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Paris Café Culture: A Beginner’s Guide To Café Etiquette 2024

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Want to feel confident ordering in a Parisian café ?

This guide will tell you about Parisian café culture and what you need to know and do to feel like a local (or almost) and comfortable in any Parisian café .

I have been to more cafes and bistros in Paris than I can count! I lived in France and have been to Paris many times. I’ve learned about the French café culture, how it works, and what to expect.

Let’s explore everything you need to know about Paris café etiquette for your next trip to France, but first my two most important tips for getting along well in Parisian cafes:

  • 👉 Culture Tips: Always say “bonjour” to your waiter or person in charge when entering a cafe or any store. Good manners are integral to French society and this shows respect and goodwill.
  • 👉 French people are quieter and more reserved than many cultures. If you are loud and boisterous, this may not sit well with others. Keep voices at a moderate level and be polite to show respect and connect well with your servers and the other guests.

(For more juicy information on Parisian culture and traditions, check out my blog on Parisian Culture here.)

What is Café Culture in Paris?

Typical Parisian cafe in the St. Germain district in PAris
Typical cafe in Paris in the St. Germain district in Paris, near my hotel, La Lousiane.

The cafe culture is one of the things Paris is known for. People come to Paris and want to experience Parisian cafes with their sidewalk terraces and clusters of small tables. It’s one of the reasons I love Paris.

These cafes are a place to have a leisurely breakfast while reading the newspaper, a quick espresso, or an afternoon apéritif with friends. They are a meeting place deeply ingrained in Parisian culture.

Most places will also have full dining menus for lunch and dinner. But if you’re just stopping by for a light bite, they have those too.

On the Paris cafe menu, expect classic French dishes like escargot (snails), coq au vin (chicken in red wine sauce), and crème brûlée as well as coffee, alcoholic drinks, pastries, and juices.

Paris Café Etiquette

As there are more than 12,000 cafes in Paris, let’s take a look at how to navigate Paris etiquette when visiting a local cafe.

1. Seat Yourself

Most cafes have seating indoors (en salle), at the bar (au bar), or outside (en terrasse). The general rule is that you seat yourself, no matter where you choose to sit. If that’s not the case, the waiter will let you know.

If you see staff as you make your way inside, greet them by saying bonjour or a similar French phrase appropriate to the time of day. Being polite and attempting a bit of French goes a long way in Paris!

Pro Tip: If you are only stopping at the cafe for a coffee or drink, avoid sitting at a table with silverware. These seats are intended for people who are planning to eat something.

Now just wait for your waiter to come to you. You don’t need to flag them down; they’ll see you.

2. Wait for the menu

Your waiter will deliver the menu to your table once they’ve greeted you. They might ask if you’re there to eat (pour manger) or just to have a coffee (pour juste un café).

From there, you’ll have some time to look over the menu and decide what you’d like to order. 

Popular coffees people order from a Paris cafe menu are drinks like café crème which is pretty much the French equivalent to the Italian cappuccino or un café / un café express, which is a standard espresso shot.

3. Once your drink arrives

When your waiter brings your order over, you can reply with a kind merci monsieur/madame.

If you need the WiFi password, this is also the time to ask. You can also look over the menu as many cafes put the info there.

4. Sit and enjoy

Table in a cafe in Paris with French onion soup, bread and mineral water.
My classic lunch of French onion soup in a typical Parisian cafe near rue Gambetta.

One of the best things about Paris cafeculture is sitting outside and people-watching. Even if you are in Paris only for a weekend, be sure to take some time for people watching at a cafe.

However, you can enjoy your time as you like. Talk with friends, read a book, write in a journal, etc. I usually bring postcards and write them over a tea and pain-au-chocolate (chocolate croissant)

One thing you shouldn’t do is open your laptop and try to get some work done. This is best done at one of the Paris coffee shops. They have a different look and feel from the typical French cafe. 

5. How to pay

If you want to pay, try not to flag down your waiter as it’s considered rude. Instead try saying excusez moi and asking for l’addition or the bill.

Tip is already included, but if your waiter was friendly, you’re welcome to round up to leave a euro or two.

Helpful French Words And Phrases

  • un café – an espresso
  • un café crème – coffee with milk, cappuccino
  • une noisette – an espresso with a dash of milk
  • excusez moi – excuse me
  • en salle – indoors
  • au bar – at the bar
  • en terrasse – outside
  • pour manger – to eat
  • pour juste un café – just for a coffee
  • l’addition – the bill
  • merci monsieur/madame – thank you, sir/ma’am

Best Cafés In Paris For First-Timers 

I chose these cafes because they are relatively easy to access, staff is known to be helpful and friendly and/or they are good for people watching.

Jozi cafe – Latin Quarter

Jozi cafe is like an American bistro/French cafe fusion.

It is a fantastic breakfast/brunch place and the staff are friendly and laid back. This is a top choice if you are nervous about ordering in a Parisian cafe and/or want an excellent American style or French breakfast.

  • Opening Hours – M-F (8:00am – 4:30 pm), Sat-Sun (9:00 am – 5:30pm)
  • 3 rue Valette, Metro: Cluny La Sorbonne or Maubert – (near the Pantheon)
  • Google Maps Pin

Au Vieux Paris – Île de la Cité

Diners sitting outside the small bistro/cafe Au Vieux Paris on Ile de la Cite in Paris

Au Vieux Paris (in old Paris) is something of a hidden gem restaurant on Île de la Cité . This is the quintessential vintage-styled Parisian cafe with very friendly staff and owner and beautiful inside or outside.

You may be able to choose your own bottle of wine from the cellar. It gets consisten five star reviews from visitors for friendliness, atmosphere and excellent food.

  • Opening Hours – M-F (12:00-1:45 and 6:00-9:45 pm); Sat-Sun(12:00-2:00 and 6:00-9:30pm)
  • 24 Rue Chanoinesse, Metro: Cite
  • Google Maps Pin

Les Deux Magots – St. Germain des Pres

The famous Parisian Cafe, Les Deux Magots in the evening on Boulevard Saint-Germain-des-Pres in Paris.

Of all the iconic and legendary cafes in Paris, I have chosen Les Deux Magots (The Two Fleas) for first timers because I think the service is consistently a bit more friendly.

I love Les Deux Magots; it is beautiful, full of history and good for people watching.

Café de Flore is nearby, another iconic Parisian café.

There may be a line. Also be aware it is indeed touristy and prices reflect that. If you like hot chocolate, they advertise it as some of the best hot chocolate in Paris, which is truly a treat!

  • Opening Hours – 7:30 – 1:00 am daily
  • 8 Place Saint-Germain-des-Pres, Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Pres
  • Google Maps Pin

FAQs – Café Culture in Paris

View of the Bastille square from a cafe in Paris.
View of Place de la Bastille from my cafe table.

Helpful questions and answers about cafes in Paris.

Why are cafés so popular in Paris?

Parisians love to be out in the city, and cafes are part of that culture. The locals take things slowly, and so they tend to sit out and enjoy the day without rushing.

They are also a place for conversation, and historically a place for gathering news and inspiration for creative endeavors.

Do you just sit down at a café in Paris?

Typically, yes. You can seat yourself at Paris cafés.

How do you survive ordering in a Parisian café?

Politeness is key. Saying ‘bonjour’ to the waitstaff or host is very respectful and will be appreciated!

You should also attempt a few basic French words and phrases. Even the simple bonjour will be to your advantage. And when in doubt, look around you and mimic what others are doing.

How much do you tip in a Paris café?

Tip is usually already included in the bill. If your server was excellent or very friendly, you’re welcome to round up and leave a couple of euros.

Do cafés have toilets in Paris?

Yes, they do. You are welcome to use them if you have ordered something.

Final Thoughts on Parisian Café Culture and Etiquette

A mocha with whipped cream at Angelina's in Paris
A mocha at Angelina’s cafe in Paris, which is also known for fantastic hot chocolate.

The café culture in Paris embraces a slow pace of living, one where you have time to fully enjoy a drink or meal, prepared and presented with care, and to enjoy the people you are with.

You have the chance to really connect with your experience, whether alone with a book and people watching or having conversation with your friends or family.

I hope this guide to Parisian café culture helps you feel comfortable in any of the cafes, bistros or restaurants in Paris and embrace the French way of slow living during your trip to Paris. Enjoy!