Etiquette, Paris

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    Difference of Cafe, Bistro, Brasserie & Restaurant

    by jearloneal Updated Jul 27, 2010

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    Anyone who spends money on a trip to Paris wants to have a great time. Here are some tips on how to have a great time by respecting the French view of different classes of eating establishments. Follow these guidelines when choosing a place to eat or drink and you'll have a good time as well as the respect and appreciation of the eatery’s management and staff.

    French Cafe:

    A Cafe provides coffee, drinks and snacks at the bar. These could consist of a hardboiled egg, a buttered baguette with ham, cheese (delicious) or a Croque Monsieur (also delicious), some may also have, although usually only at lunch, a very simple inexpensive menu consisting of one or two dishes often cooked by the proprietor's wife. Service is bustling, usually by the owner who doubles behind the bar. Ambience is laminated table tops with perhaps some frilly plastic doilies. The cost could be $5.00 to $20.00 and up. Good examples are Cafe du Capuccines and Cafe du Concorde. The proprietor, his wife and an assistant normally provide all.

    When you enter a Cafe, you will most likely be greeted by the owner. A simple, “Bonjour,” in return is enough. If you are stumbling through a French phrase, many French will repeat the phrase correctly for you so you can hear it. Repeat the phrase as they have spoken it and thank them. Ordering a sandwich, or just a drink is expected in this type of eatery.
    As this is the most casual of eateries, one could wear casual attire including jeans and tennis shoes.

    Good environment for well-behaved children. Many owners will want to interact with them.

    French Bistro:

    A Bistro is a small modest establishment; it includes those thousands of simple places that take up half of Paris. A Bistro will be even more casual and laid back than a Brasserie. It may have no professional service, no set written menus, rather written on a board each day. The menu is short and could include dishes such as Coq au Vin, Bavette (lsteak), Salade Niçoise and Côte de Porc. They are simple well-priced meals in pleasant surroundings with competent waiters bustling around. Service is fast and prices are low. Bistros must turn their tables over to make a profit. The cost could range from $15.00 to $30.00 and up for food. The house wine is usually good and may be served from a bottle or carafe. Some French examples are Cafe du Cherche Midi, Le Quercy and Polidor.

    Again, when you enter a Bistro, you will most likely be greeted by the owner. A simple bonjour in return is enough. If you are stumbling through a French phrase, many French will repeat the phrase correctly for you so you can hear it. Repeat the phrase as they have spoken it and thank them. Ordering single course is acceptable for this type of eatery, but you will be missing some delicious home-cooked food and pastry.

    A Bistro could boast a chef and an assistant; a waiter could be expected to serve food and drink to thirty (30) covers (seats) and turn them over once or twice a night; the owner could do the bar and the cash. Feel free to order a bowl of soup de poisson while your partner can have a more substantial meal. Remember, as one of the goals is to turn tables a couple of times a night, after dessert, find a nice sidewalk cafe to continue your evening and allow the waiter to achieve his/her goal. While this is still a casual environment, I could suggest no jeans or tennis shoes. Also, remember to say, "Au revoir Monsieur et Madame,” on your way out.

    Good environment for well-behaved children. Many owners will want to interact with them.

    French Brasserie:

    For me, this is where the fun begins. A Brasserie is larger and more elaborate than a Bistro. Its distinguishing features are size; long hours of operation (often from 8 am to Midnight); availability of food throughout the day. The menu is reasonably long and well priced. Typical dishes are Fruits de Mer, Choucroute Alsacienne, grilled and simple fish and meat dishes. Service is rapid from overworked waiters dressed in black and white. Traditionally, many of the dishes are plated in the room. The surroundings are often quite smart and the atmosphere is one of noise and bustle, generated by the turnover of tables that their low prices require to make a profit.

    A brasserie is a pleasant place to visit but not a major dining experience. However, you can make it a major dining experience and the staff will love you. Platters of fresh seafood are a wonderful way to start. The oysters in France are both wonderful and different from those in other countries. There are Spéciales, Fines de claires (my favorites), and Belons to name a few.

    A Brasserie is used in a number of ways - for lunch, for a drink, for dinner and for supper. French examples are Flo’s La Coupole, Le Zeyer and Au Pied de Cochon. The cost could be between $20 and $70 and up. The wine list will be good and have a range of prices to offer.
    A brasserie could employ a chef and four (4) assistants for approximately two hundred customers a day. A waiter could serve similar numbers as in a bistro and there could be a barman and a Maître d’ overseeing the seating and service.

    Even though it is the goal to turn tables at a Brasserie, because many of them are larger spaces, you can judge how long to stay by how many tables are available at the time you complete your meal or move to an outside table which is generally smaller.

    While this is still a casual atmosphere, I could recommend that gentlemen wear some sort of jacket. Ladies have an easier time of it as they can port a nice pair of slacks and a blouse. If you are looking for respect, don’t wear jeans (not even $400 jeans as denim is denim) or tennis shoes. If you are not looking for respect, then you should probably not be in Paris.

    Tipping should include the Maître d’ at between five (5) and ten (10) percent) in addition to the 20% for waiters. One can present the Maître d’ with his/her tip directly.

    A Brasserie is a good environment for children, but remember, French children are not allowed to act out in public as American children are. Children may hear the hustle and bustle around them and feel it gives them the permission to speak in their "outside voice."

    French Restaurant

    A restaurant provides a complete setting, service, food and wine list. The food is refined, the service attentive and the tables are properly spaced in a well appointed dining room. The food could be Haute Cuisine with sophisticated forays into the other branches of French cooking. You could spend the entire evening dining here. It is a major event. The examples include all the great and famous Michelin three (3) star restaurants of France like Le Pré Catalan (if you are going to splurge at a *** star, I recommend starting here), Ledoyen, and L'Arpège cost could be between $100 and $500 and up for food and drink.

    In Michelin two (2) and three (3) star restaurants in France, seating for 80 could have a director in charge of the dining room; who could, in some cases be assisted by a 1st Maître d’ followed by at least two (2) Maître d’ each overseeing a waiter assisted by one (1) or two (2) junior waiters. There could also be one or two of sommeliers (wine specialists.) FYI, the sommelier is your friend and you should treat him/her so. You can advise him/her after you have placed your order and ask him/her to advise you on several wines that will best bring out and compliment the flavors of your meal. You can be frank with him/her regarding inexpensive, moderate or specially priced wines. You will want to consider having a couple of wines wit the meal, so you can experience several wine regions at one sitting. Once he/she serves the wine, feel free to ask him questions about the wine and give him/her an opportunity to show off their knowledge.

    In most cases there could also be a barman, cashier, toilet assistants and doorman. There could be almost no turnover of tables. The kitchen brigade could be anywhere from 14 to 20 consisting of an executive chef, and sous chef plus four chefs de parties and eight junior chefs.
    Naturally, there are restaurants that do not have Michelin stars, but the principles are the same. Now, this is a special occasion and I recommend that gentlemen wear jacket and tie, and ladies wear something wonderful to show off your style. Dining for an entire evening (3 hours) can be a wonderful experience. There will be time to enjoy, share and discuss all the food combinations that are served as well as the wine.

    Only children who can sit at the table and keep their voices low and their activities simple should be taken to a restaurant in Paris.

    bon appétit!

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    Tourists’ Pleasure Built on Others’ Work

    by von.otter Updated Feb 7, 2009

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    Parisians Blessedly Working, July 2008
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    “The monarchy had its idlers, the republic had its loafers.”
    — An 1848 remark by Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

    Remember that wherever you travel, especially when you travel for leisure, your enjoyment of the time you are not working depends upon those who are working.

    In some European countries, France and Italy leap to mind, when the locals are not working, if only for a day as they strike, airing some grievance, hoping to set it right, how very quickly your enjoyment is diminished.

    Be kind to those who are working, helping to make your vacation enjoyable.

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    Friday night rollerbladers

    by BeatChick Updated Dec 29, 2007

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    Roller Bladers

    During my 2nd trip to Paris, my friend Kristin & I had gone out one Friday night so that Kristin could find a payphone to call her fiancée. We were somewhere in the 7th arrondissement, when all of a sudden policemen on rollerbladers came gliding past, then WHOOSH! a whole BUNCH of roller bladers swept by! We stood there and watched the whole procession; didn't really have a choice since we couldn't cross the street to get back to our hotel. It must've taken about a half hour for the whole group to troop past. And at the end, of course, were more policemen watching the stragglers.

    And apparently, they do the same thing on Sundays during the day. It's supposed to be a more leisurely roll with families out roller blading & pushing babies & young children in strollers. I had walked past Nôtre Dame, turned right and saw a whole SLEW of rollerbladers. I’d seen the Friday night rollerbladers but wasn’t sure if this was the same so I asked some English ladies and they said they didn't know. We saw some people pushing kids in prams in that crowd and we decided we probably would never do that – might put the children in danger. Then one of the ladies laughed and said she wouldn't put herself in danger, *period!*, by rollerblading. It was quite an amazing site!

    Also, if you're going to do the Friday night rollerblading you need to understand that you must be a very good rollerblader; if you fall behind the police will put you out of the group. But the Sunday rollerbladers are a lot more relaxed so if you're a fairly decent rollerblader than this would be the event for you.

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    Take to the Streets

    by hquittner Written Feb 23, 2007

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    Taking to the Streets (Just a Concert)
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    Sorbonne student gatherings take place by marching on the streets leading from the University buildings to the Place Edmond-Rostand outside the Luxembourg Gardens or to the Place de la Sorbonne via the Blvd. St.-Michel. (See our Tip of Things to Do under Sorbonne, 2/07). These are make-shift "campus locations".

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    Short/firm questions for best results

    by bluedemon21 Written Feb 16, 2007

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    As a Canadian, I am used to a certain amount of effort and courtesy on behalf of customer service related people. I had to push away my "polite" manner to get answers and acknowledged. Firm questions-to the point.
    For ex. "How much to the top of the Eiffel Tower"? not...."Excuse me, I was wondering if you could tell me the difference in price between going to the top vs. only to the 1st platform"
    Parisiens will sense your weakness...treat them like crap (within reason) before they do it to you. :)

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    by Lady_Mystique Updated Aug 26, 2006

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    Even the French dogs have polite table etiquette!!


    Parisians are polite, especially to older people.
    In Paris, the difference between getting good and bad service is the difference between a little meek 'politesse' and careless rudeness.
    Tone and facial expressions can work wonders.
    Maintain composure at all times and act like you mean business; speak softly and politely (do employ the standard "monsieur/madame" and "s'il vous plaît") to Parisians in official positions, especially if they are older than you.


    Avoid doing this with Parisians.
    Do not assume you can talk your way into something. To the French, conversation, especially 'arguing' is an ART form that has taken centuries to refine.
    When the concierge sitting in front of a rack of keys tells you there are no vacancies, or when the maître d' insists that he cannot seat you in a restaurant full of empty tables, move on.

    GIFTS ~

    If you are invited to someone's house for lunch or dinner, it is expected of you that you won't come empty-handed.
    Wine is a common and perfectly adequate thank-you gift, as is food or flowers.
    A word to the wise: unless you're attending a wake, do not bring a bouquet of chrysanthemums; they are a flower of mourning.


    There is no assumption in Paris that "the customer is always right," and complaining to managers about poor service is rarely worth your while. Your best bet is to take your business elsewhere.
    When engaged in any official process (e.g., opening a bank account, purchasing insurance, etc.), don't fret if you get shuffled from one desk to another or from one phone number to the next.
    Hold your ground, patiently explain your situation as many times as necessary, and you will prevail.

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    For that essential gift for your host *6e

    by shrimp56 Updated Mar 26, 2006

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    If you are fortunate enough to be invited to a French family's house for dinner you must bring a small gift. Wine is out, because it looks as though you are not expecting them to serve good wine. Flowers are standard -- not chrysanthemums though as they are associated with funerals. It is better form to send them either before or after the dinner. This is both so the hostess doesn't have to break her routine and find a vase and so your flowers will not be compared with [and possibly outshine ] someone else's.
    This is a cute little shop on rue Saints-Peres, just around the corner from Hotel du Danube on rue Jacob. The little flower pots in the tiny watering can were pricey -- 12 euros. But they are very chic. I brought them several times and my hosts seemed pleased.

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    Extend Proper Courtesy

    by GracesTrips Written Sep 15, 2005

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    Anytime you enter an establishment, whether it be a restaurant or retail store it is customary to say "Bon Jour". It doesn't have to be loud but try to make eye contact as you say it. Also, upon leaving the establishment, you would say "Merci, Au Revoir".

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    It's proper to be polite in Paris.

    by shutterlust Written Apr 2, 2005

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    Street in Latin Quarter

    I love to shop. I practically live for shops! And you can't beat Parisienne shopping! Nor can you beat their shopping etiquette!

    When entering a shop or even a cafe, please say "Bonjour" upon entrance. They consider shops to be like the owner's own home. It's polite to say hello when entering and upon leaving, please say "Merci" and "Au Revoir!" You wouldn't want someone barging into your home without at least acknowledging you, would you??

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