27 Feb 2015

About The French Waiter, The Do’s And The Don’ts

About The French Waiter, GAMMA-KEYSTONE/GETTY IMAGES, Vicki Arche

The French Waiter gets a lot of talk time.

Arrogant and contrary are some of the descriptions I have heard that come readily to mind. I will state my position early,

I am a fan.

I suppose I am used to the French waitor’s oftentimes sullen demeanour, their deep sighs, frequent frowns and purposeful lack of comprehension. Are they the only French who don’t understand my accent? I know it’s not perfect, it never will be, but it generally does the job.

And yet, I think the French waiter is a symbol of Paris.Think about Paris and the French waiter is never far from mind. Like the Eiffel Tower or the Bateaux Mouches, Paris wouldn’t be Paris without these penguin suited fellows.

“In Defense of the Notoriously Arrogant French Waiter” is a fabulous article written by Cristina Nehring for the Wall Street Journal; I think she has him well figured out.

French waiters are a breed unto themselves and if you let them, they can be intimidating. They will never introduce themselves and make the exchange seem personal. They are discreet, distant even and they never hover, one of the many reasons why they receive such a bad name.

Nehring’s quote had me smiling,

“Mais non! We are not ‘arrogant,’” he replied. “We are proud.”

“And why are you proud?” I asked.

“Our culinary culture is worshiped the world over,” he said. “Our wine is worshiped. Even our coffee is worshiped! We’re a bit like vestal virgins.” He broke into a rakish smile: “Except that…we are really—really—experienced.”

How To Win Over The French Waiter?

Always say bonjour. Practise that elementary French. It doesn’t matter about mistakes, it’s ten points for trying.

No one would ever use the word garçon to grab the attention of a waitor, a little s’il vous plait does the trick and making eye contact, even better.

Recommendations about the daily menu usually elicits a response from the French waiter, everyone likes to feel needed.

Ask for the bill, it never comes automatically as that would be considered ill mannered. Remember to tip but don’t overtip. It is still discretionary, not obligatory in France.

Leave with a bonne journée or bonne soirée, again it’s all about politeness and effort.

Tell me, are you a fan of the French waiter, or has he offended you one too many times?


To read the full article from the Wall Street Times, click here

vintage image gamma keystoen /getty images

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Angela Muller

A friend and I spent some time in Paris a year and a half ago. This was my first trip to France, though she was a seasoned visitor to that wonderful country. I did not encounter one rude person, and that includes French waiters. They explained the offerings when asked, they returned a smile, albeit slightly, eye contact usually got a response….and I really appreciated the practice that they did not remove my empty plate from the table before my friend finished her meal. I find that when a person makes a courteous effort to be gracious, it is usually returned.

Audrey Friedman

You are so right. The word bonjour is so little and it means so much. This also goes a long way when shopping also.
Lots of love to you and your family…..

Ruth Sklar

I go to Paris every year for a month. I have a favorite apartment I rent and am blissfully happy there. I can only thin of one waiter in many years who was nasty. It was the way I pronounced pamplemousse…..quite snooty he was. Otherwise, everyone has been delightful!

Berniece Omans

I love the French waiter. When I lived in Paris and went to a sidewalk cafe, I usually had my baby daughter in her pram sitting next to me. No waiter could resist my cute, charming , darling daughter. They didn’t even mind stepping around the pram.

LeeAnn Hart

My experience with French waiters in France has been fine. My experience with a French waiter at a French-style bistro in a Washington DC suburb with some colleagues is still a source of laughter. He was not only offended but also insulting to my colleague who dared ask for ketchup for her french fries. C’mon, it was for fries, not to pour over her coq-au-vin. When asked if he could break a $10 bill (to leave him a tip, although we didn’t specifically say that), he replied that he is not a bank. Not only have we laughed many times about the experience, but I forwarded the WSJ piece to my colleagues. Thanks for sharing it.


I adore French waiters. They are in a word, professionals. You can be at a little bistro and you’ll get the competence of a michelin star. I am so tired of bored college students taking orders who couldn’t care less; or worse the “how you guys doing today?” and coming up to you every two minutes “everything a-okay?”. I can relax in a French bistro, and not be bothered, but when I want something I ask politely and I am not “overly” friendly. They think that’s ‘gauche’!

Mimi Gregor

I know what you mean! One of the things that irks me about American waiters (and most of the time, they are bored college students) is the constant need for reassurance (Everything okay? Everything still okay? You guys need anything?) They invariably ask me is everything is okay when I have just taken a bite of something or am in the middle of speaking to my companion and trying to make a point. One memorable time, after many interruptions of this kind, I told my companion that the next time the waitress came back to ask if everything was okay, I was going to hurl my plate at the wall and shout, “Yes! Everything is FINE!” Fortunately, I think at that point, she probably interpreted my glare correctly.

Linda Hanselman

OMG that “hi guys” in every.single.restaurant. is so old. I’d rather have a snob than the “hi guys” line.


Agreed. Especially since I am not a guy…every time my family is greeted with “how you guys doing today?” I feel like saying, “do I look like a dude to you?” I also let them know my preference if they continually interrupt conversation. The French waiter’s professionalism and yes, aloofness, sounds like a dream compared to most of the ones I encounter in the US.


Vicki, I have not had the experience; however I think all that you have said is the way to win over a waiter almost anywhere. Being kind, polite, and respectful of people who are in the service profession will get one much better service (generally)
Have a great weekend!

The Arts by Karena


I spent a couple of weeks in Paris this fall, and I must say I adore the waiters. My companion spoke fluent French, which was much appreciated by them, and I “tried”. No matter the restaurant or the cuisine, hey appreciated it for sure. The service is impeccable and discreet, and incredibly professional. I do not care for waiters that try to be my friend, I prefer friendly, but above all excellent service. The French have service down pat, along with the food, especially presentation. We usually went to the same place for coffee and pastry in the morning, and by the second day were greeted with smiles and, knowing our preferences, it was in front of us in a minute, no kidding! I can’t wait to go back. I fell in love with Paris and France. We found the service equally as good when we then ventured into other regions of France.


I love French, especially Parisian, waiters for their professionalism, knowledge and true courtesy as opposed to false familiarity.

Joanna Morgan

I never met a rude person in France. A couple of times I traveled there alone – I met with courtesy and professional attention in restaurants, dining by myself. In USA, many times when I am by myself, I get ignored and placed at the word table. So I have only great things to say about France, and its waiters.


I echo Kelly’s comment. They are professionals. If you are polite so are they and yes, a bit of French goes a long way. I am not in a restaurant to make small chat or make friends with the waiter. I applaud their competent and discreet service.

Linda Hanselman

I don’t have have any problem with rudeness in France. HA I’ve experienced more rudeness and unprofessionalism in the USA! “Hi Guys”, constantly trying to take my plate away, being bumped into by servers, you name it. French waiters know the food and how to be professional. They know they aren’t there to be your friend, something many waitstaff in the US could learn. Regardless as visitors to another country it is we who should show respect and get respect in return.

Madame Là-Bas

I would agree that French waiters are polite and professional. I have stayed for months in Paris and frequented my neighbourhood restaurants where I was always greeted with a smile and a “bonjour, Madame”. I do find that solo women diners are certainly shown respect in Paris and I have never felt awkward.


It’s my opinion that French waiters do a great job, whether friendly or not, they are professional and knowledgeable. I can overlook a lot provided my order is correct and the person acts responsible.

What I don’t like is, “Hi, I’m Brie, how can I make your day?” (Sigh) The rudest waiter I have ever encountered was in New York at the Marriott Marquis Hotel. He walked to the table and said, What’ll ya have?” I was like, “Who talks like this?” My 8 year old daughter asked him a question about the pizza and he said, “It’s pizza” and shrugged his shoulders. Before knocking his block off I asked him, “You’re an actor, hunh?” True story.

Karen in VA

Ah, I read this article last weekend and found it fascinating. The Weekend Wall Street Journal is “must” reading.

I agree with most of your readers. I find the French charming all around, and have so many sweet memories of interacting with them. I love the discretion of French waiters and often get an unusual smile while I am speaking very broken French while gesturing at the same time. That smile melts my heart.

So glad you opened this topic.

Karen in VA


Well, clearly great minds think alike, Vicki. I just did a post earlier in the week on the very same article, and it’s obvious we are on the same “longueur d’onde, n’est-ce pas?” Enjoyed your take and anecdotes very much.

Cheers, M-T

Erica S

Never had an issue with a French waiter. Actually, my limited experience with them has been nothing but pleasant. I make sure to be polite, say please and thank you in my pathetic French. I HAVE had difficulty with, (I hate to say), rude Americans who think they are above manners. Please people… be nice!

Anita Rivera

Oh, je suis en retard…..I AM A FAN. WHY? Because there is something to learn here. I am always telling my young charges in my 8th grade French class (as well as my lycée students) that we Anglophones MUST think and put ourselves into the shoes of others and their culture. It takes effort to be mindful of the nuances of other cultures. I actually LOVE the pride with which these people navigate their occupation. I love that they don’t hover. I love that take mind of the other person and practice la politesse. A simple merci, bonne journée or l’addition, s’il vous plaît will not only make YOU feel good about communicating, but will show them that you have made an effort. Some doors are harder to open than others, but once you have stepped into their world, you come out learning so much about yourself. I adore these people….I always will.


Fiona McKinna

I love the fact that French waiters take their profession so seriously. In too many other parts of the world waiting is just a fill in job.


Ah Oui! We have never experienced any problems with waiters. They have always been a delight and quite friendly even to us Americans. Now, the females in the service area are another story! We had one THROW a seafood fork at my daughter because she didn’t understand the word for fork. We also had one drop an entire pitcher of ice water down the same daughter’s back without one word of apology or even offer a dry napkin to her!!!! My daughter by the way was in her early 20’s and was in no way rude or acted uppity towards them. In fact she continues to praise the delights and many flavors of France. Now, granted this was in the outskirts of Paris…not in famous restaurants or cafes. Maybe outside the city proper this is the normal? I’m not sure. We got better service in McDoo’s where the young workers there were eager to practice their English on us asking if our burgers were done just right or we needed more sauce for our fries…which I still prefer over ketchup today.


French waiters are wonderful. Once at Carette in the Place des Vosges, during the sales, we watched a Mum with her little girl and heaps of designer bags. Suddenly the child needed to go to the toilet so the mother asked one of the waiters to keep an eye on all her bags while she was gone. He stood guard until he was called away but found someone else to guard them in his place.
Every visit to Paris we always have lunch at least twice at Le Grand Colbert. Last year on our first visit that holiday another waiter came up to our table and asked the waiter who was taking our order if he could look after us as he remembered us from the previous year! Isn’t that remarkable! They’re all wonderful though. Best wishes, Pamela

Judy Lambert

We have only been in France on one occasion, for a month. Waiters in Paris and most of the south – Provence, were fabulous – with one exception – in Avignon. We stopped for a drink at a sidewalk cafe. One of the waiters stopped by the next table with a cigarette and proceeded to have a long conversation with the people. He would take a puff and then hold the cigarette away from them and kept flicking it on us. When we said something, he said that was his right. The head waiter came out and said he was only allowed to smoke outside and totally defended him. We were quite upset at that point and left. It rather put a sour spin on an otherwise wonderful visit.

William Widmaier

I find the reserved professionalism of a Parisian waiter far superior to the false familiarity of the typical American waiter. And the over-familiar approach in a high end restaurant you encounter all to often in The States is just so wrong!
But I must point out that the French waiter generality is not exactly correct. The Parisian waiter is very different from the Lyon waiter, and worlds away from your typical waiter in Provence.


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