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General Paris cafe questions

We are going to Paris in early June. The cafe culture is new to me, and after my research, I still have a few questions I wanted to figure out before we go.

  1. In general, when going to a cafe with outdoor seating, do you grab a table, or do you go to a host and get seated?

  2. Chip-and-sign credit cards (USA). When they come out with the machine at a restaurant, does it print out a slip there, or do they take the card to the back and bring out the slip to sign?

  3. Should I reschedule my trip because of the Gilet Jaune demonstrations? Just kidding!! Everyone else is asking, I felt left out. :)

Posted by
514 posts

You can just sit down, unless you see a tiny “reservé” sign on the table. Be patient, it may take a little bit for them to see and get to you, but they definitely know you’re there. Also know that you’re expected to order pretty much everything at once. That allows them to pace you and the rest of the room. They don’t have time to be running back and forth because someone doesn’t have their act together. Enjoy the show! I love observing the cafe rites and rituals. For all the reputation of cafe service, you’ll find that typically staff is busting their humps.

Most places seem to have the portable card reader and they’ll do it right there.

Posted by
166 posts

Also be aware that some cafe's in Paris may charge you extra to sit outside vs inside. As I recall, it wasn't a lot more expensive, but just something to be aware of

Posted by
3491 posts

They never leave your sight with your card. The charge machines in Europe are designed for chip & PIN so the machine is handed to you. It will print out a slip for you to sign.

Posted by
453 posts

For #2, in my experience restaurants universally use the portable card readers (unless of course they don't take bank cards at all, but this is very rare) and the slip is always printed directly from the machine. Your card never leaves your sight, which quite frankly I prefer.

Also, be aware that should you wish to leave a tip, you need to leave cash. There is no facility to add a tip via the credit card signature slip as in the US. (As for the question of whether/how much, I direct you to the many other discussions elsewhere on the forum! ;) )

Posted by
1524 posts

Don't forget to tour a few iconic Paris cafes in June.

Les Deux Magots

Le Rotunde

Cafe De Flore

Harry's New York Bar

Le Cafe Parisien

Posted by
3982 posts

RJean went to cafes and my wife and I went for the top 10 chocolate shops. As others have stated, your card never leaves your site, and you generally just sit at an empty table. It is common throughout Europe to charge extra to sit outdoors.

Posted by
7205 posts

And always always choose to pay in the local currency. Don’t let someone convince you to change your bill to US Dollars.

BTW: I’ve hard those card machines that do allow a top to be calculated into your bill. That’s also where you verify you’re paying in local currency and not US Dollars.

Posted by
7205 posts

And you’ll need to request the bill when you’re ready to pay.

Posted by
8889 posts

1) Yes, just grab a table, but not one that says "reservé".
2) Or pay cash.
3) What, you didn't ask about Brexit ☺

To add to Tim's comment ("And you’ll need to request the bill when you’re ready to pay."), the phrase you want is:

L'addition, S'il vous plait

Try to learn some other phrases:
Café au lait.
La Carte = the menu
Le menu = The set meal of the day, often on a blackboard

Posted by
6604 posts

You don't order cafe au lait except at breakfast -- the drink in Paris is a 'creme'. or 'cafe creme' and yummy it is.

If the tables are set with cutlery etc do not sit down unless ordering lunch or dinner and if there is a waiter about, catch their eye and gesture to the table before sitting down. Never sit down at an enclosure and never seat yourself in a restaurant at meal time -- often the seats are reserved even though the place looks empty -- you always have the waiter seat you in such a place for meals.

Posted by
774 posts

I second the latter part of what janettravels said, about tables being set with cutlery and napkins, and often placemats or a tablecloth.

Most cafes serve food as well. You may see a cafe, especially 12-1 pm and 5-8 pm, with some tables set for meals, and some not. If you only want drink, sit at the table that's bare. If you're not sure, simply tell the waitstaff if it's ok to sit outside for drinks only. Depending on the hour and how much business they have, they may allow you to sit at any table.

On ordering cafe creme, it's not the French custom to have cafe creme after breakfast, but if you order it, they will definitely serve it to you!

Enjoy! Sitting at a cafe and people-watching is one of my favorite activities in Europe. And I love cafe because unlike many places in the U.S., you can order coffee, other coffee drinks, wine and beer all at the same place.

Posted by
370 posts

Check out this week’s episode of the Join Us in France podcast. Topic is cafe culture in France—lots of great information.

Posted by
1990 posts

I've learned that the French never say "cafe au lait."

Café au lait refers to coffee with milk that one drinks at home for breakfast. It's not necessarily an order at a café or restaurant.

Posted by
2916 posts

And you’ll need to request the bill when you’re ready to pay.

Yes, and if you don't ask for it, you might sit there for days.

Posted by
6604 posts

It is a myth that the French don't order a creme later in the day. We have sat at many a cafe surrounded by French people with cremes or with cokes in the afternoon. In any case, always order what you want. We usually order a creme because we find most French coffee fairly lousy (there are a few really good coffee shops -- it is a new fad, but the typical espresso is not all that good).

Posted by
8271 posts

I think French coffee is good, and i love café crème and order it often. Sometimes it’s like a latté and sometimes it’s an espresso with a dollop of foamed milk. Every café is different.

I’ve never paid more to sit outside at a café than what they charge to sit at a table inside. They give you the same menu (la carte) with the same prices whether you’re sitting inside or outside.

And always say Bonjour/Bonsoir before talking to any waitperson or staff. You’ll be treated better than you would if you don’t (considered rude not to greet people anywhere in France before speaking : )

Posted by
6604 posts

It almost always costs more to sit down than to drink coffee at the bar; it sometimes costs more to drink or eat on the terrace than indoors particularly in central touristy places. Prices in the outer arrondissements in non touristy areas are often about half what they are for drinks in the center or more touristy spots.

Posted by
8271 posts

I drink/eat at cafés in central Paris (but not next to Notre Dame for instance) all the time, often 2-3 times per day, and for a table (not talking about the bar) outside i’ve never been charged more than at a table inside. One of my favorite cafés is on Ile St Louis right behind Notre Dame, Nemours is by the Louvre and Carette at Place des Vosges (all high end cafés). Not saying it doesn’t happen, but at the 100+ cafés i’ve been to, prices are the same... for a table inside or outside.

Posted by
98 posts

Susan,
Can you clarify please? When you say:
"One of my favorite cafés is on Ile St Louis right behind Notre Dame," - is that Nemours, or if not, what is its name?
Or is Nemours by the Louvre?
Would not want to miss your favorite cafés!

Thanks,
Rachel