advertisement

As surely everyone knows, the café is a Parisian institution. Parisians use cafés as combination club/tavern/snack bars, almost as extensions of their living rooms. They're spots where you can sit alone and read your newspaper, do your homework or write your memoirs; meet a friend or lover; nibble on a hard-boiled egg; or drink yourself into oblivion. At cafés, you meet your dates, and then go on to a show or stay and talk. Above all, cafés are for people-watching.

Coffee (un café), of course, is the chief drink. It comes black, in a small cup, unless you specifically order it with milk (un café crème). Thé (tea, pronounced tay) is also fairly popular but generally not high quality. You can also order fruit juice, sparkling water (un Perrier), or soft drinks (un Coca, un Coca Light), but be warned that these are normally double the price of a glass of wine and may arrive without any ice. From the early afternoon onward, and especially during the apéro hour (the before dinner period when friends often meet for a drink), patrons order beer (bière) and wine (vin) by the glass -- either a glass of white wine (un verre de vin blanc) or red wine (un verre de vin rouge).

Now, just a few words on café etiquette: It's very likely that you won't receive a menu, because the options in most cafés are identical. The assumption, which is tricky for travelers, is that you already know what you want. Your bill will probably arrive with your order, but you're not expected to pay until you leave. Service compris means the tip is included in your bill, so it isn't necessary to tip extra. Still, tips are appreciated, but keep them small -- a tip of small change (1€) is more than enough if you're only having a few drinks.

Did You Know? -- You'll pay substantially less in a café if you stand at the counter rather than sit at a table, partly because there's no service charge, and partly because diners tend to linger at tables.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.