As a tourist whose French is a little shaky, ordering your food and drink at a restaurant can be a stressful situation. Even if you don’t have a food allergy to complicate things, just knowing what everything means on the menu is a chore in and of itself — and don’t get me started on pronunciation.
Don’t make these mistakes when ordering at restaurants in France!
French dining tips
- Don’t ask for butter with bread. Bread is often served without butter and is used to soak up the sauce from your food or eaten with cheese — not with butter. Also, it’s totally fine to put the bread directly on the table cloth if there’s no room on your plate. Not all restaurants will give you a bread plate.
- If you see filet mignon on the menu, you’re going to get pork, not beef. I made this mistake once and played it cool like I knew the whole time I was ordering pork. But after, I warned everyone who came to visit that filet mignon was pork and not the tender cut of beef they’re used to at home. The pork was still very good but not what I was expecting.
- Check out the formules/menu because they’re usually more cost effective. In the U.S., prix fixe menus are often reserved for fancy restaurants, but in France, it’s really common to see set menu options even at casual restaurants. A menu, in French, is la carte, but menu in French is a set menu (sometimes called a formule in more casual places) that gives you a few options for the drink, appetizer, main dish and dessert (or a combo of the above) all for a set price. It’s usually cheaper than buying each part of your meal a la carte. Be sure to look through the menu for the set price options!
- A martini is not a martini. Well, probably not the one you’re expecting anyway that’s dry, clear in color and comes with an olive. In France, a martini is Martini & Rossi brand vermouth poured over ice and tastes sweet. It comes in rouge or blanc. If you want a traditional American-style martini, ask for a Martini sec. And even still, you may end up with something colorful with a fruit slice. Just go with it… 😉
- Want a Coke? Don’t say you want a Coke. In France, a bottle of Coca-Cola brand soda is a Coca. Pronounced more or less the same way you say it in English (equal stress on each syllable). But if you say you want Coke, it kind of sounds like what a French person would call cocaine. So remember, ask for a Coca. As a tourist in a restaurant setting though, the waiter will know what you’re asking for even if you do say Coke and is not going to hand you drugs. But still, it’s a Coca that you want to drink!
- If you want tap water, ask for une carafe d’eau. Otherwise, if you ask for some water you’ll get the expensive bottled stuff. At fancier tourist trap places, a simple bottle of Evian can run you upwards of 10 euros, so if you’re not picky about your water, a carafe will be just fine.
Finally, when you’re ready to leave, you’ll have to ask for the check. In most cases, the waiter won’t automatically bring it to your table. Remember that when dining in France, the French don’t tip so don’t feel obligated to leave anything extra on the table for the waiter.
Above all, be sure to enjoy the experience!