For members


Reader question: Do I really need to reserve before going to a restaurant in France?

When visiting France, you are probably looking forward to the French gastronomy, but can you just turn up at a restaurant and get a table?

Reader question: Do I really need to reserve before going to a restaurant in France?
A waiter takes an order at a French brasserie in Paris. (Photo by FRED DUFOUR / AFP)

For many foreigners, eating delicious food is at the top of their priority list when coming to France. However, you might find that you should make a reservation before eating out, depending on where in France you are visiting and the type of food you are looking to enjoy. 

Do I need a reservation? And if so, where would I need one?

Whether you are staying in Paris or in a small town in the countryside, you might be surprised that the small bistro on the corner is fully booked when you walk up looking to dine in. Lots of restaurants in France, including small family-owned type places, are often more in demand than you might think. This is especially common in small towns where locals may be consistent patrons of the town’s crêperie, for example.

Also when it comes to small towns – especially those in touristy areas such as Brittany or the south of France – much will depend on what time of year you are there. If it’s the height of summer or the school holidays make sure to book in advance. 

In big cities, like Paris or Lyon which are home to scores of popular restaurants, making a reservation might not be necessary – depending on where you want to go. If you wander around for long enough, then you will likely be able to find a restaurant that will take people on the spot. In fact, several popular or trendy restaurants even have an explicit policies against reservations, in which case you will need to plan to stand in line for ‘first-come, first-serve’ table. If the restaurant has a website or social media presence, you can check online to see if they clearly state ‘no reservations’. 

However, traditional French restaurants mostly take reservations, and typically they do so by phone call. Some might allow you to come by in person in advance and make the reservation. 

READ MORE: Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

Even though France is becoming more tech-friendly, many restaurants continue to rely on phone calls, rather than the internet, for their reservation planning. Calling ahead can also allow you to clarify the restaurant’s hours of operation, as they sometimes differ from what might be listed on Google Maps or there could be an unforeseen closure or shift in the schedule.

Typically, it is best to book about one to two days in advance, but if you are on holiday and generally make last-minute plans then calling as soon as a restaurant opens to get a table at lunchtime, or as soon as it reopens in the evening might be OK. If the restaurant is highly coveted then you may want to see if it is possible to book about a week (or more) in advance. 

High-end restaurants, especially those featured on the Michelin guide, will expect reservations in most cases. 

READ MORE: 5 eco-friendly French restaurants from the new Michelin guide

When booking for holidays, such as Christmas or Valentine’s Day, you may need to book several weeks (at least two to three) in advance. 

What time should I make my reservation for?

Even though they are neighbours, the French certainly don’t follow Spanish dining habits of having the evening meal at 10pm, but having said that dinner in France is usually eaten later than in the US or Scandinavian countries.

Of course, dinner time in France varies between families and regions, but here are some guidelines.

Lunchtime tends to run between 12pm (noon) and 2pm – that’s when restaurants operate their lunchtime service, so that’s when it’s time to eat. 

Following the restaurant opening rule, the evening meal period typically starts from around 7pm. That’s when the tables are ready and a lot of restaurants won’t accept a booking before 7pm (some might even start at 8pm).

If you want to eat after 2pm but before 7pm you need to look out for a restaurant that advertises ‘service non-stop‘ (also called service continu), these are quite common in tourist areas and big cities, but are generally not the best restaurants. 

In Paris, people tend not to book a table before 8pm to 8.30pm – and plenty of restaurants (not just fast food joints) remain open until midnight.

READ MORE: Reader question: What time do the French eat dinner?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that means Parisians don’t eat until late every evening. Most don’t go out for a meal every night, and may dine a little earlier when they’re at home.

In most towns, cities or villages, restaurants and bistros open for evening service between 7pm and 7.30pm, although tourist resorts often have places that are open all day.

In smaller towns, you may find that restaurants don’t open every night – shutting on Monday is common – or shut their doors earlier, perhaps, than you’d expect, so your window of opportunity for a meal may be slim – especially in the colder months.

How can I go about making a reservation? What websites can I use?

As mentioned previously, you will likely need to make a reservation on the phone, especially for the French countryside. 

In order to do so, you will need to say a few things: that you want to reserve a table, the number of people who will be in attendance, and the time and date you would like to request.

First, you should begin by saying hello and asking if they take reservations: “Bonjour, est-ce que vous prenez des réservations ?”

If they say yes, then you can proceed with your request – let’s say you want to reserve a table for three people on March 30th at 8pm, you would say: “Est-ce que je pourrais réserver une table pour trois personnes le 30 mars à 20h ?”

If you are generally wondering if they have any availability that night, you might say “Avez-vous des places disponibles pour trois personnes le soir du 30 mars ? Et si oui, à quelle heure ?”

Be prepared to give a name phone number if they need to follow-up with you. It may be wise to write down your French phone number (or your international number with the correct area code) before the call.

In urban areas, some restaurants take their reservations online – either on their own website or on sites like You may also be able to book on OpenTable.

Should I tip?

When asked, more than a quarter of readers of The Local France said that they tip sometimes (if they felt like it or had spare change), and almost half (43.5 percent) said they would reserve tipping for those times the service had been particularly good. 

One reader based in Strasbourg, Lauren Lever, said: “At a café if I pay in cash or have a few extra coins I will leave the spare change … [but] I often pay with a card and do not tip. However, if we have a really nice experience with great service we will tip nicely to show our gratitude, usually around 10 percent of the bill”. 

READ MORE: ‘We tip less in France than in the US’ – readers reveal who they tip, and how much

Helpful vocabulary

Couverts – This translates to “Cutlery”, but in French restaurants it is used to reference how many people will be seated at the table.

Réserver – To reserve

Combien de temps dure l’attente ? – How long is the wait?

Vous êtes combien ? – How many are in your party?

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For members


How do French Senate elections work?

Senate elections take place in France this week - here's how they work and what French senators actually do.

How do French Senate elections work?

An important election is coming up in France on Sunday, September 24th – although it probably won’t receive heavy media coverage. 

France’s Senate, the upper house of the country’s parliament, will renew half (170) of its 348 seats on Sunday.

However, the general public will not take part in the voting process.

What are ‘indirect’ elections?

Senators are elected ‘indirectly’ – which means that the general public does not choose the candidates or parties, as they would in a direct voting system. Instead, they elect the people who will do the voting.

In France, the voting for senators is up to the country’s grands électeurs (electoral college), which consists of approximately 162,000 elected officials – including elected regional councillors, département councillors, mayors, municipal councillors in larger communes and MPs in the National Assembly. 

Those selected for the electoral college are required to vote, and if they fail to do so they risk a fine of €100. How they vote is entirely up to them (although naturally they tend to vote along party lines). 

Municipal councillors and département councillors made up the majority of delegates (95 percent) of the grands électeurs as of 2023.

The size of the commune determines how many delegates represent it – so for a commune of less than 9,000 inhabitants with a town council of just seven to 11 members, there would be one delegate (member of the electoral college). In contrast, a commune with between 9,000 to 30,000 inhabitants would have all of its municipal councillors (of which there could be between 29 to 35 members) serving as delegates in the electoral college.

How does voting work?

There are two distinct voting methods for electing French senators, and which one is chosen depends on the number of seats to be filled in that département. In départements with one or two senators to be elected, the ‘first-past-the-post’ option is used, meaning voters in the electoral college get to choose a single candidate and the one with the most votes wins.

In départements with three or more senators to be elected, proportional representation lists are used.

In comparison, the lower house of parliament, the Assemblée Nationale, is elected with a direct voting system. The 577 deputés take up five year terms (subject to dissolution).

The different voting methods between the two houses are “to ensure that all the diverse components of French society are represented as fairly as possible.”

The theory being that if your area votes strongly in favour of the centre-left Parti Socialiste then the delegates elected are PS, and they in turn will pick PS senators – so that the overall views of the area are represented in the Senate. 

Senate terms 

Senators are elected to six year terms and are allowed to run for re-election as many times as they like. Many senators serve for a long time – for example, the current president of France’s Senate, Gérald Larcher, was first elected in 1986. 

In the 2020 election, of the 172 renewable seats up for vote, 94 were incumbents, and 78 were newly elected.

How often are they elected?

Senate elections occur every three years, with half of the seats voted on each time. This September, the 170 ‘serie 1’ seats will be voted on. 

You can see where the serie 1 (darker orange) elections are to be held in the map below.

Each département has a different number of senators representing it, which is proportional to the number of constituents who live there – so the city of Paris has 12 senators, the Nord départment 11, and the sparsely-populated département of Lozère just one.

Credit: Senat.Fr

Who are France’s senators?

The average age of senators at the beginning of their term, according to official figures, is 60 years and two months (the minimum age to run is 24).

In total 67 percent (232 senators) are men, with 315 of the 348 officials representing metropolitan France. The remaining 33 represent French overseas territories and departments, and French citizens living abroad. 

The make-up of the delegates tends to over-represent rural areas which means, on the whole, the Senate leans to the centre-right of France’s political spectrum. 

It is usual for the Senate to have a different political mix than the Assemblée Nationale and it has only had a leftist majority once since the foundation of the Fifth Republic in 1958 – for the three-year period between 2011-2014. 

The centre-right Les Républicains party currently holds 145 seats, Parti Socialiste holds 64 seats, and the ‘groupe union centriste’ (a centrist alliance) holds 57 seats.

According to Franceinfo, the party Les Républicains are slated as the favourites to win the most seats during the election on September 24th. Le Figaro wrote that Les Republicains will put up 65 seats during the election, and they hope to maintain at least 60 of those.

What does the Senate do?

The Senate’s job is to review Bills submitted by the government of the day, or by the Assembly. It also watches over the Government to make sure that any enacted laws are implemented properly. Senators can – and do – introduce bills (proposition de loi) of their own, but it is the Assembly that is the real driving force of government.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How does the French Senate work?

The reason that Senate elections don’t get much media coverage is that the power of the Senate is limited – in cases where the Assemblée nationale and the Senate vote differently, ultimately it is the Assemblée nationale which has the final say. 

The senate does have one particularly crucial role, however – the Senate president would take over as Acting President of the Republic in the event of vacancy, incapacity (or death), or resignation of the president. This has happened twice during the Fifth Republic – both times with the same person. Senate president Alain Poher briefly served as Acting president after the resignation mid-term of Charles de Gaulle and the death in office of Georges Pompidou.

The President of the Senate also has the right to designate three of the nine members of the Constitutional Council, serving for nine years.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is France’s Constitutional Council and how does it work?

In terms of compensation, a French senator earns (monthly) €7,493.30, which is made up of a ‘basic parliamentary allowance’ of €5,820.04, a ‘function’ allowance (for other expenses related to the job) of €1,498.66 and a residence allowance of €174.60.