Easy Guide to French Food Terms


I hope you are enjoying #FranceWeek at The Jetlag Experience!

I have to admit, when I was planning these posts it was easy to drift into about a thousand different subjects. Want to know what ultimately guided the topics I’m discussing with you during #FranceWeek?


These posts are based 100% on questions I get from my clients when we discuss their trips to France. I hope they are helping you, too! Even if you don’t have a trip coming up in the near future, hide these posts away or Pin them on your Pinterest travel board so you can reference them when needed.


One of the questions I always get from my clients before a trip to Paris in particular goes something like this:

“I know Paris has all this great food, but it’s like there are too many choices! Can you break it down to something a little easier?”

Of course I can. If you are one of my clients, then you know I always offer to supply my best dining suggestions based on the itinerary I’ve designed (and make any reservations for you). But some of you are determined to “fly by the seat of your pants”—in which case you will most certainly need to know (first and foremost) the difference between the different types of restaurants and food sellers. So, this may feel like you’re back in school, but my glossary has saved many a day in Paris!

Paris Restaurants and Food Sellers


These little things are for coffee and don’t offer a ton of food options. Think of them as a good stop for breakfast (though I don’t know why you wouldn’t go to a boulangerie and get some fresh bread or pâtisserie for pastries). Cafés are easily confused with bistros if they contain a few tables, though the bistro is your better option for a cooked meal. My suggestion: stop by the neighborhood bakery (the one with the longest line) and pick out your breakfast. Then, walk to a neighborhood café with street tables, order up your preferred caffeinated beverage “to stay,” and take a seat at a table for some people watching.


Ah, the Parisian bistro. Unfortunately, so many restauranteurs have confused and ruined the name and worth of a bistro. A true bistro is your best friend when looking for a great meal in Paris. These are the places that the neighborhood locals frequent. You’ll know you’re at a bistro because you’ll see one of these little beauties out front:




That bad boy right there is called the “plat du jour”—the daily special. You know you’re at a not-made-for-tourists spot when:

  • At least 15 of the 20 or so tables are full
  • Those tables appear to be pretty jammed together
  • There is a plat du jour on a chalkboard outside…and it isn’t written in English
  • People are speaking in French

When you find that place, eat there. Order the plat du jour. It’s there for a reason! And that reason is because the chef found all of its ingredients at the market that morning.

Now, let me explain an important distinction among bistros. There are these little cozy sidewalk bistros like I just described. You pop in there for lunch. But there are also bistros. These bistros are actually restaurants dressed up as bistros because they serve traditional French bistro food.

To Bistro or Not to Bistro

You’re there for dinner, people look nice, and you probably should have made a reservation two days ago. This kind of bistro you should definitely eat at. It won’t be cheap, per se, but it will be divine. Take, for {an inflated} example, Benoît (in le Marais district). This little gem serves up Classic French fare as designed by THE Alain Ducasse. You’ll probably spend 60+ Euros per person on dinner here. I know, right. But it is quite different than a “restaurant” because, at an Alain Ducasse restaurant, you’ll spend upwards of 200 Euros per person. This is the case at his phenomenal Eiffel Tower restaurant, Le Jules Verne—worth every penny for the experience alone and double for the food. But at his flagship restaurant at the Plaza Athénée, get ready to spend 500 Euros! Per person! At lunch!!!! Suddenly fulfilling your Parisian foodie fantasies at Benoît is sounding pretty good, huh?


This one is much easier to describe. Generally (though exceptions abound), a brasserie is a bar—a nice one that serves good food all day long with quicker service and good prices. If you want to be all American about fast eating on your schedule, go here. They also offer a plat du jour and a good carte (see below). Let me be clear. This is not Hooters. They are fancier than you expect, though you aren’t expected to come in dress clothes (but then again, Parisians always look nice, so….don’t go in your yoga pants). Brasseries serve traditional French and Alsatian (like, from Alsace) food—but they do it in a more typical to Americans way. Think of a really fancy gastropub. Got it? The best of these usually have choucroute and saucissons. If they do, order that.

One of my favorite authentic Alsatian brasseries is Chez Jenny, also in the Marais (there’s seriously so much goooooood food in the Marais).





It’s a restaurant! There are thousands of them in Paris, but fewer than 100 have Michelin stars. Don’t let that get in your way. Do your research according to neighborhood and don’t let the absurd selection of haute cuisine, Classic French, and nouvelle cuisine get in your way. The great thing about Paris is that, in addition to the French food, you can have the best Japanese, Jewish, Thai, Portuguese, North African, Indian, or Greek food of your life. And here’s the best news: you don’t have to pay Alain Ducasse prices at most of them!

Other French Dining Terms You Need to Know

>>Menu: It’s not a menu. It’s a pre-selected, fixed-price starter, main, and dessert. This is not a bad option by any means, but it may be more food than you want to eat and more Euros than you want to spend. So don’t ask the waiter for the menu. Ask for “la carte, s’il vous plaît.”

>>Carte: The menu.

>>Buffet: A snack cart like you might find at an airport. Not Golden Corral.

>>Relais (or relais routier): Like the coolest truck stop ever. These are situated outside of cities along highways for convenient stopping. Though I hate to waste a single meal in Europe, I can admit to eating at one of these outside Paris and also at the equivalent in Italy. Both were quite tasty despite my pious attitude.

>>Le petit dejeuner: a simple breakfast of croissant with butter or other fresh pastry. Eggs and bacon are not Parisian breakfast food, though I’m sure you can find places to indulge you…just don’t expect to get your oeufs made to order.

>>Le dejeuner: My favorite French meal. Find yourself a nice bistro at least one day while you’re in Paris. Tuck in and expect to stay for a solid two hours. Relax and enjoy the fact that no one is rushing you out. Enjoy your 3-4 course meal (yeah, there will be a cheese course and, most likely, a dessert). Drink your wine with your food (a 2nd3rd glass with your cheese is perfectly acceptable), some cognac with dessert, and a café after your food is taken away.

>>Le diner: The grand finale! If you didn’t get to relax at lunch, then you should linger here f o r e v e r. If you have show tickets or somewhere to be (or simply lack the fortitude of a professional eater), let the waiter know **when you arrive** that you will need to leave at a certain time for the _______(theatre, concert, bed, etc.). But for you lucky ducks who get to enjoy a true French dinner…get juiced. Your meal should consist of an apertif and an amuse-bouche, starter or soup with bread (and then they take the bread away), main, salad course, cheese cart (they bring the bread back! Yay!), and dessert. Yes, in that order. You can generally order the house wine in a bistro or off a wine list in a restaurant. Do yourself a favor and request that your wine be paired with your food as no one does this better than a French sommelier.

>>Le cheval: that’s pony meat. You can do better.



Bon Appetite!!



P.S. Need some help getting your Paris trip put together? It’s kind of my jam and I’d love to help. You can get in touch with me on Facebook or by clicking HERE.