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Sunday
Jul262009

Service and Tipping in Paris Restaurants

In a café or most average restaurants, fast, efficient service is not a highly-prized part of the experience. So expect to have to wait more than you’re used too.

When you’re finished eating and are ready for the bill, you MUST ask for it. Its called l’Addition, pronounced “La Di Cee yon,” otherwise you will more than likely wait forever, and get increasingly frustrated. Catching the eye of your server and making the international hand signal for signing the check is also works.

The best way to get a waiter’s attention is to say “S’il vous plait” pronounced “See Voo Play.”  It literally means “if you please” but works more like “excuse me.”  This is the one phrase that will get him or her to turn their head as they rush around a busy crowded restaurant.  Or for the more cynical of you who've been to Paris, get them to look up from whatever they are doing that has nothing to do with serving customers who are waiting.

Why is this the case?  Why are American servers so much more efficient and attentive?  Well, it comes down to the power of money as a motivator.  Servers in France are paid a salary, benefits and get paid vacations.  Tipping is not a part of their pay package.  Since they get paid the same for being slow as fast, there is no reason to make a colossal effort to take your order and bring you a cappuccino quickly and with a smile.  This is a bit of an exaggeration, but gives you a sense of why things feel different.  It's also why French tourists are generally considered the worst tippers in the world and the most delighted with the high quality of service they find with visiting the US.  If you visit Paris, I hope you meet servers that will be an exception to the general rule.

So with that in mind, here's some advice for tipping.  The waiters I know in Paris love Americans and usually fight to wait on them since we always way over tip in comparison to French custom. 

If you have a meal in a café rounding up the bill to the nearest Euro or two is customary. In most other nicer restaurants, unless the service was outstanding, or they were incredibly helpful, one or two Euros per person is fine. At a expensive restaurant, like those with Michelin stars,  5-10 Euros per person is about right. More if you really felt the service was exceptional.

French mealtimes are later too. Lunch is generally at 1pm and dinner at 9pm. If you’re worried that a seemingly great place is empty, check your watch as it’s probably early in the day. When it comes to getting reservations at short notice, this works as an advantage to Americans who generally prefer to eat earlier.

Bon Appetit!