A Little About Food and Ordering it in France

A little table waiting for diners in Cassis.
A little table waiting for diners in Cassis.

If you want to know exactly how to do something in a country where you do not speak the language, ask your guide. Of course, not everyone has a guide, but all of us traveling in the south of France right now with WYSU and Go Ahead Tours do have one . Here are some tips from the infamous JJ:

1. No one eats dinner in France before 7:30 or 8 pm. Restaurants are empty at 5 or 6. You did not pick a bad place, they are just not expecting you yet!

2. “The waiters are not going to come to your table every 10 minutes,” JJ tells us about the French wait staff. “They just don’t care!” So don’t get angry if you think they are not attentive enough. They aren’t, and we Americans need to adjust. Wave them over!

3. Butter is not a given just because there is bread on the table. It is a cultural difference in France – butter is used in cooking but not often as a spread.

4. There will be no ice in your water. Another cultural difference.

5. If you want drinking water, you say, “Water, no gas!” in English. “Gas” means bubbles, or sparkling water, which is so popular in Europe that it is assumed that is what you want.

6. When it is time to pay the bill in a restaurant do not ask for the check. Sometimes the wait staff hears “check” and think you want to pay with a check, which of course you cannot do. If you say “L’addition, si vous plait!” they know you want the bill.

7. Tips are not necessary, because service is included in the bill. It is a national law. “The total is the total!” says JJ. If you have to leave something leave the loose change that comes back to the table. Ten or fifteen cents is okay. Really!

8. Never bring a bottle of wine into a restaurant. There is no such thing as a “cork fee” in France! They will most likely be insulted.

9. If you really want to have fun, have pastis -- and aperitif like absinthe.  Very stong, according to JJ.

Speaking of wine, you won’t find many screw top bottles, but you will find really good wines that come in a big bag! The winemakers are small and make good wine, but it is so expensive to bottle, that they bag it instead. I asked to see a bottle one night so I could write down the name of a vin blanc (white wine), and I was told by the bartender, “There is no bottle. It is a BIB.” Beverage in a bag. This is not frowned upon like it might be in the U.S. Some very good French wines come in bags!


There is much more to say about wine and ordering it in France, but the WYSU group is heading to a wine-tasting and dinner in Provence arranged for us by Go Ahead. You will see that here on wysu.org later in the week. Bon soir!