French gastronomy is renowned worldwide and is one of the big attractions for visitors to France. Going to the restaurant is a great way to discover and enjoy French cuisine, but do you understand the different cultural twists on the menu? Here are some facts about this French institution…
Meal order and menus
The typical French meal is “entrée – plat – fromage – dessert” (starter – main course – cheese – dessert) and menus usually offer three courses. Most of the time, cheese is either an extra or instead of dessert. Coffee is not included. It is also very common to have a two-course menu, especially for lunchtime. It will either be starter + main course or main course + dessert. As menus offer only a selection of the food available, you can also order “à la carte” to compose your own menu – it is usually a bit more expensive.
« Menu du jour » and « plat du jour »
Many restaurants offer a “menu du jour” or a “plat du jour”, which are a special menu or main course, only available for the day, in addition to the usual served meals. They are often available only for lunchtime and represent good value. Many restaurants also have a “dessert du jour”.
Different types of restaurants according to your mood
There are many different types of restaurants. “Brasseries” and “bistrots” offer simple, traditional food such as “croque-monsieur” or “entrecôte frites” while “restaurants gastronomiques” offer more refined, higher-end food. Many restaurants also focus on one region’s specialties like the “crêperies” that serve Breton delights, or the “bouchons Lyonnais” which are ideal places to discover the renowned Lyonnais cuisine. Of course there are many international food restaurants as well.
Going out to the restaurant is an event in itself
French people are renowned for their love for food and their lengthy meals. Dining out is considered an evening event and can stretch quite late into the night – that’s why restaurants stay open later after their kitchens have closed. French people can stay around the table for two to three hours, eating and chatting. They never rush, and even when they have finished their food, they can stay at least one hour chatting over their coffee. This is totally normal and you will never be rushed by the waiter.
As a general rule, opening hours for French restaurants are from 11:30pm to 2pm for lunch and 7pm to 10pm for dinner. This can seem a big cultural difference, particularly when compared to eating out in the UK. These times are when you can order (i.e. when the cooks are in), but restaurants do stay open later, until the last clients leave. However it can be almost impossible to find a restaurant or cafe that is serving food in the mid afternoon or early evening. Seven o’clock is considered early to start dinner, 8:30pm is more usual, following an apero or two to start the evening off. Opening times do differ according to the size of a city and are often extended on the weekend. Outside the specified opening hours, it can be very difficult to find somewhere to eat out. Booking a table in advance is advised in big restaurants and big cities but it is perfectly fine to just walk in.
Aller au restaurant = to go to the restaurant
Menu du jour = menu of the day
Plat du jour = main course of the day
L’entrée = the starter
Le plat = the main course
Le fromage = the cheese
Le dessert = the dessert
Le café = coffee
Le déjeuner = lunch
Le dîner = dinner
L’addition s’il vous plaît = Could you bring the bill please?