Before leaving for France, I heard more rumors and stereotypes about the French than I could count, the majority of which pertained to their customer service industry. While it is very different from that of The U.S., reality does not reflect what I was led to expect, so I would like to clarify a few aspects of it.
- “You won’t be able to season your food”
This one is usually true. Most restaurants do not have any sauces, condiments, or spices at the table and the few that do, only have salt or pepper. The only regular exceptions to this rule are foreign-themed restaurants, such as Asian restaurants which usually have soy sauce. But you should not worry! The chefs at every restaurant I’ve been to have been very talented, and I would not have changed anything about the dish, even if I had had the means to.
2. “The waitstaff is rude to foreigners”
I have never experienced this. All of the waiters and waitresses I have had were professional and courteous. I have heard several complaints from friends that they spoke to their waiter in French, and the waiter responded, somewhat condescendingly, in English. In my experience, they only clarified something in English if I obviously did not know what I was trying to order, which happened twice during my first couple of days while I was still learning how to order. As long as you speak decent French, you will be treated like any other patron. If you do not speak French, do not worry. I am willing to bet that almost every restaurant in Paris is staffed with at least several, if not entirely by Parisians who also speak English.
3. ”Alcohol is part of every meal”
This is true if you want it to be. Every restaurant I’ve been to had a drink menu that was at least the same size as the food menu, and I have yet to encounter a restaurant where it is not appropriate to order only drinks (“apéritifs” as they’re called in this context). That being said, it is equally appropriate not to drink at all. While alcohol is more accessible here, it certainly is not a requirement.
4. “Waiters and waitresses will not check on you periodically”
This is true most of the time. Usually, they will take drink orders when you’re seated, but after that, you have to call them over. When you are ready to order meals, desserts, drink refills or ask for the check, you will have to flag one down. This is standard at most restaurants and comes with no ill intent. It’s just the way they do business.
5. “Tipping is not required”
Tipping is not required, at least not like it is in The U.S. Typically, tips are reserved for large/expensive orders or exceptional service. They are also usually just between one and five Euros, rather than a percentage of the bill. The waitstaff is paid well here and does not depend on tips to get by, so they do not expect tips from everyone.
Overall, dining in Paris, or France in general, is not a very different experience than in the U.S. The food is still served promptly and in fair-sized portions, and it is very unlikely that you will have a bad experience.