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3 star etiquette and what to expect for us virgins


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Host's Note

There were several etiquette topics running and I've merged them into one here that in time I'll merge with this one as well.

In addition, there's a new book on etiquette that Pti is reviewing for us.

Also, there were several topics running on tipping and I've merged them into this one.

Edited by John Talbott (log)

John Talbott

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I am not running to any 3 stars in the near future but have often wondered about the trays of pre desserts and post desserts, chocolates etc. Those not on a cart but delivered in tins or trays ...how much of that are you expected to eat? In peoples photos it seems like alot is given and I wouldn't expect them to recycle to another table...

tracey

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I am not running to any 3 stars in the near future but have often wondered about the trays of pre desserts and post desserts, chocolates etc. Those not on a cart but delivered in tins or trays ...how much of that are you expected to eat? In peoples photos it seems like alot is given and I wouldn't expect them to recycle to another table...

tracey

If you can't manage it all, ask them to bag it for you for later.

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If you can't manage it all, ask them to bag it for you for later.

Strangely enough, something I would never DREAM of doing in a 3-star. I think asking for uneaten food to be wrapped is crass. I don't expect anyone else to share this view, and I'm not suggesting it's a general rule, but I'd never do it.

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If you can't manage it all, ask them to bag it for you for later.

Strangely enough, something I would never DREAM of doing in a 3-star. I think asking for uneaten food to be wrapped is crass. I don't expect anyone else to share this view, and I'm not suggesting it's a general rule, but I'd never do it.

Me either; that's why I carry two ziplock baggies in my briefcase.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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While no longer a 3 star, I had lunch at Taillevent in July. My wife speaks French, I do not. They gladly spoke French to her and English to me, although they slipped into English with her at times. Everyone was dressed well, pretty much following John Talbott's recommendations above. Everyone else's recommendations above pretty much held true.

I'd like to comment on loud talking. Much of the dining room spoke in ranges from "library normal" up to normal "inside voice" level. However, there was one exception, which allowed us to observe a masterful level of service to the entire dining room.

About 10 minutes after we sat down, a table of four was seated two tables over. One person, I'll call him the Hotshot, was having lunch with 3 associates. It did not seem like a serious business lunch, unlike the two (younger and older) financiers seated directly next to us.

The Hotshot seemed to be a regular because the staff jovially chided him for never having a tie to go along with his jacket. The rest of the party wore ties. The Hotshot ordered the first bottle of wine and conversed at what I'd say ranged from normal up to "bistro" level. This attracted a server who began ot pay fairly close attention to the table. A little while later, a second server hung close, providing solicitous service to the party of four.

As the second bottle of wine arrived, the Hotshot found it unsatisfactory. Monsieur Vrinat and the sommelier arrived. The sommelier tasted and said "that is how it should be" but offered to bring another bottle, which the Hotshot accepted. M. Vrinat remained at the table, chatting with the group, but standing behind the Hotshot's chair for the remainder of the meal. Three other servers stood close by, but not too close, and the Captain dropped in occassionally to engage with the M. Vrinat and the rest of the group.

At no time did it ever look like the staff was threatening, nor did the table perceive it that way.

What was clearly happening, however, was that the staff and owner were "managing" the table by engaging them to insure that they never got too loud. They wanted to guarantee that the rest of the diners were not disturbed, and it worked very well indeed.

My wife and I remain convinced that the Hotshot thinks that he gets great service--he even gets to talk to the owner!!--every time he goes there. In fact, he does, but so do the other diners via the staff's controlling of the situation.

This prevented M. Vrinat from making the rounds of the dining room. However, he made sure to follow us out and thank us for coming as we left.

Finally, the payoff to this long-winded story that I've been dying to tell for months.

There are a few lessons here: First, at such high levels of service (3 star or not), the staff insured that a potential problem was diffused before it happened. Second, there was no unpleasantness for anyone involved. The problem table didn't even knowing that it was being "managed." Third, the other diners either didn't notice, or, like us, were terribly entertained by witnessing such a brilliant use of good service to keep the situation under control.

The final lesson is to go and have a good time. Even if you do something egregiously incorrect (which is unlikely, since you care enough to ask questions in advance) the staff will likely make it seem like nothing even happened. Enjoy!

Good wine is a necessity of life for me. --Thomas Jefferson

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Dare I say it? Don't take pictures of your food!

In fairness click here for a discussion of this somewhat controversial topic.

Chaque un a son goût as they say.

That's interesting.... If I was someone working at the restaurant I would feel very privileged/honoured to have photos taken.

You'd think so, especially by bloggers who will disseminate your great looking food widely, but three of us have had unpleasant experiences lately with refusnik chefs/waiters.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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I always check with the restaurant before I arrive what their policy is on the use of cameras - it saves any unpleasantness if they don't allow them. Don't be put off taking photos (if permitted) if you want to. It's not for others (unless they own the place) to impose restrictions on you.

...and as others have said, enjoy yourselves!

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Three cheese pieces each person, live it up!

I think if you see more than three that you'd like, certainly ask for them. If you'd like to try a larger number, you might ask for smaller pieces, just so you don't leave a lot of cheese on your plate, but I'm not sure that's particularly necessary. One thing to remember is that they aren't going to serve what's been started and not finished on the cart for the next meal, so you'd might as well -- this is especially true at lunch where you're likely to be the only cover for the table for the afternoon. I think this holds for dessert as well. I was at Guy Savoy for lunch a few years ago, and our waiter kept asking us if we'd like anything else from the trolley.

"Well, what else have you got?"

Eventually we left because they ran out of choices :)

One other thing about cheese: if you're mostly speaking English, but you know the names or regions of cheese, by all means try to use the food-French that you know: your server might not translate them very well or be able to describe them, but will know how to compare to other cheeses you might know.

My gf and I had the 90E lunch (we each picked one of the two choices, so we ate everything they had!) at Le Bristol today and I'm still in a coma. Not much to add: the room is handsome, the food was over the top delicious and beautiful, and the service was as-you'd-like-it. I didn't know that it opened at 12:30, and we showed up about 10 minutes early (it started to rain, so we zig-zagged to the hotel); we had a glass of bubbles at the bar while we waited, and you could do a lot worse than to spend half an hour sitting at that bar!

One last tip: our waiter asked if we wanted English or French menus, and if you're still learning, ask for one of each -- I find that the translations are interesting sometimes, and often pick up on subtle ingredient, presentation, or technique differences. They were happy to give us one of each today, and there were indeed differences worth noting ...

Edited by jmhayes (log)
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With the cheeses, I assume it is ok to ask the server to select an assortment for you? Or is this merely cowardice on my part or an obvious attempt to hide my ignorance of fine cheeses other than I know I like them all?

Holly Moore

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With the cheeses, I assume it is ok to ask the server to select an assortment for you?  Or is this merely cowardice on my part or an obvious attempt to hide my ignorance of fine cheeses other than I know I like them all?

It is totally ok to ask for help. But you might want to provide a little direction, such as asking for regional cheeses that they are especially proud of, perhaps in a range of sharpness.

Also, I hate to say this, but showing absolutely no preference might tempt someone to unload cheese on you that hasn't been moving.

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With the cheeses, I assume it is ok to ask the server to select an assortment for you?  Or is this merely cowardice on my part or an obvious attempt to hide my ignorance of fine cheeses other than I know I like them all?

You can certainly ask them to choose, but in an effort to serve you better, they'd probably like to know your tastes in cheese - even if it's the case that you want to stick to the kinds you like, or to try others. So you can tell them "I want to try all the stinky cheeses you have", or "I don't like soft cheese, but would you suggest three hard ones", or any permutation. And if you defer and suggest "could you serve me the three you think are most interesting from your cart?", you'll get an explanation of the cheeses, and probably a good variety.

But you shouldn't be afraid to ask.

I have met with snooty and condescending answers in three-star places, even speaking French and giving away enough clues that I know which end is up when it comes to fancy food and fine dining, but let's assume that the OP has chosen wisely and that this is not gong to happen. But very sadly, it is a part of the three-star experience sometimes.

Can we ask roosterchef21 where he's planning to lose his 3-star virginity?

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Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

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One thing to remember is that they aren't going to serve what's been started and not finished on the cart for the next meal, so you'd might as well -- this is especially true at lunch where you're likely to be the only cover for the table for the afternoon.

In my experience, that's not true at all. Cheese platters are eternally evolving, and they leave the small cuts of the previous cheese; like it or not, you're not helping them "finish" something they would otherwise throw out!

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One thing to remember is that they aren't going to serve what's been started and not finished on the cart for the next meal, so you'd might as well -- this is especially true at lunch where you're likely to be the only cover for the table for the afternoon.

In my experience, that's not true at all. Cheese platters are eternally evolving, and they leave the small cuts of the previous cheese; like it or not, you're not helping them "finish" something they would otherwise throw out!

I agree.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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With the cheeses, I assume it is ok to ask the server to select an assortment for you?  Or is this merely cowardice on my part or an obvious attempt to hide my ignorance of fine cheeses other than I know I like them all?

You can certainly ask them to choose, but in an effort to serve you better, they'd probably like to know your tastes in cheese - even if it's the case that you want to stick to the kinds you like, or to try others. So you can tell them "I want to try all the stinky cheeses you have", or "I don't like soft cheese, but would you suggest three hard ones", or any permutation. And if you defer and suggest "could you serve me the three you think are most interesting from your cart?", you'll get an explanation of the cheeses, and probably a good variety.

But you shouldn't be afraid to ask.

I have met with snooty and condescending answers in three-star places, even speaking French and giving away enough clues that I know which end is up when it comes to fancy food and fine dining, but let's assume that the OP has chosen wisely and that this is not gong to happen. But very sadly, it is a part of the three-star experience sometimes.

Can we ask roosterchef21 where he's planning to lose his 3-star virginity?

It depends. If we get into El Bulli, we will probably start there and work our way around otherwise Louis XV. I wouldn't mind getting into L'Astrance, Pierre Gagnaire, Mugaritz or Le Pre Catelan for dinner and any of the above plus Guy Savoy for lunch.

I am definetely going to try Nicholas Le Bec as a 2 star place. Love the look of his menu!

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Is it not fair to say that, as regards dress and general atmosphere, there's a difference between Paris restaurants and country restaurants? We recently spent a (wonderful) four days at Michel Guérards Les Prés d'Eugénie, and there was barely a tie to be seen in the dining room - except on staff members. On the first night, even I (someone who wears ties to pizza parlors) yanked mine off and stuffed it into my pocket - which still left me in one of the few suits in the place (the maitre d'hotel himself was in a sports jacket).

On cheese (in country restaurants), I'd get even more specific than the "regional" rightly recommended by Nibor - ask for *local* cheeses. Whether they're predominantly cow, goat, sheep or a mixture will depend on where you are. Their name will often be just "cheese", which I think is rather wonderful nowadays.

A similar approach can yield excellent and interesting results with wine, by the way; the restaurant will almost certainly do business with local winemakers, as they will with local dairymen. Ask for something from the neighborhood that you're unlikely to have heard of, much less drunk, back in the US. This will probably also save you money: in my experience, given that kind of request, wine waiters in *** restaurants are more likely to down-sell than up-sell.

The general thrust of this thread is spot on: you will be made to feel at your ease. There may be exceptions to this, of course, but even when my wife and I were in our twenties, taking the bus from Lyon to Mionnay and very obviously out of our financial depth, we were always treated with a warmth and kindness that we remember to this day.

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you're not helping them "finish" something they would otherwise throw out!

I think I can count my 3-star experiences on my hands (maybe even only one hand and a thumb, lemme think ...), but I don't think I've ever walked into one near the start of the day and seen a cheese cart with anything other than "new" pieces on it. I don't know what they do with the pieces from the previous meal that have been tasted from (that is: I'm not saying they throw them out), but I haven't seen them bring it out the next day or something.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying there's something wrong with cheese with tastes taken out of them; send them my way everytime! :) I just don't think limiting yourself if what you want to do is try a bunch of cheeses is in line with "have fun! you're paying for it!" ...

Edited by jmhayes (log)
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