Paris Travel Planner   Café-Bars in Paris, France
Some things are common to all Paris sidewalk cafés, but each café really has its own character. Follow the rules, and Paris cafés will provide unforgettable moments.




Paris café-bars are at least as famous as the Eiffel Tower, and for good reason: sitting and sipping in a Paris café is among the finest common pleasures of this wonderful city.

To enjoy a Paris café fully, you must understand the rules of café culture.

1. Sitting and sipping is the point. Drinks are priced to allow you to take your time at the table, chatting, people-watching, reading a newspaper, magazine or book, writing notes or postcards. You needn't rush. The waiter won't rush you. One cup of coffee allows you to sit at the table for an hour, even two.

2. Smoking is prohibited inside all cafés and restaurants, but not at open-air tables. Depending on the breeze, smoke from outside tables can waft into the café. If you're particularly sensitive to tobacco smoke, choose your table accordingly.

3. Although café means coffee, the proper term for the establishment is actually café-bar, as Paris cafés serve all sorts of hot and cold beverages, including herbal teas (infusion and tisane), mineral water, beer, wine, and other drinks. The one thing you may find difficult to get is a cup of simple American-style coffee. (See the Coffee in Paris page.)

4. Paris cafés serve food as well, from croissants and tartines at breakfast through soups, croque monsieur and other light meals at lunch, to even more elaborate dishes for dinner. Even though they are not restaurants, you can often order the near-equivalent of a three-course dinner—starter, main course and dessert, with wine or beer—at a café, although you may prefer to do so in a proper restaurant.

5. Many cafés offer service non-stop, meaning they're open and serving from morning till night. (Many restaurants traditionally serve meals at midday and in the evening, but close during the late afternoon.)

6. To call the waiter, say Monsieur! (not Garçon) according to the rules of French restaurant etiquette.

7. Service ("sehr-VEESE," tip) and taxes are included in all the prices printed on menus. They will not be added to your bill later. (A luncheon plate in Boston MA priced at $15 on the menu will actually cost you $18 with the 5% tax and 15% tip. In Paris, a plate priced at 12€ will cost you 12€, not a centime more.)

One of the reasons that sitting in a Paris café is such a pleasant experience, is that it's a bit of the Good Old Days, when many Parisians enjoyed a more leisurely lifestyle. Unfortunately, that lifestyle is rapidly disappearing, and so are the cafés. In 1960, France had 200,000+ café-bars. In 2008 it had fewer than 41,200, with two cafés going out of business every day—and the rate of bankruptcies is increasing.

Never fear: Paris cafés will not disappear completely. Do your part to keep them alive: sit, sip and enjoy!

Paris Restaurants





Street Food

Coffee in France

Saving Money on Meals

Restaurant Etiquette


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