How to Avoid an Angry Waiter: Four Rules for French Dining

Maggie Panetta is a student at the College of Charleston and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Paris, France.

I had been warned to expect some differences when dining at restaurants in France. I knew not to leave a tip and to specifically ask for the free water. I knew how to ask for the check. However, there were several things I did not expect with French dining that led to some uncomfortable experiences. Hopefully by sharing them, I can save someone else from making the same “faux pas.”

A delicious brunch at
A delicious brunch at “Les P’tits Indécises”

1) Meals cannot be shared.

Due to the large portion sizes in the United States, I often share meals at restaurants. When I attempted to order a plate of pasta to share with a friend, I was met with an incredulous look from the waiter and told that “ce n’est pas possible”. (“It’s not possible”)

2) Your waiter doesn’t care if your movie starts in an hour.

Waiters in France work much more calmly than waiters in the United States. They take their time and do not stop to check on a table after it has been served. While this is ideal for an unhurried meal, it can cause a bit of stress if you are in a rush. Make sure to leave plenty of time for meals.

Getting my greens in the city of bread.
Getting my greens in the city of bread.

3) “No substitutions please”

While an American menu will usually specify if substitutions are not allowed, this is an unwritten rule in France. Save yourself the embarrassment and pick the tomatoes off your burger yourself.

4) Group checks cannot be split.

My basic math skills have improved dramatically since arriving in France and this is largely because every meal ends with calculating how much of the bill is mine. No matter how large the party, everything will be on the same check. Try to plan ahead by having smaller bills. This will save you from the awkward situation I found myself in of trying to pay for a 12-euro meal with only a 50-euro bill.

Dessert: The best part of any meal in France.
Dessert: The best part of any meal in France.

While these little differences can cause a bit of a headache, the positive differences of French dining greatly outweigh the negatives. A brief moment of embarrassment over a social error is easily remedied by a glance out the restaurant window into the beautiful streets of Paris.

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