What to Avoid in Restaurants in Paris

Nadia Podrabinek Nadia Podrabinek

Written by Nadia Podrabinek

Paris Eiffel tower summer night

Bonjour from Paris! 🇫🇷

Paris, the city of lights, love, and… culinary pitfalls? Yes, you read that right.

While Paris offers exquisite cuisine and charming cafes, it’s also rife with little-known scams that can turn your dining experience into a mess.

But fear not! I’m here to guide you through the top five scams and ripoffs in Parisian restaurants, so your trip remains as delightful as a freshly baked croissant.

Key takeaways for those in a rush

  • Service charge is always included in Parisian bills; tipping is optional.
  • Avoid cafes near tourist attractions; always check menu prices first.
  • Keep your belongings close in crowded cafes to prevent theft.
  • Specify your coffee order to avoid being upsold to more expensive options.
  • Request a “carafe d’eau” for free tap water instead of costly bottled water.

What people say on Reddit

As a Parisian – To complete what people have been saying (100% correct): there very often is a correlation between size and quality in Paris. Small restaurants with no or tiny terrace, a limited number of tables and a reduced choice of plates on the menu, and not necessary on the main streets are often the best warranty for great food. Especially the size of the menu is usually a good guide – the smaller, the more home cooked the food is. And yes, check out for locals!

Even if it not always assures you a great experience 100% of all times, recent stickers of tour guides (Loney Planet, Guide du Routard,.. ) on the doors can help. Not joking and this does not necessarily makes the posts tourists traps, quite the contrary.

And yes, avoid any restaurants in the direct vicinity of tourist areas at all costs – Tour Eiffel, St Michel, Odeon, Notre Dame, Montmartre around the church…most of the time not worth the overpriced menus, and abysmal service. But there are some hidden gems in the side streets 10-15 minutes away.


Just had a 3 day stay in Paris, two of which were dedicated to the major attractions (Louvre, Eiffel, etc). Food was overpriced and underwhelming at most of the places in the vicinity. One day I free styled it around Paris on the metro checking out neighborhoods etc. Best food I’ve ever had. So my tip is to get off the beaten path (as others have said).


I think trusting in review sites is the right answer. That said, I find the constant search for”non-touristy” restaurants in major European cities kind of silly, particularly in Paris. Looking for that local hangout where they hide all the good food isn’t some secret people are keeping. 90% of tourists are looking for that same thing. Just look for good food, no matter what language the menus are in.


And this is why chefs are rated by actual food critics and Michelin Guides and others exist. Like in many touristic cities a lot of “restaurants” are tourists baits, sometimes researching ahead of the trip can really change your experience for the better! There are so many yummy places in Paris it’s a shame you couldn’t experience it


The Tipping Confusion

In Paris, service is always included in your bill. This is a legal requirement. The price listed on the menu and your receipt includes a 15% service charge. If you choose to leave something extra, it’s entirely at your discretion. A typical French tip for a full meal is around 2 to 3 euros, and 1 or 2 euros for drinks. Remember, if a server or a receipt suggests that the tip is not included, they’re playing with interpretations. Service is always included, full stop.

Overpriced Items Near Tourist Attractions

Beware of the big terrace cafes near major tourist spots. They often charge exorbitant prices for basic items. Always ask for the menu and check the prices before ordering. A little vigilance can save you from a shockingly high bill for something as simple as a glass of champagne or an aperitif.

Guard Your Belongings

This tip is more about safety than scams. When dining out, keep a close eye on your belongings. Thieves can be quite brazen in crowded cafes, often targeting unsuspecting tourists. Keep your bag on your lap or securely by your side to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Upselling Tricks

Some cafes might try to upsell you the most expensive coffee or drink when you order something simple. If you want an espresso, make sure to specify it. Otherwise, you might end up paying three to four times more for a drink you didn’t intend to order.

The Water Bottle Scam

In France, tap water is free and safe to drink. If you ask for water without specifying, some restaurants might bring you an expensive bottle of mineral water. To avoid this, ask for a “carafe d’eau” (a pitcher of water), which is free.

Other tips and tricks to avoid scam

Don’t leave your phone unattended on café tables; thieves may use distractions like clipboards to steal them.

– Be cautious of restaurants with people outside trying to lure you in; they might be overpriced or scammy.

– Always ask for a printed purchase ticket at cafes and restaurants to avoid being overcharged.

– Avoid accepting taxi services from individuals approaching you at airports or stations; use official taxi ranks.

– Be cautious of additional charges for using payment methods like QR codes; ask for a standard bill.

– Keep your credit and debit cards secure, preferably in a money belt or similar secure location.

– Be aware of different pricing for drinks depending on where you sit in a café or bar.

– If a server insists on a tip or acts unusually about tipping, consider it a red flag.

– Be cautious of “specials” on menus; they may be significantly more expensive than regular items.

– Use official taxi queues at places like Gare du Nord to avoid overcharging.

– Remember that tap water in Paris is safe to drink and asking for a “carafe d’eau” is a cost-effective choice.

– If you’re offered “eau plate” (still water) or “eau gazeuse” (sparkling water), know that these are usually bottled, thus not free. Always ask for a “carafe d’eau” to get free tap water.

– Tipping isn’t obligatory in France. A 10% tip is common for good service, and a small tip (1-2€) for drinks or 3-5€ for room cleaning is appreciated. However, service is included in the bill, so tipping is more about showing appreciation.

– Once again, always ask for the drink menu before ordering. Some places might serve you the most expensive option if you don’t specify.

– Prices and menus should be displayed outside restaurants by law. Check them to avoid being overcharged.

– Some restaurants might try to charge for “filtered” carafe water. If you want free tap water, specify “carafe d’eau du robinet.”

– Finally, be vigilant but not overly paranoid about scams; they can happen but are not the norm.

What If You’re Scammed?

If you believe you’ve been scammed, there’s an official online form to file a complaint with the French government. It’s available in both French and English.

Do’s and don’ts in Paris


  1. Always start with “Bonjour”: It’s a big deal in France to greet with “Bonjour Madame/Monsieur”. It’s polite and gets things off to a good start.
  2. Try a boulangerie sandwich: Grab a jambon/fromage baguette. It’s a simple, delicious, and affordable lunch.
  3. Mind your escalator etiquette: Stay on the right side if you’re not walking up.
  4. Check out less touristy spots: Like the Tour Saint Jacques or the inside of the Opéra Garnier.
  5. Picnic by the river: Grab some wine, a baguette, and cheese for a sunset chill-out.
  6. Explore early in the morning: Places like Trocadero and Montmartre are quieter and less crowded.
  7. Enjoy the parks: They’re great for relaxing and people-watching.
  8. Try local markets: For fresh food and a real Parisian experience.
  9. Use public transport: It’s reliable and gives you a real feel of the city.
  10. Have a croissant: Because, well, you’re in Paris!

Don’ts in Paris:

bracelet scam
Bracelet scam
  1. Don’t block sidewalks or metro doors: Remember, it’s a busy city with locals rushing about.
  2. Avoid the Eiffel Tower restaurants: They’re overpriced and not worth it.
  3. Beware of street scams: Like the bracelet scam near Sacré Coeur.
  4. Don’t over-tip: It’s not a big thing in France like in some other countries.
  5. Avoid loud and flashy clothes: Parisians tend to dress more understated.
  6. Don’t rush to see everything: Better to enjoy a few places fully than to rush through many.
  7. Watch out for pickpockets: Especially in crowded areas and on the metro.
  8. Don’t speak English without asking first: It’s polite to start with French, even if it’s just a greeting.

Bonus Tips:

The bottom line

Paris is a culinary haven, but like any popular tourist destination, it has its share of pitfalls. Armed with these tips, you can now navigate Parisian dining with confidence.

Enjoy the city’s delightful cuisine without too much worrying of being scammed.

And when in doubt, remember, “When in Paris, do as the Parisians do…”

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