There is much to say about French table etiquette, and I wrote many articles on this blog about this subject.
However, I believe the way French people address the bill at a restaurant requested a bit of attention.
1 – Don’t Talk About Money in France
Talking about money is considered vulgar by French people, so we don’t like to share the bill at the end of a meal.
It’s part of our French politeness to take turn treating friends, and we kind of keep track mentally of who hosted last, who paid for a restaurant etc…
This is especially true if the party is only two people or two couples.
Friends can say it up front:
- “Ce soir, c’est nous qui vous invitons”
(Tonight, it’s on us.).
2 – Do Fight to Pay the Bill
Or, just grab the bill when it arrives. Friends often argue on who will pay the bill, meaning everybody argues that they want to pay the whole bill.
Who is going to pay the bill among French friends is often settled by:
- “Non, j’insiste. Vous nous inviterez la prochaine fois”
(No, I insist. You’ll invite us next time),
- or “Non, non, c’est à notre tour, c’est vous qui nous avez invités la dernière fois”
(No, no, it’s our turn, you invited us last time.)
3 – Be Precise About Your Invitation
Be aware of the difference between:
- “Je voudrais vous inviter au restaurant”
I’d like to invite you to a restaurant – which means the person launching the invitation will pay the whole bill,
- “Vous voulez venir avec nous au restaurant ce soir?”
Would you like to join us in a restaurant tonight?)
Or, more casual:
- “On se fait un resto ce soir?”
Why don’t we eat out tonight?
In both cases, it’s unclear on who is paying.
4 – Yet Sometimes, French People do Share the Bill
These are not rule set in stone. Of course, sometimes French people will share the bill.
Larger tables, younger crowds, friends getting together several times per week, and of course co-workers will tend to share the bill.
In that case, we just say:
- “on partage en” + the number of people who ate.
Let’s share it in… ” X
Or someone will just give the amount in cash they think they are in for…
- “Tiens ; voilà 45 Euros pour Paul et moi”.
Here you go: here are 45 Euros for Paul and me.
Or the person putting the amount together will ask for it
- Donne-moi juste 35 Euros pour Paul et toi: tu n’as pris qu’une salade.
Just give me 25 Euros for Paul and you: you only had a salad.
However, we will seldom go into discussing precisely who had exactly what to calculate exactly how much one should pay. We wing it, round it up…
Sometimes, the waiter will accept that each one pay with his credit card. So, the peson will say: “pour moi, c’était le steak-frite et un coca”… and the waiter will charge his credit card. This has become even easier with the contactless / tap to pay cards…
5 – Do Offer to Invite a Frenchwoman
Now, if you are a man having lunch or dinner (it can be just as friends: it’s not because you have dinner with a woman in France that it’s “a date“), French customs dictate that you pay for her.
This is an old habit though, and the woman could insist that she’d like to pay her part, or even treat her male friend… but let’s say that it is expected for the man to offer, and to insist a bit, even if he could possibly concede at the end.
Some – usually older – men would not have it. I sneaked on my Dad once and pretexted to go to the bathroom but instead went to pay for lunch directly at the register in a kind of fancy restaurant. My Dad was really mad, and made me promise I would never do it again!