commonly served on Fridays.

French menus normally consist of three courses: starter, main course, and dessert. Sometimes they offer soup before the starter. It used to be the norm to serve a vegetable after the main course, but this is unusual now and it is generally served with it. Bread is always served and you will often find a full breadbasket on the table before you have ordered the meal.

There might also be a cheese course as well between the main course and the dessert. The French always eat cheese before the dessert, never after. Many restaurants still offer a selection of cheeses and bring a tray to the table. Occasionally, you are left to serve yourself; more often, the waiter/waitress will ask you which ones you would like. It is customary to choose no more than three.

Most restaurants have a separate wine list, often offering local wines if they are in a wine-producing region. This is a good opportunity to try out the regional wines. Wines come in bottles of either 75 cl or half-bottles of 37.5 cl.

Sometimes, the restaurant offers a house wine, which is served in jugs (pichets). A pichet is a litre; a demi-pichet is 50 cl. You can also find un quart de pichet (a quarter pichet), which is 25 cl. The restaurateur normally buys the house wine in barrels from the producer and decants it into the pichet, which is why it does not arrive in bottles. House wine can vary enormously in quality and red wine of dubious quality is sometimes chilled to mask its rough flavour. If in doubt, choose a bottle of wine instead from the wine list.

In French, the bill (or check) is called l’addition. When you want the waiter/waitress to bring it, say, “L’addition, s’il vous plait,” (the bill, please). Before you enter the restaurant, if you are not planning to pay with cash it is important to check that they take credit cards. Some French restaurants still take only cash or (French) cheques. Alongside the menus displayed outside, they should show which credit cards they take or indicate that they don’t. This is not always made clear, so if you are unsure you should ask, “Est-ce que vous prenez des cartes?” (do you take credit cards?).

Tipping is not required in France. A service charge is already included in the total amount. There is nothing to stop you leaving a few coins if you feel that you have received particularly good service, but this is by no means obligatory.


This article was supplied by “Francewriter” from Constant Content.


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