The One Important Difference Between a Restaurant and a Bistrot

Many visitors are surprised at the lack of “service” at bistrots and wine bars here in Paris.

First, it is important to know that the definition of service is different between a restaurant and a bistrot, which can impact your dining out experience positively or negatively.

A restaurant’s business model is built around 2-3 people being responsible for your table. There is actually service. Wait staff observes that you need more wine and etc. and handle those tasks professionally and unobtrusively. Tables are spaced apart for privacy. No-one is hurried.

With everything else, (bistrots, wine bars, cafés, etc.) these businesses are created with only 2-3 people responsible for an entire room and terrace. “Service” is bringing you the basics (menu, silverware, bread basket, etc.) to start and then everything you ask for throughout the meal. More water? You need to ask. More wine? Don’t stare them down because they aren’t even looking. You’ll need to flag them down and ask. Tables are close together, there is no privacy, and the ambiance is lively because a few servers are trying to take care of everyone at once.

You can see why a French person would not reserve a bistrot table for a romantic date – they would book a restaurant instead. That said, it is also why a boisterous group of friends at a restaurant receive icy stares from the customers who specifically reserved the restaurant for quiet and intimacy – the boisterous friends should have reserved a bistrot.

Regardless of restaurant or bistrot ambiance, French dining out culture dictates that staff will not intrude into your personal space unless you ask them to because dining out is respected as a special time for friends and family to be together. Imagine an invisible glass box around the table -no server would dream of coming inside that space without being invited in – including bringing the bill.



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