Top 10 Restaurant Reservation Tips for Paris
Calling for restaurant reservations can feel intimidating with the language barrier and time difference, but it doesn’t have to be.
While it is do-able to walk into a cute little corner bistro without reservations, if you are headed this way on a mission to eat through your list of Paris’ top spots, reservations are essential – even for a casual dining.
Thank you to all the Facebook fans, restaurant staff & clients who helped me create this top 10 list for making reservations in France.
One of the questions I’m most often asked is, “Why is it so hard to get a reservation? I don’t want anything fussy or expensive.”
While the good news that fancy restaurants are for the most part “out” – the bad news is that since the majority of people want affordable casual dining, you’ve got serious competition.
Want to eat at the much-hyped Frenchie? Did you know that they receive over 300 phone calls a day for 24 chairs?
When there are 12.5 people trying to request a single chair, it is no wonder that so many restaurants have given up on accepting reservations and have implemented a first-come first-serve policy…which means forming a line at the door by a certain time.
Most visitors don’t realize that the most popular Paris hot spots are tiny, with an average of 20 chairs. Since these places receive massive international press – the demand simply exceeds the supply.
It is worth repeating from my article “8 Do’s & Don’ts of Eating In France” … ( @grapelegends joked onTwitter it should have been called 800 Do’s & Don’t – funny!) Do your research so you know what to expect before reserving. Don’t just go on someone else’s “My favorite restaurant is…” or a “Best of” list. Bistros and restaurants are not created equal and not everyone’s criteria is the same.
Also, reservations over 5 people are considered a big group. If you think the dining rooms are small, you should see some of the miniscule kitchens. Not every restaurants are set up to handle large groups.
So you came all the way to Paris to eat over your long weekend break, so why aren’t the restaurants open on weekends?
First, most restaurants are closed on weekends & Mondays simply because they like their weekends too. Then throughout the year, there are dozens of holidays on Tuesdays & Thursdays when the owners “make the bridge” by taking Monday & Friday off to create a long weekend. Then if they decide to also take a strategic Wednesday off, they can make the bridge last a few weeks!
In summer, there is a 6-8 week national holiday where the entire country leaves in mass exodus around July 14th – the first week of September. Good luck getting restaurant owners and employees to give up weekends and summer sunning on a beach far, far away.
During the non-holiday/weekend season, most accept reservations on average of one week to one a month ahead of time, but each is different. Do your research on the individual restaurants’ policies to save yourself time.
Standard lunch hours are usually between noon – 2 pm (with the last order in to the kitchen by 1:45pm) and dinner 8 – 10pm (with the last order in to the kitchen by 9:45pm). Restaurants also use military time: 13h (1pm) or 20h30 (8:30pm).
You might not speak French and not every restaurant employee speaks English… but the reality is that you are either going to have to call personally or enlist the help of your concierge to call for you.
Even in this age of technology, restaurants still prefer to accept reservations by telephone and record the details by hand in a book. Online reservations and accepting reservations by email are not common, even if there is a published email address on a restaurant’s website.
If a restaurant doesn’t have a website explaining the set reservation hours to call, the best time to ring is when a restaurant is open, a few hours before/after lunch/dinner.
It happens all the time. Diners can’t get into the first restaurant of their choice, but the restaurant offers to put them on a wait list. So they accept, but also make back up reservations all over town, knowing they’ll just eventually cancel them if they finally get in.
Diners that do this deserve to be blacklisted. It is a terribly unfair practice to everyone involved.
Recently some friends called every day to try to get into a popular restaurant for their anniversary where he’d first proposed – but it was booked solid and they were heart-broken. Clients later told me they had eaten in the restaurant the night my friends had tried to get in, and were shocked that such a popular restaurant had a group of ten that didn’t show up. I found out that the restaurant contacted the ill-mannered group, who admitted they’d been on a wait list for a preferred restaurant and got in last minute.
Not only did the restaurant lose money on food– my friends are just now reading why they didn’t get in. Sorry guys.
Don’t be selfish and think about others. If you can’t afford to “wait” to get into the top restaurant of your choice, then don’t add your name to the wait list.
I’m going to get thrown under the bus for this one, but it has to be said.
Ever wonder why there aren’t more people/businesses out there willing to help non-French speaking visitors in making reservations? The reality is that making reservations is easy, but managing them is a nightmare.
Last week I overheard a couple complaining that their concierge had the “nerve” to get angry when they asked him to cancel their 8pm Joel Robuchon reservation at 7:30pm. They were dismissive of the concierge saying, “It is his JOB, why is he upset with us? We have had too many big meals and just needed a break!” Wow, seriously? It may be the concierge’s “job” but they are good at it because they were able to get you in, in the first place. Last minute cancelations hurt their relationship with the restaurant and jeopardize the chance to help someone else with future bookings.
Think through what you are asking of someone to help make reservations and be respectful of their time, effort and relationships.
Honor the reservation unless of course you really do have an extraordinary reason. Being fed up with big meals is not one of them.
If you do need to cancel, please do, don’t just not show up.
Make certain you are calling the correct restaurant by verifying the address.
There are multiple restaurants with the same name such as Le Comptoir, Au Passage, La Regalade & Racines. There is also a Bistrot Paul Bert outside of Paris near the flea markets – they are NOT the same restaurant(s).
The key information the reservationist/concierge will want to know is the requested date, time, how many people, your name and most importantly a cell phone number. If you give them your hotel telephone number instead, then use the name the hotel room is booked under for the reservation. Keep the reservation information consistent & clear so that one person is the main contact.
Also, this is the time to let them know if you have a special request such as a birthday, you’d like a terrace table, you are bringing a baby, have teenagers that are pescetarian, etc. They might not be able to meet all your requests but giving them a heads up first, gives them a chance to try!
Put your restaurant reservation telephone numbers in your phone before you come to Paris. This way when a restaurant is calling to confirm, you see the name of the restaurant calling, not a blocked number. If you need to call the restaurant because your taxi is lost and you are running 15 minutes late – you can simply call them quickly from your address book without having to search the internet for the number.
However, don’t always rely on the restaurant to call you to confirm your table, call 24-48 hours before to verify the restaurant address, your party size, name and telephone number.