How to Order Lunch at a Parisian Cafe

Lunch in Paris
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Ordering lunch in Paris is no easy feat. Parisian waiters are not naturally friendly and most restaurants do not accommodate for special dietary requirements so it’s handy to know the game, oh and it also helps to speak a word or two of French. Here’s a guide of what to do and what not to do when ordering lunch at a Parisian café.

Les Deux Magots

Do always greet the waiter 

First things first, always say “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” depending on whether it’s daytime or nighttime. In France a greeting must come before any request or question and will go a long way to getting you a table.

Les Deux Magots

Do ask for a table in French 

In France they simply state how many people there are rather than asking for a table. So if there’s three of you, simply say “nous sommes trois” and the waiter will do his best to find you a table for three. The best bit? All you need to remember is your numbers.

There are two of us – “nous sommes deux”

There are three of us – “nous sommes trois”

There are four of us – “nous sommes quatre”

Lunch in Paris

Do lunch like a Parisian 

Lunching in France is something, which ought to be enjoyed and not rushed hence why Parisians take long lunches and consequently work late into the night. Lunching is seen as a pastime where you can spend a good couple of hours drinking wine, conversing with those around the table and savouring the food. After all eating fast will only cause indigestion…

Lunch in Paris

Do eat like a Parisian

Parisians tend to eat very delicately, very politely and very slowly. It’s the little things that count such as putting your napkin on your lap, eating with your mouth closed and chewing each mouthful properly.

Lunch in Paris

Do learn the basics

A little bit of French can go a long way. Buy a little book of phrases to get you started. It’s a fun challenge for the trip and the best way to learn a language is by practising. Here’s a couple of sentences to get you started:

On peut avoir une carafe d’eau – Can we have a jug of water please?

Quel est le plat du jour? – What is today’s special?

Je voudrais du pain – I would like some bread

Quelle sorte de poissons avez-vous au menu? – What kind of fish is on the menu?

Lunch in Paris

Don’t ask for your sauce on the side 

Parisian women may all be lovely and slender but maintaining their slight figures comes from moderation instead of deprivation. If you’re watching your weight, eat less of your dressed salad but heaven forbid asking for your sauce on the side. Whilst they kindly cater for it in the States, Parisian waiters disapprove and may instantly dub you as the American in Paris.


Don’t take photos of your meal 

Unless you want to initiate heavy sighs and rolling eyes from the surrounding customers and waiters…

Cafe de Flore

Don’t get too drunk

As nicely as the wine is going down, French waiters have little tolerance for drunks around the table and won’t hesitate to ask you to leave, especially if you’re a tourist/expat.

Lunch in Paris

Don’t be lactose intolerant

Dairy is engrained into French cuisine so being lactose intolerant is pretty much incomprehensible in Paris. Magrit de Canard without the butter? Pas possible. Croque Monsieur without the cheese? Pas Possible. Steak without the peppercorn sauce? Pas possible. Alas so is the attitude of the Parisian waiter…

Lunch in Paris

Don’t speak in English

Even if you don’t speak a word of French prior to your trip, it helps to learn a few words and make a bit of effort. It can be deemed slightly obnoxious to assume that everyone will understand you speaking English.

Lunch in Paris

Do finish with an espresso

It’s the done thing and after all you’re tying to fit in so don’t slip at the final hurdle…

With these tips, I’m sure you’ll fool everyone into thinking you’re a natural Parisian luncher. Bonne Chance!


Photography by Faye Bullock

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    April 18, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Hahah great post! Love it! Want a pain au chocolat now

    Vex 2 Game
    April 8, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing

    April 7, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    I guess I should go get my French right now!!
    Bookmarking this article to read again. Loved every bit of it!

    April 7, 2016 at 1:14 am

    I agree. These tips are very basic and not very informative at all. I’m part French and all I keep hearing about are the stereotypes of the French. It’s getting to a point where it’s becoming annoying and I want to write a website stating the real facts.
    A lot of this is commonsense- putting napkins on the lap, eating with the mouth closed.. really?! It’s manners in every culture.
    Taking photos of food- French society is less obsessed with this trend than other cultures, but there are definitely French people who do this. So if you do want to take a photo- feel free.
    Also greeting a waiter before asking a question or anything else, is normal- it’s manners, everywhere.
    Sorry, but I think this just really isn’t the best article

  • theavidpen - Any Given Wednesday…
    April 6, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    […] 2| Planning a trip to Paris sometime soon? (How I wish I were!) Well, check out this post from World of Wanderlust on How to Order Lunch at a Parisian Cafe. […]

    Sandra E Brown
    April 4, 2016 at 1:20 am

    Sounds as if the writer cobbled together a piece from every other terrible blog written by someone who visited Paris for 20 minutes. Alternatively they’re writing for someone who has only read bubble books on Paris.

    I’m an Australian with the disability of quadriplegia. I use a wheelchair and I’ve lived in Paris for over a year. Believe none of the rules and ignore all stereotypes. Parisians are just people too.

    It’s rare to meet a rude waiter. Maybe one whose had a bad encounter with an English speaking person who was rude to them, yes.

    I’m sure you are polite already and don’t need advice from an article about how to behave.

    Come to Paris, take photos of the food and tip the waiter whatever you please. Or not. You don’t need to act French. Be yourself and have a lovely time.

    April 3, 2016 at 6:43 am

    When I was in Paris and throughout France I found French service and French waiters excellent and kind. At every restaurant I went to the waiters were always very nice and great people. I never experienced the stereotypical rude French waiter thing.

      Sandra E Brown
      April 4, 2016 at 1:22 am

      That’s because you experienced the only Paris there is, not the myth written in the article. Lucky you eh:)

    April 2, 2016 at 5:01 am

    I feel like you have to take a lot of these with a grain of salt. I am not about to stop taking picture of my food for anyone! Hahaha. Also The bit about speaking English to me is of preference. I definitely put my French manners on while dining, but I also want to enjoy myself and the company I’m in. I don’t think there is anything wrong with speaking English. Not that you’re saying it is. I mean, I completely get what you are saying and this is a great post! But I feel like sometimes tourists can be so consumed with fitting it they forget to be themselves, or how to have fun. 🙂

    April 2, 2016 at 2:25 am

    Interesting article though I disagree with a lot of things you said this time …

    I live in Paris and I still take pictures of my food, I still ask for the sauce to be on the side dish and not directly on the food (or for no sauce at all) and it’s totally ok if you don’t use a single word of french !
    Also, I don’t always put my napkin on the laps.

    Kenza from

    The Ginger Teacher
    April 2, 2016 at 2:06 am

    I love Paris and this blog post really made me smile. Great advice and very true 🙂

    April 2, 2016 at 12:25 am

    Great tips, I always enjoy reading your blog! Love Paris too!

    April 1, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    Jesus, there are way too many rules here … honest to God, everyone has to eat! People are way too uptight nowadays. Some of these “rules” are downright ridiculous.

    April 1, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    Same. These tips seem really uptight. If you can’t speak a word of French anyway, you probably should just stick to communicating in English. Recently, I found the waiters to be generally lovely and accommodating. If you’re traveling to Paris, you should do what the Parisians do and ENJOY yourself. I don’t think it’s possible to do that following these “strict rules”!

    April 1, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    I think greeting a person goes a long way in any country and is just part of being a decent human being. Referring to this part “In France a greeting must come before any request or question” — true but I hope that when traveling, or whenever, we greet the person we’re speaking to! Gotta agree w/Annika’s comment above…

    Annika Ziehen
    April 1, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    When were you in Paris last?? In this day and age and as travel blogger aren’t we over stereotyping Parisians as rude, non-English speaking people?! It should go without saying that in any country one should at least try a few words in the local language and that you say hello or bonjour to a waiter before storming into a restaurant too. Sorry, but I find these tips very condescending to both other travelers and the waiters you describe.

      April 1, 2016 at 9:39 pm

      Couldn’t agree more!

      Sandra E Brown
      April 4, 2016 at 1:25 am

      Well said Annika.

    April 1, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Great tips, and I so wish I had these on my first trip to Paris! I’ve since learned the faux pas in Parisian restaurants, but on my first trip I asked to not have the sauce on my meal, to which the waiter just answered “sure”, and then brought me the dish with the sauce in it of course 😀 And the bit about knowing your French is definitely true, you get so much better service if you speak even a little bit of French! xx

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    April 1, 2016 at 4:46 pm

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    April 1, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Really very nice post.

    Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren
    April 1, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    “It can be deemed slightly obnoxious to assume that everyone will understand you speaking English.” I totally agree! This was a fun read, thanks for sharing.

    Happy travels 🙂

    Liz Peterson
    April 1, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Great tips! I agree that it’s so good to learn a bit of the local language whenever you’re traveling to a foreign land :). Also, good to know that the French finish lunch with an espresso too – if you skip it in Spain your waiter/waitress will think you’re crazy and might ask you a again if you want a coffee in case you forgot that you did ;).

    April 1, 2016 at 10:16 am

    I went to Paris in September for a week. Everyday I did lunch at different cafes. I always sat myself at a table outside. I said Bonjour and then always followed up with Parlez-vous anglais, Do you speak English? Only one waiter said no but everyone else was helpful. They helped translate the menu for me and was so accommodating. I was treated very well. So I don’t agree with only speaking French. With the one waiter who did not speak English or just didnt want to I pointed to everything I wanted and said the words I knew. He was still very nice to me and i did not have any problems. After you order one time, it was easy and stress free every other day. I also agree with eating slowly and finishing it off with an espresso. Every lunch I had lasted 2 hours. It was my favorite part of the entire trip. Also, dairy pills saved my life!

    April 1, 2016 at 8:47 am

    Excellent tips! I always find that people in Paris treat you nicer if you make an effort to speak french first, even if you later switch to another language. At least in my experience, once they see me struggling they ask me where Im from and try to speak to me in english or spanish (I’m peruvian) 🙂

    Rachael @ Catch Me if You Can
    April 1, 2016 at 8:34 am

    great tips! Im gearing up for my trip to Paris in september and this is some great advice. thank you duolingo for teaching me some basics but those phrases are going to definitely come in handy.

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