What to expect when working in a bar in Paris

Fancy the idea of a bar job in Paris? There are a few things you need to know first, writes bartender Lauren Belcher.

Bad Tips

Unless you choose a bar in a tourist area, do not expect to make a mountain of tips. In most French restaurants and bars, service is included, so it isn’t as natural to leave a 10 percent tip as it is in England or the US, rather a euro or two. If you are on a short-term contract in an Anglophone bar, you’re also unlikely to be on a fantastic wage. That isn’t to say that your good service will go unrewarded, or that you can’t keep up a Parisian lifestyle.

As friendly service can be rare, making that little extra effort will make invaluable relationships with regulars, both expats and local Parisians. If you’re new to the city this can be one of the best ways to network and gain advice from people who have made Paris their home. Discover local and reasonable hangouts, gain career advice, and find how best to go about the everyday: finding an Anglophone doctor, or setting up your bank account for example. A good relationship with your colleagues is also priceless for this kind of advice. Be a team player and you’ll soon have your own Parisian family to fall back on.

The Language Barrier

Working in an Anglophone bar can be the ultimate comfort blanket when first living in Paris and getting to grips with a different culture and language. You can build up your French vocabulary and fluency slowly, while having the comfort of English speaking colleagues who have already experienced learning the language. Even French customers are likely to want to speak English with you to either practice their skills, or show off to their friends how well they can speak it. They are likely to find your mistakes endearing as opposed to annoying.

There comes a point though, when you’re desperate to improve your French, that this slow process can irritate you. You need to be prepared for customers to think your French is awful and bark back “three pints” in English when you haven’t quite heard what they said. When this happens you just have to remain persistent: keep replying straight back in French and use time chatting to your French regulars as a free French lesson. Ask them politely to correct you, or just casually ask how they would naturally express something. Your French will improve in no time.

Culture Clash

If you have come from working in a very approachable culture, such as England or America where customers like to get to know you, it can feel alienating serving Parisians. I first found their inability to say please and thank you as rude, and their air of indifference condescending when serving those who seemed to have a higher social status, dressed in suits for example. Then after a while you realize that it’s rather a kind of social discipline that you’ll come to admire in the French.

Instead of nosing into your business or offloading their personal problems on to a complete stranger, they keep their personalities for those they feel comfortable around. Parisian women might seem intimidating, but if you have the confidence to offer a compliment here or there, or ask them about their day, you’ll soon see how friendly they can be. Likewise if you’re a waitress or female bartender, it is refreshing not to be chatted up by strangers. Parisians, never mind their reputation as lovers, stay respectful and are unlikely to hassle you for your telephone number or make remarks on your appearance. 

by Lauren Belcher (below), who works at Bugsy's, around the corner from the British embassy in Paris.


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