Tipping in Paris

Tipping in Paris & Dining Out Advice From a Local

If you want to know what the tipping etiquette is in Paris and more about the restaurant culture here then read on. Our insider guide is written by someone who lives in Paris and who speaks the language. The Parisian restaurant culture is unlike the UK or US where the customer is always right – in fact it’s nearly always the opposite! Want to learn more before you visit? Our guide has an FAQ, advice and tips on what to do and what not to do when eating out in Paris.

Do you need to tip in Paris?

A really popular question from tourists visiting abroad is ‘should you tip in Paris?’. The simpler answer is no, you don’t need to as a service charge is always included on the bill. And don’t worry, it’s not 15% added to your bill, the 15% service compris is built into the cost of each item. This is the law in France and there’s no obligation pay anything more than what is on your bill.

Why? Well there’s a couple of reasons:

  • Servers/waiters are paid at least a minimum wage in France and they receive vacations/holidays and other benefits such as contributions towards public transport and even profit sharing bonuses if their employer meets certain conditions.
  • A law passed in 1985 required employers to pay a minimum wage (called a SMIC) to their employees. This effectively removed the need for tips to augment servers/waiters income.
  • Being a server/waiter here is seen as a good career and there are some very respected hospitality schools in France. Pay can be surprisingly good and be over the average income.

But with all of this said, if you feel like you had great service then why not! It’s always appreciated and if you’re planning to go back to the same bar or restaurant, you will no doubt build a rapport with the servers and receive better service! It’s common to leave 10-20% if you’ve had good service. But if you’ve received bad service – never feel pressured into it. Modern card machines option have an option to add a tip and I’ve personally noticed a shift of tactics from servers to encourage you to add a tip.

Restaurant reservations tips & etiquette

In this section you’ll find tips and advice on how to get a table in the best restaurants in Paris. The hospitality industry in Paris and indeed France is very different to Anglophone countries so don’t expect it to be the same!

What’s are differences in hospitality culture?

First things first, the hospitality culture in France is VERY different to the US/UK. In France, you’re in their house and you have the pleasure of being able to drink and eat with them. The customer is not right in France – don’t expect to negotiate with restaurant owners.

Service, on the whole, is slower than in the US/UK – you may wait a while for your drink or to be able to order more food. This is a fact of life here – if you want a quick drink go to an Irish/English pub or a service au bar pub where you can order at the bar.

Do you need to reserve a table in advance?

If you’re planning a trip to Paris and are wondering if you need to book in advance then the answer is YES. The most popular restaurants (such as Septime) require bookings to be made 3-4 weeks in advance (especially for prime weekend slots). Parisian restaurants are small and it’s essential to reserve at popular spots. The smaller the restaurant, the further in advance you’ll need to reserve. Our restaurant guides will tell you if advanced bookings are required.

I’d recommend making a shortlist of restaurants that you want to visit and reserve accordingly. Note that first night reservations are more likely to get cancelled (delayed flights, problems at airports etc) so I wouldn’t advise booking anything unless you arrive at your hotel in the morning.

What if the restaurant doesn’t take reservations?

A lot of Parisian restaurants don’t take reservations and these spots will be walk-in only. This means it’s first come, first serve. Some very popular restaurants (such as Clamato) will require that you queue before the restaurant opens. Others may allow you to leave your name and number and allow you to go for a drink nearby before it’s your turn.

For spots like Les Enfants du Marché, I’d advise going early to avoid disappointment. Parisian restaurant kitchens aren’t huge and dishes/ingredients can run out near end of service.

Can I ask a restaurant to hold back a table for me?

No-reservation restaurants won’t hold a table for you and the majority of restaurants won’t even do this for locals.

But what if there are empty tables? Can I just sit down?

If a restaurant is very busy and there’s an empty table you need to ask a server/waiter. It’s very likely that there will be people before you waiting at the bar and assuming that ‘finders keepers’ is seen as being very rude here.

And what if I’m visiting in August?

August in Paris is like a ghost town. It’s the month of vacation and Parisians flee the city for 2-4 weeks for their summer break. Many Parisian restaurants close for the entire month and often don’t communicate this.

What about group reservations?

Just like your hotel room, Parisian restaurants are small. Don’t expect to be able to book a table for more than 6. Ghost group bookings (booking separate tables and expecting the restaurant to seat you all together) are frowned upon and you most likely won’t be seated.

Restaurant closing hours – some advice

Restaurants, like shops, in Paris won’t accept new customers past a certain time. If a restaurant or bar says they close at 11pm, don’t expect to be fed if you arrive without a reservation at 10:30pm. To avoid disappointment, go on the earlier side or read up on our guide to the best spots to eat late at night.

What does a night out in Paris look like?

The French don’t eat on the earlier side but definitely not as late as the Spanish! Parisians will generally take apéro (usually a drink and something to nibble on) at around 7pm and dinner at 8-10pm. It’s then on to after dinner drinks in some of the trendy districts such as the 3rd, 11th or 18th. These spots generally stay open until 2am.

Speaking French, the reality

You may think that the French don’t speak English and that you’ll have to brush up on your high school level French to order your steak frites in a Parisian bistro. The reality is that the majority of Parisians (especially the younger generation) do speak good English. Servers in restaurants are busy and generally want to get orders away quickly and won’t have time with broken French. It’s always polite to try to order in French but don’t feel bad if your server’s response is in English. Even those who speak excellent French often have Parisians respond in English!

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