- Travel in France
- Where to go
What to see and do
- the connoisseur's guide to France
out in France : how
much does it cost?
Compared to the UK, French restaurants generally
excellent value. When eating out, most people opt for a "menu", rather
than choosing à la carte (dish by dish), though this is
possible too. In 2021, average rates for a "Menu du jour" (menu of the
were normally in the range of 14 € to 22 €.
That's for a
three-course meal. Bread
is always included as well. A menu du jour
normally offers a limited choice.
such as Flunch, Courtepaille or Buffalo Grill, the cheapest menus may
start at under ten Euros for a meal including typically a
plate of salad, a main course such as steak and chips and a desert.
A glass of wine or beer or a soft drink may be included too.
Average prices depend on local factors,
the competitive environment, and the neighbourhood. Many restaurants
offer an alternative and cheaper two-course option,
"Entrée + plat" or "Plat + dessert" (starter and main
course, or main course and dessert).
In many restaurants, the Menu
available for lunch: in the evening, it is necessary to choose a more
expensive menu or choose à la carte. Most respectable
restaurants offer a menu of some sort in the region of 20 €.
menus can be quite a bit more
expensive; but gourmet meals are often served at unbeatable prices in
quite ordinary restaurants too, and there are plenty of "gastronomic"
restaurants even in a city like Lyon, that offer a basic gourmet menu
at lunchtime and maybe also for dinner too for between 20€ and
"Menus" include bread, and restaurants
are obliged by law to provide a tap water free of charge (une carafe d'eau du robinet
requested. They may also include a small carafe of wine. Coffee is
normally extra. Check the wine list carefully; restaurants make big
mark-ups on the wine, but there are usually house wines avaialble, if
you go to the end of the wine list.
A sample menu to give you an idea
is a sample three-course lunchtime menu as offered in a gourmet
restaurant in a small French town in July 2021. Each
will, of course, be different.
Price: 24 €.
Terrine du Chef, petite compotée d'oignons
terrine with onion
d'asperges vertes sauce vinaigrette coriandre cumin façon
chips de jambon du pays (Asparagus
mousse with a cumin and coriander mayonnaise and shards of local ham)
Plats principaux / Main
Suprême de Pintade Label Rouge du pays en Croûte
Dauphinois (Free range
local guinea-fowl in pastry, with a potato gratin.)
Jarret de Boeuf à façon du pays,
haricots verts pommes vapeur
(Shank of beef local
style, French beans and steamed potatoes.)
Glace Melba vanille artisanale fruits de saison au romarin (Locally made vanilla ice-cream
melba with seasonal fruit, flavoured with rosemary)
Brulée à la confiture (caramel
cream with jam)
What do people
eat in France? When do people eat? What are the best French
specialities? These are
questions that hundreds of thousands of people ask each year. France is
famed as a world leader when it comes to fine eating - known to the
French as "gastronomy" and known the world over by the French
expression "haute cuisine". The English translation of "haute cuisine",
which might be "good cooking", somehow lacks the sophistication and
je-ne-sais-quoi of the French expression.
This no doubt explains why the field of good cooking and eating is one
of the few in which it is French terminology that conquered
the world, not English words or Americanisms. But as you will see
below, the English language has become firmly established in the
terminology of everyday eating out, and visitors to France can go to
"un snack" or "un fast food", to eat "un hot dog", pronounced
[ern ot derg] or "des
" [ day sheeps] (which, in French, mean potato
not French Fries)....
eating out in France
Meals and meal
times in France
in most countries, there are three meals in a normal working
day in France. These are:
[ler peutee day-zheu-nay]. In
most cases (at home or in hotels), this will consist of bread, butter
and jam, or
croissants, perhaps some cereals and / or a glass of orange juice, and
a cup of tea or a cup or bowl of coffee or hot chocolate.
Older generations often drink their breakfast coffee or
chocolate from a bowl, younger generations (and hotels) tend to use
cups or mugs. At breakfast, coffee tends to be drunk as a
long drink, often with milk, as café au lait, not as the
small black expresso coffee that is preferred at other times of the
Many places open for lunch as from 11.30 a.m., and continue serving new
customers until about 1 p.m. Travellers looking for lunch later than
1.15 p.m. may have to try several restaurants before finding one that
will serve them, or else make do with a self-service restaurant, where
times are generally more flexible.
A typical French lunch will consist of: a starter
), such as a mixed salad, soup, some
paté. A main
typically a choice of meat or
fish, with potatoes, rice, pasta and/or vegetables; a cheese
(often a selection of local cheeses) and/or a dessert
Desserts are sometimes not detailed on the menu, so you have to listen
to the waiter. Common choices include: fruit tart (such as apple tart, tarte
), crème caramel
. Coffee at the end of the meal is an optional extra.
Many restaurants offer a special fixed
with limited choice, called le Menu
some propose just a special day's main
course, called "plat du jour"
[plar dyu zhoor] in addition to the staple items offered on the menu.
These are often worth choosing, as they frequently represent very good
Almost all restuarants offer a choice between a
free choice of things to eat (eating à la
carte), and a choice of different menus; depending on the
restaurant, the menus may include some very sophisticated dishes.
In a French home, dinner - which may or may not be the main meal of the
day - is generally eaten between 7.30 p.m and 8.45 p.m. (The main
French TV channels schedule their main evening programmes to start at
8.45, after dinner is finished). In town and city restaurants, dinner
service often does not start until 8 p.m.; however some restaurants
such as self-service restaurants, and restaurants in small towns or the
country, start serving earlier. For more details, see the
restaurants in France
This is a subject that
seems to cause endless argument on
forums.... Should I tip
in a restaurant in France, and if so how much?
Some travel forums seem to be occupied by
cheapskate folk righteously trying to justify not tipping in
restaurants in France. As if the fact that waiters in France get social
security and medical cover as part of their minimum-wage work contract
meant that they didn't need to be tipped! Everyone in Europe
gets social security and medical cover as part of their work contract.
It's not a perk.
The fact is that tipping in
restaurants in France IS
the norm - but there is no fixed rate. And you can't add it onto the
bill as a discretionary - or demanded - extra when paying with a credit
card, as you do in North America. A normal tip in France will amount to
of the bill, left discreetly on the table in coins
or small notes. That is in addition to the "service compris" which
nowadays is basically a service charge, not to a tip.
The ten per cent tip is a normal way
of acknowledging good service and/or good food in a restaurant. If
service is poor, leave less; but if it is slow because the waiter is
worked off his or her feet serving more people than he or she can cope
with, don't add insult to injury by not leaving a tip!
In self service restaurants, tipping
is not expected, though many people will leave a Euro or two on the
table or in a basket for this purpose as a "thankyou" to the staff.
Finally, in cafés a small tip is always appreciated though
not so much
of a norm.
out: traditional restaurants
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As stated above,a meal in a typical French
restaurant will consist of: a starter
such as a mixed salad, soup, some terrine or paté. A main
course, (le plat
) typically a choice of meat or fish,
potatoes, rice, pasta and/or vegetables; a cheese
(often a selection of local cheeses) and/or a dessert
are sometimes not detailed on the menu, so you have to listen to the
waiter. Common choices include: fruit tart (such as apple tart, tarte
, ice-cream (glaces
at the end of
the meal is an optional extra.
For special fixed lunchtime
menus, called le Menu du jour, see above.
It is in the evening, for
that French restaurants often pull out all the stops. Even on weekdays,
an eating out in the evening can often be a long-drawn-out affair, and
diners can easily spend between two and three hours at the table.
Dining out, in France, is an evening's event, not just a means to avoid
feeling hungry; it is highly unusual to find restaurants that chivvy
their clients to eat up, pay up and leave, as may happen in some other
parts of the world.
The menu will contain the same stages as the
classic three/four-course menu indicated above, but may
include five or six courses, with the addition of an "hors
d'eur-vreu] at the start, and a light green salad or a sorbet between
courses. In the best restaurants, diners will be expected to start with
a pre-meal drink (an apéritif
which will be accompanied by little home-made snacks, which the French
call des amuse-bouche
[dayz amuse-girl] - a word that has on
occasions been misinterpreted by unsuspecting foreign diners - but
really means things to whet your appetite.
The number of courses, and the quality
of the food, will depend on the reputation and nature of the
restaurant, and also on the cost of the menu or à-la-carte
chosen; but in any self-respecting restaurant, the cooking will be done
using fresh ingredients, and the chefs will take pride in their work.
Many French restaurants - and at the top end of the scale, virtually
all of them - have adopted "nouvelle
". In this, the accent is very much on
quality, taste, originality and presentation, rather than on quantity.
While the staple of traditional French cuisine might be
something like a plate laden with "steack
", steak, french fries and french beans (common in
restaurants serving workers and truck-drivers), the main dish in a nouvelle cuisine
restaurant might be something like fine slices of roast beef, with
asparagus in an original cream sauce, with a small portion of pilau
rice and two cherry tomatoes - this being carefully arranged on the
plate and completed with some form of edible decoration.
& Frogs legs?
classic dishes that foreigners love to associate with France,
snails and frogs legs, belong more to the traditional cuisine than to
nouvelle cuisine; but they are not everyday fare in France! Like many
things, they belong to France's deep rural tradition. Both are indeed
tasty, though with snails it is really the butter-parsley-and-garlic
sauce that is the great taste, and with frogs' legs, the taste is not
very different from crunchy chicken wings. Note: most of the
frogs legs consumed in France are imported, and the decline in the frog
population in certain Asian countries, due to a lucrative export
market, has been - and is - an ecological disaster.
places to eat in France
Due to the good quality and variety of
eating experiences offered in traditional restaurants, France has less
in the way of international cuisine than some other countries; but with
the globalisation of taste and culture, this is changing quite fast.
restaurants in France
: Les "self": Self-service
restaurants are known in France as cafeterias or as just "selfs". They
can be found in motorway service areas, some big stations, city
centres, and in most large superstores on the outskirts of town. They
provide food of reasonable quality, but for logistical and price
reasons use more processed food than independent restaurants do.
American-style diners are not part of the traditional French dining out
environment; but they do exist. The most popular chain, with outlets in
car-friendly suburban locations (near shopping centres or hotel zones)
is the distinctly American-themed Buffalo Grill, where the waiters will
even ask you what kind of dressing you want with your side salad.
Buffalo Grill is cheap and cheerful, a kind of Franco-American steak
house. Another chain is "Courtepaille" (short straw), which has been
around since the 1960s. Their restaurants are mostly located beside
main roads; some are on motorway service areas. The original
Courtepaille restaurants had thatched roofs, newer ones have grey metal
: these are all traditionally drinking
establishments, but like pubs in the UK, they have increasingly turned
to serving sandwiches and light (and in some cases even substantial)
meals, notably at midday.
has invaded France at a pace (though nothing like the
pace of some other countries), and there are McDonald's all over the
place. The local French (well, actually it's Belgian) chain of
hamburger and fast-food outlets is called Quick. There are
plenty of other independent fast-food outlets, sometimes with weird
pseudo-English names such as "Big-Ban", "Royal Fast Food" "Mister Good
Fast" or "Le Fast Fast" (fast food for those on a diet?)
can be found in virtually all French towns, and also along main roads,
though they tend to be independent establishments, rather than chains,
though there are some chains. The French prefer traditional
Italian-style pizzas, on a thin crust, and it is not common to find
deep-pan pizzas. Good pizza restaurants operate on the same model as
traditional French restaurants, offering three-course meals, where the
main course is a pizza. It is very unusual to find pizzerias
offering different size pizzas.
: many pizzerias double up as Italian pasta
in France. Chinese restaurants are now common
in French towns - though often they are actually Vietnamese
restaurants. The food is of course oriental, but do not expect to find
just the same choice on the menu as in an English or American Chinese
restaurant; in France. Chinese restaurants are catering mainly for
French customers, and this is reflected in the menu, particularly in
the special three-course lunch or dinner menus. Chinese
restaurants often offer good value for money, particularly with their
set menus at lunch time.
restaurants: these are not as common in France as in the UK. As with
Chinese restaurants, French Indian restaurants reflect French standards
and habits, often paying considerable attention to presentation, and
providing an Indian variety of nouvelle
restaurants. These are
quite common, on account of the links betwen France and North Africa.
While many are quite basic restaurants, catering for France's north
African community, others, more up-market, are sophisticated and offer
a fine eating-out experience.
from other nations
: in big towns and cities, many other
types of ethnic food restaurants can be found, but elsewhere, apart
from pizzerias and the occasional oriental restaurants, the eating is
mostly "à la française".
while being one of Europe's big producers of fruit
and vegetables, France is not a good place for vegetarian eating. On
account of the generally good quality of food and catering, and the use
of fresh products, vegetarianism never really took off in France.
French vegetarians become outsiders in great French social
events, such as family meals and evenings at the restaurant.
Nevertheless, there are now vegetarian restaurants in many French towns
(if you can find them), notably in university towns.
home in France - eating "en famille" Family
are still an
integral part of family life in France, and the dining table is perhaps
the most important piece of furniture in a French home. The French do
not generally go in for pre-processed pre-conditioned ready-made food,
but prefer to make meals from the raw materials - fresh meat and
vegetables, and home made desserts. A traditional "family meal", such
as Sunday lunch, or a meal to which guests are invited, can last two to
four hours, or even longer in the country.
During the week, many people will eat a
three-course meal at home every evening; though if all concerned - or
most of them - get a full three-course meal at lunch time in the works
canteen, in a restaurant, or at the school cantine (and, yes, a proper
balanced-diet 3-course meal is standard fare in French school
canteens), then the evening meal may often be lighter, a hot snack or
pasta or something similar, followed by yoghurt or a dairy desert and
fruit. The French eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, and a bowl of
green salad may well be provided at every meal. Outdoor
barbecues are very popular in suburban and rural France during the warm
Here are a few points
that are useful to know if you are dining out, or inviting French
visitors for a meal.
- The French
always eat bread with a meal, and the
bread basket is an essential element on any table.
- If there is a
course and a desert, the
cheese course always comes first.; at least three different cheeses
will usually be served. Cheese is eaten with bread, not with biscuits.
- Don't confuse
salt and pepper pots. In France, the salt pot has several holes, and
the pepper pot just one. Alternatively, there may be coarse sea salt,
considered of finer quality than ordinary salt, and pepper from a
of vocabulary and useful words.
In more detail : click here
the menu: French English glossary of menu terms
(The pronunciation is indicated between square
- le petit
[ler peutee day-zheu-nay].
- le déjeuner
- le diner
[ler plar pran-see-parle]
[ern caffay] (By default, this is espresso, a small strong
un café au lait
[ern caffay olay]
cup of white coffee
, (a latte) : un grand crème
[ern gron krem ]
jug of water: une
[une caraffe dough]
glass of water: un
[ern vair dough]
jug of red/white wine: une carafe de vin (rouge
[une caraffe deu van (rooje / blon)]
take this menu: Je
prendrai ce menu-ci.
[jeu prondray seu menu-see]
you bring the bill please. L'addition, s'il vous
seel voo play]
are the toilets (washroom, etc)
[oo son lay twa-let, seel voo play]