The café is central to life in France. This is where you will find the locals having their morning coffee, meeting friends, reading the papers. They may drop in several times during the day. Most cafés are locally owned and run by the owner.
For the traveler, cafés let you experience the local life. Go to a café for breakfast and linger at a sunny table or drop in for quick coffee during the day. Most cafés offer snacks or lunch. Drop in before dinner for an aperitif or a glass of wine.
Cafés are open early in the morning and may close around 7pm in a village, later in a larger town. They do not close mid-day like the shops. They are usually closed one day a week and Sundays (some are open Sunday morning, but close at lunch time for the rest of the day).
Cafe in Uzes
What Can I Order?
Cafés serve coffee drinks, tea, pop, fresh juice, beer, wine, and other alcohol drinks. I have a description of menu items at the bottom of this note. Some cafés turn into restaurants at lunch time. If they start putting tablecloths on the outside tables, they are getting ready to serve lunch.
Pay a Little More to Sit at a Table
Most cafés have tables inside and outside and offer table service. Sit down and someone will come out and take your order. If you are outside and they do not see you, go into the café and let them know you are there. If you don’t want to linger, go inside, order and have your drink standing at the bar.
Items cost more when you are seated. In larger cities, this price difference may be large. In villages, there may be little or no difference in price. Look for the official price list showing prices both at the bar (comptoir meaning at the counter) and seated (salle).
No one minds how long you sit at a table (inside or outside), even if you have ordered only one coffee. This makes it inexpensive to fulfill that dream of sitting at a café all morning and writing your great novel, like Simone de Beauvoiur and Jean Paul Sartre did in the cafés in Paris.
How Do I Pay?
How you pay varies depending on the café and how busy it is. If you are sitting at an outside table, the receipt (bill) is usually given to you when the drinks are delivered. When you are ready to leave you either pay the waiter or go inside and pay at the bar. In busier cafés you may be asked to pay when your order is delivered to you.
To get the attention of the waiter/waitress, say "S'il vous plait"; calling out "garcon" or something similar is considered rude.
Cafe receipt, cafe express plus supplement for sitting outside
Coffee is served with packages of sugar. Ask if you want a different type of sweetener.
Croissants for Breakfast
Why do croissants taste better in France than anywhere else? It’s the butter – French butter.
Many cafés sell croissants in the morning. If you want a fancier pastry that is not available in the café, pick it up at the nearby bakery and bring it with you. It is polite to ask if this is okay to do. If the café does not serve croissants, they will tell you to go to the nearest bakery to get them. You can then have them at the table with your coffee.
Some cafés offer a Petit dejeuner (translates as "little lunch") - a baguette (bread) with butter and jam.
Cafe in Brittany with bakery across the street
Croissant from the bakery, coffee from the cafe
The toilets in cafés are not public; they are for customers only. It is considered rude to go into a café only to use the toilet. If you want to use the toilet, order something first or ask if it possible for you to use their toilets. Most towns have public toilets. Look for them near the parking lots or the tourist information offices.
The Cafe Menu
Some cafés have the menu on the wall near the bar. Menus may show two prices for each item: comptoir (at the counter) and salle (seated at a table, inside or outside). You pay more for sitting at a table. If there is a printed menu at the table, this menu has the prices for sitting at a table.
- Le verre means in a glass. "Le bock" is a special type and size of glass.
- Bouteille means in a bottle.
- On some menus, you will see a baby version of a drink, a smaller than usual size.
- Service Compris at the bottom of the menu means the prices include tip. All menu prices in France include the tip, but you can leave a small amount extra as an additional tip.
Hot Drinks on a menuCoffee Drinks
Café or Café Express - This is the basic coffee. It is short and strong, similar to an espresso in Italy, but a bit bigger. Café Allongé has extra water (an American-style coffee). Café Décafeiné - Decaffeinated coffee.
Café Crème - Café Express with hot milk (sometimes called Café au Lait). It usually comes in two sizes, petit (small) and grand (large). A noisette is a small café crème, like a macchiato in Italy.
Café Glacé - Coffee served over ice. Syrup (syrop) flavor can be added to this.
Café Arrosé - Cafe Express with alcohol, usually Cognac, but you can ask for another type of digestive. Café Arrosé translates as "watered coffee".
Noisette on the left, café on the right at a café in Uzes
Other Hot Drinks
Chocolat - Hot chocolate.
Thé, Lait ou Citron - Hot tea with milk or lemon.
Infusion - Herbal tea.
Lait - A glass of milk, froid for cold, chaud for hot. Lait Parfumé is milk with a shot of sweet syrup added.
Fruit Juices, Pop and Water
Jus de Fruit - Fruit juice in a bottle.
Citron Pressé - Fresh lemon juice, served on ice, with water and sugar on the side. Fresh organge juice is Orange Pressé.
Coca-Cola - Coca-Cola, just like in North America, but in a smaller bottle that you might be used to. Ask for "un Coca", not "un Coke".
Soda drinks - Limonade (similar to 7up), Orangina (orange), Gini (lime), Schweppes (tonic water).
Eau Minérale - Mineral water. Ask for gazeuse (with gas, sparkling) or plat or non gazeuse (still). Order by the glass or bottle. Perrier, sparkling mineral water, is usually on the menu. You may see Eau Minérale, au sirop, or Sirop de Fruit à l'eau, le verre, a glass of water with a shot of syrop.
Vin - Wine, Rouge (red), Rosé or Blanc (white). Porto (Port wine).
Champagne - By the glass (la coupe), small glass (coupette) or bottle (bouteille).
Bière - Beer by the glass or bottle. Bière Blonde is light beer, Bière Brune is dark beer.
Panaché - A glass of beer mixed with Limonade (like a "shandy" in England).
Grog - Hot wine or other hot alcohol drink.
Pastis- popular licorice flavoured liquor served in a glass on ice with water on the side. Pernod, Ricard or Pastis are popular brands.
Other popular drinks are Kir (white wine with Cremé de Cassis - Kir Royale uses champagne instead of white wine), Americano (a cocktail), Campari served with soda, Martini (aperitif with a wine base), Voyou Whisky.
Most cafés offer some type of light food for lunch.
Sandwich - sandwich. Usual offerings are jambon (ham), saucisson (sausage), fromage (cheese).
Salade - Salad.
Oeufs au plât - Eggs, sunny side up.
Oeuf Dur - (Oeufs durs) Eggs, hard boiled.
Assiette Anglaise - Typically cold cuts, pickles, hard boiled eggs, salad.
Croque Monsieur - A grilled ham and cheese sandwich.
Hot Dog - The good old American style hot dog.
- About the Author:
- Pauline and her husband Steve travel to France as often as possible.
Kevin Widrow and his wife Elizabeth run Mas Perreal, vacation rentals and B&B in the Luberon, near the village of St. Saturnin les Apt.