Toolkit: Café Culture in France

While it may seem quite simple, there is a lot more to going for a coffee in France than you might initially think! The French have a distinct café culture, that brings with it some basic rules. Once you know the ins and outs of going to a café in France, you can sit and look like a local on the terrasse in your neighbourhood café.

Coffee culture has become particularly on trend recently. How many times do you see a picture of a perfectly frothed Cappuccino when scrolling through your Instagram explore page? While this may be a new thing for us, coffee culture has existed for centuries in France. The long heritage that it boasts does not come without some serious guidelines!

First things first, when you arrive at the cafe wait for your ‘serveur’ to seat you. One big faux-pas is sitting down immediately – this can only result in either waiting a very long time for your coffee as the waiter of your section does not know when you have arrived, or being greeted with a rather grumpy waiter as you have not followed the rules!

After being seated, make sure you do not move tables or change seats of your own accord without letting anybody know! We all know the feeling of being crammed into a full terrasse, getting a seat in the dark dingy corner that isn’t in the sunshine and when somebody leaves wanting to quickly snap up their place in the sun! Well, do not be so hasty as if you move, again your waiter will not be best pleased.

Most cafés and restaurants in France have numerous waiters that are assigned sections, if you move you may be moving into a different waiters section from the one that you originally spoke to. This only results in confusion and often quite a lot of huffing and puffing!

So now that you have found a seat and stayed in it, it all comes down to ordering. Whilst placing an order might seem like a relatively simple thing to do, this too has its own rules and regulations! Seated at your table, you should wait for your waiter to come to you to take your order. You should by this point know what you want, and definitely do not ask for a menu! Bear in mind that a ‘café’ in French is not what anglophones would translate to be a coffee. ‘Un café‘ is an espresso! If you are looking for something that resembles a filter coffee or an Americano, the French refer to this as a ‘café allongé’. Translated literally this means a ‘long coffee’. If you like your coffee with milk the best thing to go for is a ‘café crème’ or a ‘café au lait’. You will find that ordering a Cappuccino will be a lot more expensive than the other types of coffee, and do not even think about ordering something like a flat white because that does not exist in France!

So… You have ordered your coffee, now what? Bear in mind that the importance of coffee in France requires that you sit and enjoy it. If you think you are going to get a quick fix, you are wrong. Café culture dictates that you take time over your coffee. As you would with a delicacy, you savour it, make the most of your coffee, and, of course, your surrounding company.

We do hope that this has helped and that you can now go and enjoy your experience in a café. Take a book, go with friends, sit for hours on end watching the world go by – that is what the French do!

Key Vocab For Ordering A Coffee in France:

Café = Espresso
Café allongé = Americano
Café crème = Americano with milk

Babylangues Top Tips

  • If you are on a budget and looking to save some pennies, it is always much cheaper to order your coffee at the bar and drink it inside than it would be to order it on the terrace. In fact, sometimes it can even be up to three times cheaper!
  • For those of you who are inclined to tip the waiter after paying your bill in a cafe, this is not the norm in France! In fact, quite often the tipping charge is already included with the bill. No need to fret!