Options for eating out in France
Eating and drinking is something we all need to do on holiday and in this article, we go through the options for eating out in France. Having visited France many times over the past 10 years we have learned a lot about the different establishments on offer and share that in this article.
One of the things we love to do is rent self-contained accommodation and sample the local produce from the markets or even the supermarket. This is usually a much cheaper option than eating out every night and we have made some amazing dishes ourselves from locally purchased ingredients.
Eating out in France
The French are very passionate about their food and equally proud of the local region from which it is produced. On our many trips to France, we always make a point of trying the speciality of the region and tasting the local cuisine. The size of the town or village you are visiting will determine how many dining options are available to choose from. In smaller villages, there may not be many options for dining at all other than the local café or brasserie. When in doubt we recommend browsing Trip Advisor and researching the village you are staying in to discover the local cuisine and the best places to try it.
For any French food lover a trip to the local village market, or le marché, is a must during your holiday in France. Indeed even if you aren’t a food lover we still recommend you pay the local markets a visit. The local markets provide a great insight into the local specialities of the region, as well as into the French cuisine itself. The French are very proud of the produce grown locally in their region. Stallholders proudly display their wares of freshly picked vegetables, reared meat, and locally made bread and cheeses.
Many villages have a regular weekly market and some larger towns will have markets that are run twice a week or even daily. Indeed there are said to be over 10,000 local markets in France. If a trip to the village market is on your agenda be sure to go early, as many markets will be packed up and closed by lunchtime.
Having spent the last 2 years based in France, we have observed that the local town market is hugely popular with locals who catch up with friends as well as shop. We love going regularly and purchasing local fruit, vegetables and cheeses from the various stall holders. The quality of the food is always awesome and you will not be disappointed.
A Boulangerie – bakery – can be found in almost any village in France and is without a doubt the best place to go for your fix of freshly baked bread, croissants, and the like. Typically these are open very early in the morning and throughout the day – even when most restaurants and cafes are closed. You may notice a sign saying ‘Artisan Boulangerie’ and this indicates that everything on display is made on-site.
We visit our local boulangerie regularly and it’s always a great place to grab a quick snack if we are out cycling. They are our go-to places to grab a simple ham and butter or ham and cheese baguette or a nice croissant or pastry. Some boulangeries will also make coffee and have tables outside to eat food.
A tip we have learned over the years is that many boulangeries will close for a few hours during the day. We have seen some closed over lunch from 12:30 am to 2 pm. Be mindful of this if you are looking for lunch and get in nice and early to avoid missing out. On Sundays, many boulangeries are closed all day or will close at lunch for the remainder of the day.
If you have a sweet tooth then French Patisserie shops are a must for you. Here you will be able to find beautiful French pastries, cakes, and chocolates. Each area in France generally has its own specialty so ask the shop assistant for their recommendation.
While many boulangeries will also have a well-stocked patisserie section, there are also dedicated patisseries that only sell beautiful sweet treats. Our go-to patisserie items are the coffee eclair and flan but we love trying the many other things as well.
Some would contend a trip to France without sitting at a café and people-watching, isn’t really a trip to France! Cafés are a great place to find some smaller meals to have with your drink. Furthermore, they are often cheaper than a meal at a restaurant and can offer up quick service.
We have learned the hard way that many cafés stop selling food after lunch has finished, usually around 2 pm. They will offer smaller snacks and drinks all afternoon but if you are looking for a meal make sure you get in before the kitchen closes. Some cafés will reopen the kitchen for dinner service, usually from around 7 pm but this varies greatly, so check before you head out. In France, people usually only head out to dinner at about 7:30 pm in our experience.
Bistros and Brasseries
Bistros are typically family-run smaller establishment that offers a more casual dining setting. Brasseries are more akin to a pub. indeed, the term brasserie translates to mean brewery. They generally offer up longer trading hours and food can normally be purchased all day long.
This style of eating is the next step up from a café and we have had some fantastic meals in this style of establishment. They are a great place to have a meal in a casual environment with a beer or wine. While they are a step up from a café, they are still very casual places for a meal.
Restaurants offer up a more formal atmosphere and dining experience. The menus both for food and drinks are generally at the higher end of the price scale and as such the quality of the food is also likelier to be of a higher standard. This is not to say you need to be dining at a restaurant to eat good quality food in France – some of the tastiest meals are often the cheapest too!
We have been to a couple of nice restaurants here in France and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The experience was definitely much more formal than what we had seen in cafés and bistros and we highly recommend trying it yourself.
General tips for eating out
Here are some of the things that we have learned over the past 10 years about eating out in France
- Breakfast – eating out at breakfast is not something that people in France do. As such you do not see cafés that cater for breakfast the way they might do in other countries. In popular tourist spots, you will see some cafés offering breakfast but it will be tourists mainly eating at this time.
- Be aware of opening hours. It is quite common to find that a lot of restaurants, cafés and shops are actually closed in the middle of the day – so keep this in mind if you are looking to have a late lunch.
- The French typically eat the largest meal of the day at lunchtime and it can be common for a lunch sitting to run over the course of two hours.
- You will never feel rushed at a restaurant. If you need to have a quick meal, we recommend going to a smaller café or brasserie.
- Bread is generally served complimentary with your meal.
- Tap water is brought to the table, usually without having to ask for it.
- The term ‘la Maison’ indicates that a particular item on the menu is homemade.
- Many restaurants and cafes offer a menu du jour which offers an option of a two or three-course meal at a set price. It often is very good value for money.
- The plat du jour or dish of the day is the house special for that particular day. It is often great quality and certainly not a tourist trap so do try it!
- The French normally sit for dinner around 8:00 pm, which depending on where you are from, could be later than you are used to. Some places will serve meals earlier than this, just don’t be surprised to be the only diners eating at that time.
- Tipping is not a requirement in France and there is no set amount to ‘tip’ for good service. Typically if you wish to show your appreciation a few euro dollar coins will suffice.
- In restaurants, you will need to ask for the bill – l’addition – from your waiter/waitress. Typically this is never brought out to you until you request it – this goes back to the French not wanting you to feel rushed when eating out. We normally find it takes a few days to remind ourselves of this when we are eating out!
- Smoking is not permitted inside eating areas but is allowed outdoors.