Cafe de la Paix: Have the French Lost their Touch?

Cafe de la Paix, Paris

There is a great misconception of French waiters in this country; the notion that all waiting staff in France are rude and discourteous, which is very much untrue. In England your average waiter or waitress is likely to be a snotty teenager, or at least someone who makes it abundantly clear to you that they do not want to serve tables. That isn’t to say that they don’t do the job well (some of them do) but in France the dynamic of restaurant staff is very different. If you take a trip to Paris you’ll notice that the vast majority of waiters, even in small cafés, are over the age of 25 (many are far older than that), and there is one very good reason for this: being a waiter in France is a professional business. It requires training, maturity and dedication. It is a respected career choice among the French.

At least that’s how it used to be. Being half French I have expected this standard of professionalism in any good restaurant in France, but on a recent dinner at Café de la Paix, a famous restaurant adjacent to the Opera house in Paris, I found myself somewhat disillusioned. The interior is a sight to behold; lavish and palace like decoration lining the walls, with large vaulted ceilings and extremely well dressed waiters, and the food is typically of French high standards. My starter was a delicious, but not too strong (as they sometimes are), Foie Gras and a fillet of beef to follow which was perfectly cooked.

But it wasn’t the food that irked me about the meal, it was the service. It started with the wine being brought long before the food, and once opened, just left on the table for us to serve ourselves. You would expect your wine to be poured for you in any good pub across England, but it seems they don’t have to in one of Paris’ best restaurants. Things got worse when people’s plates were rushed away from them as soon as they’d put their forks down, even before others had finished eating. You’d be reprimanded for this at the family dinner table, let alone a high end dinner destination. The staff were courteous enough, but you did get a strong sense that they didn’t want you to be there, like you were preventing them from going home. It was only about ten thirty. Of course the bill came almost immediately; I’m sure they were only too happy to take our money.

Unfortunately for Café de la Paix, I found that this poor service occurred nowhere else. I went to a lot of small brassières around Paris and the professionalism I come to expect was as fervent as ever. It’s as if that restaurant has run away with its own good reputation and become complacent, and they act like they are doing you a favour when you eat there. You aren’t doing me a favour, I paid you. This entire thing may sound incredibly snobbish, but there are certain things about being French that I like to hold on to and it saddens me to see a traditional characteristic like this fall by the way side. Still, at least the food was tasty.

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