Sarastro’s 13 lucky rules for dining

How is dining in Paris different than in other locations?  Here is a short guide which will help you feel right at home dinning among the Parisians.

1.  Always reserve.  Always.  Reserving is a simple courtesy that a restaurant operator appreciates.  Allowing for menu planning and appropriate staff sizing, it also assists management’s efforts to developing personal relationships with clientèle – they will know your name.  There is a reason that the first thing you will be asked when entering a restaurant is:  “Avez-vous réservé?”   You may take this to mean that if you haven’t you should have.  Not reserving does not always mean you will not be seated but there is a difference between what you must do and what you should do. Note: reservations are generally not required for either cafés or brasseries. Most restaurants open for the evening meal at 7:30 pm.

2.  Meals logically start with the entrée (starter).  The plat principal (main dish) follows.  I do not know how the meaning of entrée became twisted in some countries to mean something other than the starter.

3.  The best value is usually le Menu, a fixed price multi-course dinner.  Not to be confused with la Carte, this is the menu.  One may see the Formule option from time to time, particularly at lunch.  With a Formule menu, one chooses an entrée and principal plate or a principal plate and dessert from among the menu choices.

4.  French waiters are professionals but please be ready to order when appropriate and do so convincingly. Taking the time to mumble through the main courses without making a decision as your waiter patiently stands idle will not be appreciated.

5.  Avoid special requests and asking for substitutions. The chef has taken the time to present meals which, in his experience, are perfectly coordinated. He will generally not appreciate your ideas of modification.

6.  Sending food back to the kitchen is probably inappropriate. See item above.   If you are served something you do not like (rognon perhaps), just leave it on your plate; say nothing.

7.  Meats are generally cooked much less than the degree to which you may be accustomed. It might be difficult to convince a chef to cook all of the pink out of the center of a steak. Requests for well done stakes might be completely ignored by a serious chef.  Generally (and admittedly subjectively) your cooking choices are from basically raw to medium:

  • bleu
  • saignant
  • a point
  • bien cuit

8.  The greatest compliment you can pay the chef is to leave nothing on your plate.  One can only speculate that this is the reason dogs are tolerated in restaurant dining rooms.

9.  If the restaurant you have chosen has a sommelier, do not be intimated. This person is your ally and really does provide a wonderful service which you can use to your advantage. If you have modest means, explain to him that value is important – he’ll understand. His purpose is not to exploit you. If you are celebrating a special occasion, he can make your meal very memorable.

10.  Dessert orders are often taken after finishing the plat principal.

11.  Do not ask for a doggie bag. Taking uneaten food out of a restaurant is not done.

12.  You must ask for the check.  A professional waiter will not needlessly annoy a patron.  When you are ready to leave, simply signal for the check.

13.  The tip will always be included in the check total.  If you were particularly satisfied, leaving an additional euro or two is appropriate.  Leaving more indicates nothing other than a lack of awareness.

A final thought – menus in English.  As a general rule, I avoid restaurants with menus in English. However as more and more restaurants have done this as an accommodation rather than as an enticement, I find myself ignoring my own rule with surprising regularity.  Just beware of restaurants that post English menus as a draw and of restaurants with someone standing in front whose sole purpose is enticement.  Restaurants should be ideally chosen for the food they serve, not the overly attentive greeting presented to tourists.

Bon Appétit


Filed under Restaurants

3 responses to “Sarastro’s 13 lucky rules for dining

  1. I’m so jealous. I haven’t been to a restaurant in France at all yet, much less a Parisian one.:) These do seem like good tips, though, and definitely takes the edge off of my nervousness. We rarely eat out anyway, but I really want to try a nice but not too expensive one before we leave. Any suggestions?

    PS. pssst… typo:
    “dinning among the Parisians”

  2. Actually the entree thing is very interesting. Escoffier speaks of the entrees as being food served before or with the releve (roasts, game, whole fish) but the food he is discussing was still things such as steaks and they came after the soup in the Russe dining style. This terminology was in use at the beginning of the twentieth century in English, and therefore almost certainly in America. While it later changed in France and England, it did not in America.
    What is more, what we refer to as entrees he would more likely call hors d’oeuvres, things such as oysters or plovers’ eggs, and he regards their service at anything other than lunch a very bad habit and predjudicial to the flavour of the soup to follow.
    “A guide to modern cookery” is quite an hilarious read. How anyone survived these meals is beyond me. Maybe it is why so many died young.

  3. Fantastic blogpost, I bookmarked your site so I can visit again in the future, Thanks

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