WHERE IS OUR WAITER!?
This is a timeless question that constantly plagues excursions to restaurants, whether it is on the Champs-Elysée or the Centre Pompidou. It’s not that the service is unresponsive and inattentive, but restaurant-ing is a completely different ball game than major chains in the United States such as Chili’s and Red Robin.
Last week, friends from the Temple Rome program spent their fall break in my lovely home away from home. Unfortunately that was also the week of my midterms so touristy sightseeing was nonexistent with them. But I did manage to grab an evening bite with them. As I “mingled” aka flirted with the MARRIED waiter trying to help the only other French-speaking friend at the table organize the orders, that was probably the last time we saw him for what felt like 45 minutes. The restaurant wasn’t packed, and there were three waiters who were assumingly ready-to-serve, but it’s not the case in Paris.
Every meal revolves around conversation. Duh, right? I mean, who goes on first dates or group hangouts and expects to simply sit, eat, and leave? Certainly not the French!
Grabbing a “quick” bite to eat at a restaurant or café could possibly take up to an hour to an hour and a half, even if you only order a mere appetizer or a small entrée. That’s because the French take the element of conversation to an extreme. If you’re craving a full-course experience, those could run up to a solid two-three hours. Once you claim your seat though, it’s yours for however long you want. The servers can’t kick you out unless your table is wiped scarce of food, and you have no plans of ordering anything else. Maybe that’s the reason why Parisians eat so slowly – so that they won’t feel obligated to abandon their seats or order something else from what’s probably already a wallet-ripping menu.
So how to navigate through a Parisian menu? While most menus will have English translations underneath, if you’re not accustomed to specific French terms, the language barrier could serve you a side salad when you wanted a big Caesar. First things first: An “apertif” is not an appetizer, they’re light drinks of alcohol such as wine or beer. ALWAYS ask for “un carafe d’eau” which is a jug of tap water because it’s free, unlike bottled water and sodas that cost more lat their 1.5-liter counterparts and don’t come with free refills (one of the things I miss dearly about the Red, White, and Blue). Oddly enough, appetizers are referred to as “entrées” while entrées are “plats principals.” Thankfully, desserts are still called desserts! Like I need more food in my stomach…
But after you’ve decided and are served your food, prepare to be undisturbed for the remainder of the meal. Servers won’t bother you or routinely check up on you unless they see your carafe is clearly empty or your plates are spotless. In a way, I guess I appreciate the time to talk with whomever I’m with, but I’m the type of person who needs to be tended to whenever I beckon or call. What do they call that now? High maintenance? Sorry, but I like my food whenever I want it!