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Explained: Restaurant bill etiquette in France

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
Explained: Restaurant bill etiquette in France
A server in Paris carries over a bill to a customer (Photo by EMILIEN CANCET / AFP)

If you have plans for dinner out in France, here's a look at the etiquette over the bill - from where and how to pay to the culture around tipping.

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If you go out to eat in France, then there are a few things you should know about paying the bill afterwards. 

How to ask for the bill - When you're ready, try to catch the server's eye and ask for the bill (l'addition, s'il vous plaît). You can always ask for the bill while they clear your plates.

This may be common knowledge now, but resist the temptation to yell out garçon ! This is rude.

Unless you're in a very busy or touristy place the bill is not usually presented until you ask for it - this is deliberate, French servers normally don't like to hurry their customers and once you've finished dinner it's perfectly OK to linger and chat over the dregs of the wine.

If you're in a place that runs two service periods at night (usually one at around 7.30pm and one at 9pm) then you may be asked to clear your table by a certain time, but this should be made clear to you when you book or when you arrive. 

If it's getting late and the place is emptying out the waiter may bring over the bill and ask you to pay so they can close up the till - but they're not necessarily saying that you have to leave. If they start stacking up chairs, however, then that's your cue to go home.

Where to pay the bill - One major difference between France and other countries is that many restaurants - usually more casual ones - will expect you to walk up to the cash register to pay the bill.

This means that once you feel ready to go you can just walk up and pay at the counter, rather than waiting for the bill.

You can always double check with the server by saying Est-ce qu'on paie ici ou au comptoir ? (Do we pay here or at the counter?) In many cases, the answer will be 'either' so it's really up to you.

READ MORE: 8 tips for finding a good restaurant in France

How to split the bill - If you dined with a friend or friends, then you may want to split the bill. Some French restaurants use smart tablets that allow servers to click each of the items you ordered and then inform you of exactly how much you owe individually, while others will expect you to do the maths yourself. 

If you're in a group, some restaurants will include the amount if the bill is divided equally by the number of people in your party, it's usually just below the total.

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The waiter will likely ask how you want to pay (Vous voulez régler comment ?). In response, you and your friend can tell the waiter on va partager l'addition (we are going to split the bill) once they come out with the card reader.

If you want to split it, you can say On va le diviser par deux/cinq, s'il vous plaît (we'll divide it in half/divide it by five please). If there's two of you can also say on va faire moitié-moitié.

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If you don't want to do an equal split - let's say your friend had the lobster and foie gras and was drinking wine while you had a salad and a tap water - you can just do the maths yourself and then tell the server exactly how much you want to put on each card when they come out with the card machine.

READ MORE: Things you should never do when dining in France

How to leave a tip - In France, service is included as part of the bill, so - strictly speaking - it is not necessary to add a bit extra.

If you want to do so, you can check to see if there is a jar for pourboires (tips), which would be for small coins. In a similar spirit, you can leave a few coins on the table afterwards.

If you are paying by card, then you can also ask the waiter to round up your bill. So, let's say your final bill is €27.30. In this case, you might just tell the server to put €30 on the card instead. They will revise the amount on the card reader. 

Ultimately, choosing to tip is a personal decision. The Local ran a survey of readers' habits in France, and over 90 percent of respondents said that they tip at least some of the time.

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But although almost everyone tips at least some of time, only a third (34.8 percent) said that they tipped every time they have drinks or go out.

In terms of how much to tip, that is also a matter of personal choice. Most respondents said that they would round-up a bill to include a tip, while others said that they would give some spare change. Most agreed that they added between 5 percent and 10 percent to a bill at a time.

READ MORE: ‘We tip less in France than in the US’ - readers reveal who they tip, and how much

Vocabulary guide

Sans contact - Contactless card payment (tapping your card on the machine)

Régler - To pay, a synonym for payer

La caisse - The cash register

Pourboires - Tips

L'addition - The bill

Au comptoir - At the counter

Par carte - By card (for payment)

Par espèces - By cash (for payment)

On va faire moitié-moitié - We'll split it, half and half.

On va le diviser par deux/cinq, s'il vous plaît - We'll divide it in half/divide it by five please.

Vous voulez régler comment ? - How do you want to pay?

Vous voulez votre ticket de caisse ? - Do you want your receipt?

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Comments (2)

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M. F Bstes 2024/05/28 23:50
Re tips; Why are you ignoring the fact that compulsory service (tips) is included in the billnow by law?
  • Emma Pearson 2024/05/29 08:33
    We're not ignoring it - we say that in France, service is included as part of the bill. That means there is no need to tip, but some people still do like to add a little extra and we're just explaining how you can do that, if you want to.
Jane 2024/05/28 18:05
Some Americans tip for everything. That is not the culture in France. We find the service in restaurants is excellent, and no tip is expected. Only once in Paris were we asked if we wanted to leave a tip--this from a rude waiter. We told him service was included and we did not want to leave a tip. We prefer the French system where good service is expected and included, and tipping is for exceptional cases.
  • Emma Pearson 2024/05/29 09:01
    Absolutely! You're certainly not obliged to tip and that was very rude of him to ask

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