There are many differences between European and American styles of service and dining. I am not going to cover them all now, but will probably revisit the topic from time to time as the mood strikes. Today I’m just covering the very basics of service.
I love going to European restaurants.
Since living on a french island for nine years, I’ve come to completely dislike the fast-paced get ’em in, get’ em fed, get ’em out style of service that so many American restaurants practice these days.
Don’t even get me started about establishments where the server drops your check on the table “but take your time,” while you still have food sitting in front of you. This makes me nuts and I have adopted the french philosophy that this practice is flat out rude. …oh really? that wasn’t just a passive-aggressive way of you telling me to pay up and get out so that you can flip your table? Thanks, I will take my time!
Before anyone gets all in a huff…
…let me say that I know that this is done in order to make more money, due to the fact that servers in America get paid insulting wages. I’ve done it, and I know it’s hard, long hours of schlepping food & drink with a smile on your face, hoping that guests will be happy with the service enough to supplement your income with a good tip. I know it’s necessary to ‘turn tables’ in order to make a certain amount of money each night. Let me also say that if I am planning on taking a long time when I eat out in America, I always leave a large tip in order to make up for the potential lost income. I understand completely.
However, in france servers are paid a living wage.
I’m pretty sure it’s the same in all european countries. Waiters & waitresses are paid respectfully enough to pay their bills and not be in the poor house. They’re not relying on tips at all. They leave you alone once you’re at your table and do not rush you in any way. Unless a french restaurant has strict multiple seating reservation times, once you park yourselves at your table, it is yours for the night. Sit there as long as you want, they won’t harass you about it, and when you need or want something, you look over and signal them to come to your table. They don’t check on you 20 times an hour, because that is an interruption on your space and considered rude.
When you want the check, you need to ask for it.
Don’t expect them to just drop it off willy-nilly at their own presumptuous whim! That, my American friends, is also considered rude. In fact, you may need to ask for the check multiple times. I don’t know the reason for this, but it is common that you may need to make 2 or 3 requests for l’addition (the check).
…But, they’ll probably bring you a digestif first…
…A freebie shot of liquor, which in St. Barth is a flavored rum. Then they may finally bring you the check. Or more rum. It happens. Who’s complaining about that?! certainly not moi!
At the end of it all, you pay your bill and you leave. If you’ve had very nice service and are leaving happy, a small token of thanks equal to 10% is much appreciated. Being American, I can’t fathom walking out without leaving anything at all, so I normally plunk down 10%-15% regardless. It pretty much always guarantees me good service on future returns too, which is a nice bonus… In fact, maybe that’s why I usually get the extra vanilla rum at the end!
Bonne Soirée, a bientôt!