Gastronomy in France
All you need to know about: the categorizations of restaurants, legal obligations and regulations of restaurants in France, the famous Michelin Guide...
French cuisine: "Fait maison"
The French consumer code obligates French restaurants to indicate whether a dish/meal has been freshly prepared in the restaurant’s kitchen or pre-assembled somewhere else.
A “fait maison” dish must be made on the basis of “raw” materials which have not undergone prior “significant modification”. The state decree gives further details.
The menu will show either the logo or the mention "fait maison" for each dish. If the restaurant only serves home-made dishes, a single statement in the restaurant is enough. This is the case for restaurants where the trader is a restaurateur master (see below).
Professionals who do not offer any home-made dish will however have to remind their customers of the existence of the rule.
Categorization of restaurants in France
France has categorizations for restaurants and places to eat. But when a trader wants to open a restaurant, he/she is not obliged to apply for categorization. The categorization is voluntary.
Different kinds of categorizations are available in France such as the Guide Michelin categorization or the categorization of Gault et Millau. But only one is recognized by the French State. This categorization system is called quality pyramid (“pyramide de qualité”).
This pyramid is made up of 3 levels:
First level: “restaurants where the trader is a restaurateur master" (“restaurant dont le dirigeant est titulaire du titre de maître restaurateur”)
This category is a minimum level of quality to be expected by customers. Since 2007, this status “restaurateur master” is attributed by the French State. A private company certified by the French State conducts an audit. The aim is to verify the conformity of the restaurant with strict specifications. To inform consumers, traders can display a sign at the front of their restaurants. The sign measures 30 cm * 20 cm with the name of the trader, the name of the restaurant and “Maître-Restaurateur”.
Second level: restaurateurs of France (“Restaurateurs de France”)
To get this label, several specifications have to be followed by the trader (concerning booking, welcoming, restaurant room, cleanliness or the bill). This label is recognized by the French State Secretary for Tourism. A private company certified by the French State has to conduct an audit. Controls take place every three years.
A sign is given to the trader when they get the label. They can hang it at the front of their restaurant to inform customers. The trader also gets a quality charter that he/she can display in the restaurant.
At the top: the “Cuisineries gourmandes de France"
The certification “Cuisineries gourmandes” is delivered by an approved certifying organisation after an audit. This audit takes places every year and certifies consumers that the restaurant follows specifications published in the Official Journal of the French Republic. The certification “Cuisineries gourmandes de France” is delivered by the prefect for 4 years. Consumers are informed that the restaurant has the certification with the logo “Cuisineries gourmandes”.
These rules for categorization are determined by professional associations. They are approved by the French State Secretary for Tourism.
In 2005, the French State created the brand tourism quality (“qualité tourisme”). The aim was to create a quality label for professionals who work in the tourism sector. It helps consumers identify which restaurants or hotels propose a high quality level they can trust. It is a national label which is delivered according to strict specifications. The label is given by an approved certifying organisation after an audit. Unforeseen controls take place regularly.
Restaurants engaged in a quality process such as “Cuisineries Gourmandes” or “Restaurateurs de France” can obtain the label “quality tourism” without having to pass any additional audit. Two other associations collaborate with the label “tourism quality”: “Tables et auberges de France” (Restaurants and inns in France) and “Services en tête”. These labels are recognized by the State as well. Restaurants, which obtain one of these are also entitled to the “quality tourism” label.
The "Michelin Guide" and its stars
The “Michelin guide” and the related star ranking system are famous worldwide. Restaurants can apply for categorization to be allocated one, two or three stars.
- 1 star "A very good restaurant in its category"
- 2 stars "Excellent cooking, worth a detour"
- 3 stars "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey"
The category “Bib Gourmand” rates a good cuisine at a reasonable price.
The guide also lists restaurants without any stars or Bib Gourmands. Usually they are rated on the scale of "forks and knives" – a rating given to all restaurants recognized in the Michelin guide, ranging from one to five. One fork and knife stands for a “quite comfortable restaurant” and five forks and knifes for a “luxurious restaurant”.
The Michelin guide is not certified by the State but it is very popular among consumers.
Restaurant obligations and regulations
In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), additional safety and sanitary measures are currently in effect in restaurants: you will need a mask to enter and circulate in the restaurant; you can only take it off at your table. Tables need to respect the social distancing requirements etc. so you may wish to book in advance.
Information about allergens in restaurants in France
In accordance with European regulation 1169/2011, since 13th of December 2014, restaurant owners in France have to inform their customers of the possible presence of allergens (gluten, peanuts...) in their dishes. This information will often not be displayed directly on the menus, rather in a regularly updated document available to the customer indicating the dishes in which these allergens can be found.
Consumption of water in restaurants and cafés
In French restaurants, it is compulsory for the staff to provide water free of charge to the consumers, as long as they order a meal in the restaurant.
However, in a French café or bar, the waiter has no obligation to offer a free glass of water to the customer. Even if it’s served with a cup of coffee, the waiter can charge tap water, but only if the price of this consumption is clearly displayed inside and outside the café.
Taking the rest of your food in a doggy bag is an American custom that’s becoming more and more common in French restaurants. Therefore, if you can’t eat all the food in your plate, feel free to ask for a doggy bag, even if this option isn’t displayed in the restaurant.
However, you should know that the restaurant is entitled to charge you for this doggy back, as packing the leftovers (in a small box for instance) is not included in the meal price. In this case, the customer should be informed of the cost.
By July 1st 2021, in order to fight against food waste, doggy bags will become compulsory. All restaurants and drink outlets will have to provide their customers with a reusable or recyclable possibility to take home their leftovers, if they wish to do so.
All-you-can-eat buffets and offers are excluded from the system. The obligation to offer doggy bags also does not apply to drinks in a container which is subject to a deposit system.
Further information on rights and obligations of restaurants in France (in French) on the government site.