What Happens When a Paris Restaurant Runs Out of Baguette

eating at a restaurant with slow service in Paris

Smiling now. It would be a good hangry hour before we ate…

I lived Paris for a year and a half after school. It’s only been a week since we moved back: How much about this place could really come as a surprise?

A lot. That was 10 years ago, back when I was a laid-back Cali college student. Before I turned 30 and became a pain-in-the ass, high-maintenance New Yorker.

I’d always appreciated the fact that French servers don’t rush you through your dinner, like so many places do in New York, where they’re trying to turn over the tables as fast as they can to squeeze out an extra buck. I don’t blame them. But it is nice to enjoy a leisurely meal without a server hovering.

Except if…

That time mostly involves hangrily waiting to eat. I don’t do well with hunger. At brunch this weekend, we at about 2pm, after running in Montmartre. I was HUNGRY. There were just six other tables…and five people working the kitchen. Shouldn’t be a problem to sit down for a quick lunch, right? One hour later…

You find out you can’t eat because…bread. By 3 pm, we had received no more on the menu than our coffees. No food. And we hadn’t seen our server in at least 30 minutes.

Turns out, she (who, I have to note, was very nice…just a little scattered) was hiding in the kitchen. We found this out when she finally emerged to serve a dish to the table next to us and we waved her over. She explained that she had not forgotten us. But the restaurant was…gasp!…out of bread!! And so they couldn’t serve us any part of our meal. At all. Instead, we had to wait until one of the cooks got back from some boulangerie, where she did not know, with baguettes. (Which is probably actually code for: He’s out back smoking. Chill you crazy American.)

You leave because you think your meal is over. But wait…it’s not! We finally did get our food at 3:15 pm (a big platter of dips and—yes—bread).

brunch at Montmartre

Nearly an hour after we finished eating, I was tired. So around 4:15pm I decided to head back to the apartment. But on my way home, I got a text from my husband: There’s more food!

We had waited for so long I just assumed that the five-course lunch we’d ordered was all on the big platter we’d finished an hour ago. But we still had our main course, a hearty egg dish, to go! Never one to leave food hanging, I beelined back to the restaurant to finish what we had started. I was glad I did: It was delish. In fact, all of the food was delish–which redeemed the service.

egg brunch at Montmartre Paris

The waiter “doesn’t see” you. This is a favorite French tactic, which happened both other times we went out to eat last week. You try to wave the server over, and they look RIGHT AT YOU. But it’s just for a millisecond, before they’re somewhere else talking to someone else (or looking at their phone). This might happen two or three times before they acknowledge you exist.

Or…s/he simply forgets you. Even then, even when you’ve finally gotten your server’s attention and they wave to say they’ll be there in a sec, they don’t come over. So…back to the I-don’t-see-you game.

Water comes only after dessert. Sometimes you do get your food promptly—but then you don’t have anything to wash it down. Even when you’ve asked for water three times. By the time it comes…you’ve already finished your last dish.

To be fair, it’s not like this in all restaurants. We went to a couple with excellent service and delicious food.

We started discussing, while we were waiting to eat…what could make French service better? Electronic menus! Just think: If you could order on an Ipad, waiters would have more time to serve. But then…all of the waiters would totally go on strike because their work was being outsourced to technology. And how could French waiters pass up an opportunity for a good #greve?? Then when they’re on strike…no one eats.

Le sigh. For now, I’ll just remember to bring my own baguette to the restaurant next time.

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