Dining out in Paris

By Abigail A. Lorden | November 01, 2006

If dining out in New York were anything like dining out in Paris, residents of the Big Apple -- or much of the U.S., for that matter -- would be forced to take a moment, even just a millisecond, to slow down and actually chew their food. As a native of northern New Jersey, I'm accustomed to the fast-paced, hectic lifestyle that is synonymous with working, living and eating in the greater New York area. Having recently spent a week in France's glittering city of lights, however, I was struck with the snail-- no, the escargot-like pace of service while dining out. On my first Parisian dining experience, the waiter did not return to the table once ask if we needed anything. He never refilled our water glasses and a solid 30 minutes passed after our plates were cleared before the check arrived. My •quick bite' lasted two hours.

I chocked the exceptionally slow service up to a blasé attitude towards Americans, or possibly tourists in general (having heard much folklore about the Parisian outlook towards such visitors). But after observing fellow diners, I quickly realized how wrong this notion was.

In truth, the slow service is an example of Parisians going out of their way to not be rude. Once the plates arrive at the table, it is the goal of the service staff to stay out of the way of diners and allow them an opportunity to eat -- even languish over their meals -- in privacy. They do not approach the table unless called to it, and the check won't appear until it's requested. When the check does arrive, many servers covertly slip it under a corner of tablecloth as unobtrusively as possible, as if to silently convey, "There's no hurry, now. You stay as long as you'd like."

On my very next Parisian dining out experience, I discovered that with just the slightest gesture towards our server, he reported dutifully to tableside with a slight bow and a grand smile.

The Parisian pace affords the opportunity to eat slowly and casually, and allows time to relax between courses. As a result, less food is wasted because diners have the time to register fullness and aren't ordering more than they can consume.

Needless to say, after a week in France I grew quite accustomed to the lavish pace of dining out. After returning home, I had a meal at a local diner and was handed my check at the same time my meal arrived. I guess it was a good thing I didn't want a cup of coffee.

True, these two examples are at extreme ends of a typical dining experience. Certainly the Parisian approach allows diners to stay longer, possibly ordering more wine or coffee. But it slows table turns, exponentially.

I'm not yet convinced that one approach is infinity better than the other. In all likelihood, a Franco-American blend would be best. I image I'll have to eat out a few more times before I can make that decision. In the mean time, please pass me a croissant. Oh, and there's no rush.

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