Unspoken Rules To Dine Like A Local While You're In France

Many people choose France, one of the best countries in the world for cuisine, as their vacation destination due to the quality of the food. However, if you want to have authentic restaurant experiences while traveling abroad and eat like a local instead of a tourist, you need to understand the role that cuisine plays in French culture. To fit in, you must engage with your food — and fellow diners.


To understand the unspoken rules of the French dining scene, we spoke to French food expert Laura Calder, former host of the award-winning TV series "French Food at Home" and author of "Kitchen Bliss," "The Inviting Life" and four cookbooks focused on French cuisine, including "French Taste" and "Paris Express." Calder told Islands exclusively that the importance of eating in France extends beyond the food, encompassing the whole dining experience. "The French take the art of the table seriously," she shared.

Stay present while dining in France

Whether you dine in Paris or the less-crowded food capital, Lyon, you will have a wide range of meal options available, many utilizing fresh, seasonal ingredients paired with a nice wine. However, according to our French food expert, Laura Calder, the key to dining like a local lies not in what you order but in how you eat. "When you're dining with people, you're expected to engage in conversation, appreciate your food and the ambiance, and be present where you are," Calder expressed. "So keep that mobile phone tucked away."


Tourists sometimes get a reputation for loud and inconsiderate behavior, which may largely stem from cultural differences. Conversations in France tend to be quieter than in other countries like America. To avoid coming off as rude, Calder advises taking your cues from the locals, saying: "Be mindful of volume and keep voices and laughter to the same level as the tables around you."

Understand how to tip in French restaurants

Before traveling, investigate the tipping norms of your destination, as expectations vary greatly around the world. In countries like the United States, many people consider not tipping around 20% for good service disrespectful, while in Japan, staff would find it rude if you tipped them at all while dining in a restaurant. France splits the difference between these two extremes.


You'll see something like "service compris" on your bill, meaning the establishment has added an automatic 15% charge to your bill for service. French law requires this fee, so you don't need to tip on top of it — though you can if you want to. Even if you decide to leave extra cash for excellent service, you don't need to stick to a specific percentage. Laura Calder explained: "You don't tip massively as in North America; you generally just round up as a courtesy."