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How to save money on Food in France?

Hi,
My family and I will be going to France in August. We will be visiting Paris, Normandy, Loire, and Mont Saint Michel. What ways do you guys save money on food? Food will be a big expense. How much should we spend on food? Any rule of thumbs on that! Thank you so much.

Posted by
14157 posts

There were quite a few suggestions for inexpensive vegan/vegetarian food on your other thread.

How many of you are there?

Is breakfast included in your hotels or it is extra?

Posted by
7976 posts

There is no rule of thumb; every one's budget is different; treat it like you would travel in the USA; pace your self and once you see your money running lower than you expected look for Carrefour or Monoprix grocery stores or other independent grocery stores, which are great as far as getting prepared foods mostly salads and wine and beer and cheese and of course bread.

And I agree about getting a hotel with breakfast included. But that gets old except for the coffee. I would rather have coffee everyday versus the same American breakfast buffet selection stuff a lot of hotel serve the same thing everyday,

Posted by
6619 posts

If you'll be staying in hotels, where you can't prepare actual meals, then picnicking with groceries and street food (crepes, pizza, Chinese takeout etc.) is probably your best bet. The grocery chains mentioned above are useful, so are street markets. A "traitteur Asiatique" is an Asian takeout place, a "boulangerie" is a bakery.

If you'll be in hostels, they often have kitchens where you can prepare food you've bought. But this can take valuable time and you may have storage problems, especially moving from place to place.

Posted by
784 posts

I often have my main meal at noon when prices are considerably less than at dinner. This gives you the chance to experience French cuisine without breaking the bank. My "splurge" meal is always at noon. Then I have a light meal in the evening, sometimes charcuterie and fromage at the apartment or hotel, if I'm lucky enough to have a fridge.

Ordering the fixed price 2 or 3 course "menu" can also be a money saver. At noon these can cost as little as 12 or 15 euros. At boulangeries, you can get a sandwich, pastry and drink for 8 to 10 euros. Menus (la carte) are always posted outside, so check them out to get an idea of prices.

Tap water is free and perfectly fine. Avoid buying soda in restaurants - beer and wine are cheaper. If you are a soda addict, buy it at a supermarket or sidewalk take-away where it will be cheaper.

Dining in France is part of the French experience, so be sure to budget for a nice lunch or dinner, or two. You don't need to dine at Michelin-starred restaurants to get a good meal.

Posted by
5697 posts

For morning coffee, we were introduced to Nestle 3-in-1 packets (available at Monoprix) -- if you can get hot water, you can make decent coffee on your own schedule. Very useful if the coffee drinker wakes up before the rest of the family wants breakfast
Roast chicken and potatoes from the sidewalk take-away stand.

Posted by
778 posts

The way to keep food within budget is to have you main meal at midday. This is how French people do it, and it's why restaurants are far cheaper at lunch-time. Restaurant diming in the evening is a luxury for special occasions. Then for your evening meal have a light plate of something - either a pre-prepared meal from a supermarlet, or a single plate of food at a restaurant.

Most of the places you mention, 3 courses at lunch can cost about 15euros (with a glass of wine). Look for where the white vans are at 12:15. Avoid "inexpensive" tourist foods like crepes, they're never worth it unless you're talking a buckwheat crepe (galette) in Brittany. Don't judge a restaurant by how it looks, judge it by how many people are in there.

Posted by
27349 posts

There are often prepared-food stands at outdoor markets. They aren't dirt-cheap, but you can see what you're buying and (by watching what others receive) observe the quantity, so you won't waste food. One or two hot treats to share plus some bread, cheese and fruit makes a nice casual meal. The trick is having a place to eat anything that's messy. I lust after the toast chicken but have never been staying in an apartment where I could store the leftovers.

Several people have commented on the high price and mediocre quality of food on Mont-St-Michel. I have never been there, but it sounds like the sort of place where you want to nibble on fruit and nuts and skip the restaurants.

Otherwise, I agree with the advice to look for lunchtime meal deals and creperies.

Traiteurs--prepared-food shops--can be less expensive than eating out, but the ones I've been to were not cheap. They sell most food by weight, and it's hard to know how expensive things will be before they hit the scale. I like them a lot because I can get a variety of food, but I tend to end up with more than I need.

Posted by
613 posts

The word "menu" causes no end of confusion to English speakers in France because the "menu" in France is not what the menu is in English. The French menu (English word) has two parts, "la carte" which is what we think a menu is, and "le menu", a selection of multi course fixed price meals offering limited choices for each course. There are several places on the RS web site, and not only in the Forum, that mistakenly assert ordering from le menu (fixed price meals) saves money. It does not. It is far and away the most expensive option in any restaurant. If you order an entree(French word) a la carte, you get a fish, fowl, or meat entree (English word) with one or two vegetables and often an amuse de bouche ( a small appetizer). This adds up to add up to more food ( a larger quantity of food) at a lower price than a 3 course menu. maybe as much food as a 5 course menu. Less food than a 7 course menu, which are spectacularly expensive.

Think about it. How can any restaurant serve 3 or 5 different dishes -- Fish, meta, dessert-- cheaper than they serve one dish? The only way to do it is to greatly reduce the amount of food to cover the extra labor costs required to fix all those different dishes. The mistake in figuring le menu (French) is less expensive than a la carte comes by comparing the sum of the a la carte prices for the three dishes to the cost of le menu, and yes, it is cheaper, but you will not be able to eat all the food you get by ordering 3 courses a la cart.

After 200+ days of traveling in France, I am convinced there is no bad French restaurant in France Therefore, you can be sure to eat well by shopping down market. Most restaurants post their menu outside by the door. Pick where you eat by price. The average income in France is considerably lower than American. How then can they eat $300 lunches in 3 start Michelin gustatory places? The answer is they don't eat at these places. The French eat at the French version of Deny's, but the French get good, simple food at reasonable prices.

There are lots of bad restaurants in France. They are called McDonald's, Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell. You can eat this junk at home, where it is a lot cheaper than in Europe, so don't miss the true French cultural experience of being able to eat well all the time and eat at French restaurants.

Should you chance to come across one, the Courte Paille chain is a screaming best buy.

The closer you eat to touristic centers, the higher the price.

Good, filling, economical dishes: omelets; Croque Monsieur; Stews, braises, ragouts; une baguette.

Compare the cost of a hotel room with and without breakfast, and then head to the nearest bakery for a tart for breakfast.

Unlike the overpriced restaurants found in American hotels, French hotel restaurants, especially at smaller hotels, are competitive with stand alone restaurants and are generally the first place we look for a meal.

Everyone knows the Michelin Red Guide's , *,*** restaurant rating system. That's* expensive, *very expensive, and **over the top expensive. Bring a bank.

Its not so well known that the Michelin Red Guide actually rates around 20 categories of restaurants, all of which are recommended in their category. Focus on the Bib restaurants-- good food at good prices. The listings include address. location on a map of the city, and price range.

Posted by
6113 posts

I have just returned from 6 weeks in France. We were touring the area around Normandy, the Loire and MSM (the latter being a great disappointment) in our caravan and mostly self catered. The locals, as others have said, eat at lunchtime - we found the fixed price menus to be €16 per head and upward. The odd creperie in Normandy had €10-12 menus. To save more money and time, self cater most days.

Most food on the local markets including fruit and fish looked great, but was usually double the price of the nearby supermarkets. Much of the food was significantly more expensive than in the UK, but wine was cheaper. Sausages on the market were more than double the price of my local butcher for example.

There is nothing of good value (or quality) in MSM - buy food in nearby Pontorson at Carrefour or Lidl or have a galette there in one of the cafes. We had a savoury galette and a sweet crepe each plus half a litre of cider in Pontorson last Sunday, which cost €35 for 2 including a tip.

For the evenings, buy bread and pate or cheese from a supermarket.

If you are on a budget, avoid having too many coffees in cafes. We paid €1.50 per cup for a small Americano. The cup sizes are much smaller than in the UK and America. A cappuccino was between €3.50 to €5 per cup for a teacup sized drink - about double UK prices for the same size.

Posted by
778 posts

kb1942

have to disagree with just about everything you say about menus, sorry. Last year I bought about 200 lunch menu meals, all for less than the price of a main meal off the carte. You're obviously eating at the wrong places.

Posted by
8164 posts

The biggest money saver with a group your size will be to order tap water to drink with meals. A carafe of water (many places keep it cold in the cooler) is what locals drink -- it is tourists ordering expensive bottled water -- and it will safe a lot of money over the course of the trip. Even in high end restaurants it is not unusual to see people with nice carafes of water. House wine by the pitcher is often relatively inexpensive as well. 'Caraf d'leau, sil vous plait'

If you have kids who want soft drinks, buy them in grocery stores. And be aware that coffee in France is different than the US. An 'Americano' is the worst of both worlds -- it is a watered down espresso. I'd either drink espresso or order a creme -- similar to a cappuccino -- but if you order a cappuccino you usually get an icky coffee drink at high price with whipped cream and chocolate on it -- creme is the milky coffee option in France. In Paris there are free water fountains 'Wallace Fountains' all over -- get the group in the habit of carrying water bottles and refilling them as you go.

food is expensive in France. We mostly spend weeks there at a time and cook in and the food is still much more expensive in market or stores than in the US -- there are however such wonderful choices. The pork is far superior (in the US the emphasis is on lean and nothing is quite as tasteless and dry as lean pork -- French pork is magnificent); the sausages are amazing -- try a Montbelliard; the cheese options are 1000 times better as they use unpasteurized milk in cheese; I can ask a greengrocer for a melon 'for this evening' or 'for tomorrow' and have him select one that will be delightfully ripe at that time -- in the US you buy a melon and let it sit for a few days and hope it will be ripe.

Restaurants are expensive and if they are cheap they will be serving airplane food i.e. food prepared centrally often frozen and reheated. Any restaurant with a huge menu card is doing this probably. The best cheaper choice is crepes which as galettes come with a dozen or so savory fillings -- the standard a 'complete' is ham, egg and cheese -- but you will have many many lovely choices. For dessert, actual crepes and those are offered with a variety of fillings as well.

As someone upstream noted, if you want a hot full meal, menus at lunch time are often about 60% the same cost as for dinner for a similar meal. This is not always true but often is and since in France menus are posted outside you can see what is available before going in. In addition to cheaper menus at nice places, cafes and other lower costs places often have a sort of blue plate special for lunch for 10-15 Euros with salad and meat or hot dish on a plate. Could be sausage potatoes and salad, or duck confit and salad, or parmentier and salad etc etc. There are also large salad composees for modest amounts that include protein like salad nicoise.

Most places that offer menus are cheaper ordering menu than from the card. Not always but you can do the math when you get the card. The nicer the restaurant the more true this is. Often there are 2 and 3 course menus -- so you can have entree-plat-dessert or entry -plat or plat-dessert. My husband and I often do this -- he gets the entree plat and I have a bite of his entree and I get the plat-dessert and he may have a bite of mine.

Posted by
752 posts

If you are spending any time in an apartment, Picard frozen meals can be very good value. A friend of mine, her French husband, and their 2 teenagers bought much of their food from them. Not every night, but she said the stores were always busy with locals stocking up.

Her French in-laws recommended Picard...their stores are all over Paris, and she said the food was good ...plus no cooking for her, and the teenagers could pick whatever they liked.They have organic and vegetarian options as well. She also bought whole cooked rotisserie chickens and supplemented with salads.

Posted by
2916 posts

There are several places on the RS web site, and not only in the Forum, that mistakenly assert ordering from le menu (fixed price meals) saves money. It does not. It is far and away the most expensive option in any restaurant.

That's totally wrong. We no longer eat at restaurants that often in France (since we mostly rent houses), but when we do, we generally, but not always, get Le Menu. The portions for each particular dish are the same, but Le Menu is far cheaper than its component parts would be. Now, if you can't eat 3 courses, that's a good reason to not order Le Menu.

I am convinced there is no bad French restaurant in France

That, unfortunately, is no longer true. I've eaten at a few, including one as recently as this April. Too much in the way of pre-prepared food, even in "real" restaurants.

As to saving money on food in France, we solved that problems decades ago when we started renting gites by the week. We didn't do it to save money, but rather because we wanted to be able to take advantage of all the beautiful food products at the markets and small shops, but a side benefit was the savings in money while still eating very well.
Now a harder question would be: How to Save Money on Food While in Switzerland

Posted by
2004 posts

I have no experience with Monoprix in France but you can’t go much cheaper with Lidl or Aldi if you prepair your own meals. Carrefour has a wider range of products but is most of the time more expensive. Fruit and vegetables in Lidl are good value for the money, do not expect bread is there real tasty but for me acceptable and sometimes they offer surprisingly good wines.

Posted by
8164 posts

I agree. The menu is almost always cheaper but since you have the card, you can do the math.

And there is lots of terrible food in France particularly in Paris. We have generally had very good luck at hotel dining rooms in the countryside; they tend to be magnets for their area and have excellent dining rooms (unlike the US where hotel dining is dicey and mostly pre-made). We have had rooms that resembled a shack at scout camp in small town hotels which nevertheless had excellent dining rooms. I remember my shock at an excellent and inexpensive meal at a hotel we finally found after a couple of hours of searching where the room was like a prison cell i.e. bed was a foam mattress on a raised cement platform. The first great meal we had in France was at a fabulous hotel dining room in Domme. There is a hotel in Montignac we returned to for dinners 4 times when in the region on several occasions because of its stunningly good menus at a very reasonable price; we never found anything like that in Paris without paying a good deal more.

In Paris there is a lot of pre-made food that is mediocre at best; if you love Picard which I don't, you will be right at home in the lower priced restaurants of Paris especially if they have a large menu card. The sign of a good restaurant with food prepared on site is a very small menu card with only a few options.

Posted by
10289 posts

Robert in Portland, Janet and andrew are right on--as are many others--with Lidl, Monoprix, markets, bakeries, picnics....

What Janet touched on is that most of the lower-cost food is factory-made and reheated. Much of it is quite tasty: fish with sauces, bourguigon, fish soup and other soups. But it's mass produced with corn starch sauces, not butter reductions, chers amis. Some cafés cook their own daily specials that are posted on chalkboards, while others open the vacuum-sealed bags and reheat. However, even in the heat and serve places, if the food is grilled, it's fresh. If the menu is very short, chances are it's made in the restaurant or café. Chains like Courtpaille, owned by the hotel/restaurant chain Accor, have factory food except for its grilled or fried foods. I suspect that a few of the famous restaurants in RS's book are now opening the vacuum-sealed bags, too. The menus are loooonnnggg and the food hasn't changed in decades. But, it can be tasty. I'll eat the stuff.

As Janet said, you have to go to the countryside, into towns outside the guidebooks, sometimes into those old-fashioned hotels and you might stumble onto meals prepared by the grannies in the kitchens whipping up miracles. That's a real treat. The hotel restaurants run by the chef/wife teams are pretty good, too (Logis de France for example).

Like Janet, I've had some bad meals in France--got sucked in by fake TA reviews a couple of times. I only look at the French-language reviews, consequently. They can be tough critics.

Posted by
8164 posts

Just this spring we were convinced by TA reviews to try a restaurant in chatelet area for boeuf Bourguignon -- I should have known better as we have had it at Chez Dumonet where it is outstanding. Needless to say the pale beef stew probably from a central kitchen was no treat at that restaurant. We now eat at high end restaurants or those we know have good fresh food and then cook most of the rest of the time. Ingredients available in France are truly outstanding.

Posted by
2916 posts

I'll definitely agree with those who praised many hotel dining rooms in the countryside. In the US, I would pretty much never eat at the restaurant of a small hotel in the US, but in France we've had many excellent meals at such places. One that sticks in my mind was a small hotel in Tournon, which, when we arrived, seemed a little down at the heels. When the proprietor asked us if we'd like to have dinner, we said "peut etre." So we walked around town, weren't overly impressed with what was on offer, and we went back to the hotel and said OK. It was an outstanding dinner, and the place was clearly packed with locals.

Posted by
695 posts

Just to add to what some of the others wrote, here are some French keywords to look for:
* plat du jour (the blue plate special of the day -- usually a good choice, especially in a small village restaurant)
* menu du jour (simliar to the above, but sometimes with choices of main and starter)
* menu ouvriers or similar variant (usually a huge multi-course lunch menu of a single choice, in the country)
* menu d'affaires (business lunch; usually still a better value than a single entree)
* bad experiences with set menus usually come tourist-oriented restaurants in prime locations. In those cases (and others), you will see greatly scaled portions, pre-made shortcuts (bags), and poor execution.

* le formule (often a good choice in a boulangerie or takeway, sort of a combo meal where you can get a dessert and/or beverage. baguette sandwiches are inexpensive, tasty and filling, especially if you are short of time)
* There was an attempt to regulate a "fait maison" label/mark to distinguish freshly prepared food; the law has been problematic I understand, but exists

There are some really over priced food directly on Mont St. Michel. Look towards the mainland for better food.

La Fourchette or The Fork not only offers reservations and reviews, but discounts for eating on certain nights or times, of up to 50% (usually on a la carte menus only). I've even seen 2e Michelin star restaurants in the system.

It is strange as I find the food prices themselves to be much lower than in California, with the exception of meat. Yes, in a place like Paris the prices are going to be elevated, but the same is true of San Francisco. (If you really want expensive groceries, try Switzerland, where I lived for a couple of years)

Posted by
83 posts

The Fork website works remarkably well in Paris.

The best way to save money is to picnic lunch and you won't be at a loss for spectacular sites to do it in! You can head to any market or go, as Rick says to Rue Cler in the 6th, stroll down buy bread, cheese, fruit, salami, pate, Roti, dessert, wine, water, etc and venture onward. The shopping experience itself will be tremendous fun.
In the towns, you are going to - check out their Market Day schedule. If you hit when one is on, you can repeat the picnic experience as well and if you are renting a flat or house, load up on the freshest produce and food from local farmers and make your own!

Posted by
1194 posts

Hi from Wisconsin,

Lunch is the bargain meal. But even then it will probably be 8 to 16 Euros. The more rural you are the less expensive. BUT, those noon meals can be fantastique!

My wife an I often 'settled' at dinner for fine cheese, fruit, great baguette and wine (something to drink).

And the easiest way to save money on food is to travel slowly and rent gites. What is a gite? A French cottage-home. I was looking at one last night on the website, Gites de France, that was in the Basque region near Salies de Bearn. 230 Euro per week, of course you could pay 230 and leave early, maybe get a discount, maybe not. It slept at least 4. And it was a house with a wonderful shower and kitchen. There you can cook break fast, and supper. Duck breast is amazingly inexpensive in France. Duck breast is also amazingly simple to fry up in a pan. Duck, fresh veggies, a baguette, and a glass of wine. What a dream meal.

Type in the city near which you would like to be located. And see what is on offer. Amazing prices for surprisingly nice places to stay. Make sure you check the box that says you want sheets provided. This is a French gig, and they typically bring their sheets from home when they rent these gites. While the kitchens are well equipped (cooking is a passion in France) bathrooms have trailed in quality. So don't rent unless there is a photo of the bathroom.

wayne iNWI