Table for two, please!
One of the most enjoyable experiences you’ll have in Paris is
eating out with friends. Hopefully, our guide can help you figure
out where to go, how to order and what to expect.
Bistros, Brasseries, Cafés, Oh
Parisians typically divide their eateries up into
different categories, which may prove confusing for American
tourists. There is a difference between all of the different
categories, both in atmosphere and type of food served.
Cafés and Salons du Thé
Tea houses are casual places that are great for
sitting and lounging for hours on end. These are the places to go
read a book or do homework while enjoying a cup of coffee. The menu
will usually be light, and while some cafés may serve lunch, some
will only offer pastries throughout the day.
Bistros are usually small, family-run spots that
feature a small, constantly-changing menu that relies on fresh,
seasonal ingredients. These places are typically only open for
lunch and dinner and are generally very affordable.
Brasseries are larger than bistros and are
typically open much longer (sometimes even 24 hours). These are
informal, sometimes noisy places with larger menus.
Restaurants are generally places that you’ll want
to go to only for dinner. These are the establishments where you
can enjoy a three course meal and linger for hours. The dress code
is slightly more formal. While you don’t need to dress in your
Sunday best, you should change out of your sweatshirt and sneakers
and into something a little nicer before dining.
If you need a quick and inexpensive bite, visit a
street vendor or a boulangerie (bakery) for fresh
and inexpensive sandwiches. For a dessert on the go, visit a
pâtisserie (pastry shop) or
Le Menu is not The
You might’ve been excited to see that “menu” is the
same word in English and French, but you’ll be disappointed to know
that you were wrong. The translation for “menu” in English
is actually “la carte.” When you order off of “la carte,”
you’re looking at a full menu with all of the options that the
“Le Menu” is a fixed-price, 3 course meal. You’ll
usually get to choose from a selected list of options for your
appetizer, entrée and dessert. Ordering off of “le menu” is usually
much smarter than ordering off of “la carte.” Your money will go
If you’re not that hungry or on a tight budget, look for a
“formule.” This is another fixed price option where you
will be able to order an entrée and your choice of either an
appetizer or dessert. This option is the least expensive, but may
only be offered at lunch in some places.
When you say “entrée,” they’ll hear “appetizer.”
In French, an appetizer is called an “entrée” while a main dish is
called a “plat.” Luckily for you, dessert is the same word in both
languages (at least the most important part is easy to
- If you ask for water (“l’eau”) you may be brought bottled water
and charged for it. Be sure to specify that you want “une carafe
d’eau” (a pitcher of tap water). This option is free and can be
refilled throughout the meal. Don’t worry about drinking
it—tap water in Paris is perfectly safe.
- Tipping in Paris does not work the same way that it does in
America. Your tip is almost always included in the
bill (typically 12% to 15%). You’ll see the words “service
compris” on the bill, which means “tip included.” If you feel that
the service was good, a small tip is always appreciated. Typically
Parisians will leave one to five Euros for great service at lunch
- Don’t get sucked in by tourist traps! Eating
where the Parisians eat is a much better way to find high-quality,
authentic food. It’s also often a less expensive option, as
touristy places tend to jack up the prices.
Satisfying your Favorite
Although it’s difficult for us to believe, some
students do get tired of French cuisine. Luckily for you, Paris is
filled with restaurants that serve cuisine from all over the world
that has been brought to the city. If you find yourself craving
Chinese, Indian, Thai, Japanese or Italian, it will be very easy
for you to find a place to satisfy that craving. Don’t get too
carried away with repeating favorite meals! While you’re there, be
sure to take advantage of the availability of all of that delicious
French cuisine. After all, you are in Paris!
Take Advantage of Neighborhoods
Like New York, Paris has certain areas which are
heavily populated by people of a certain cultural heritage. For
you, that means that you’ll be able to explore certain parts of the
city with a totally unique culture (and most important, a totally
Visit the historic Jewish neighborhood in the Marais, centered
around rue de Rosiers. This area is a great place to stop for a
cheap lunch—there are several inexpensive but delicious falafel
places on the street. The portions are huge and very filling, and
it’s a great option for vegetarians. Meat lovers shouldn’t
worry—you can find plenty of places to grab a kebab. After lunch,
stop in to one of the many Jewish bakeries, where you’ll be able to
see and interesting blend between traditional French pastries and
Jewish favorites. The treats here are delicious and (best of all)
There are two Parisian Chinatowns, the largest of which is
located in the 13th arrondissement, and the second in the 19th
arrondissement. Both plenty of restaurants where you can easily
find Asian favorites. The food is generally very cheap and the
portions are somewhat larger than those that you’ll find in other
places in the city.