There’s no greater pleasure than dining out in Paris, but this can easily get pricey if you’re not careful. Thankfully, there’s a double-priced menu system ingrained in Parisian café culture depending on whether you sit at the bar or at a table. Here’s why you should make like the locals and dine au comptoir.
It’s cheaper to eat at the bar
Ordering to eat or drink at the bar counter isn’t always as comfortable as sitting at a table, mainly because the bar only offers stools, and privacy and elbow room can be limited. Yet this tactic is almost always cheaper in Paris, as it reduces the labour of waiter service. When you want another drink, it simply slides across the counter. The principle also applies to food, as you’ll usually get a couple of euros knocked off just for sitting at the bar. In one of the most beautiful, but also most expensive, cities in the world, a little reduction on the bill can go a long way.
It’s more sociable
The pleasure of sitting at the bar instead of at a table comes down to more than just the cheaper price. The tradition has proudly occupied a space in Parisian café culture for centuries. Some Parisians prefer to dine and drink at the bar because it’s more sociable, and rightfully so. Whether you’re gearing up early before a rendezvous or hanging out with a long-lost friend, you can be guaranteed that the atmosphere will never turn stale. It’s here where you’ll mingle with other drifters – and the bar staff – in a friendly, convivial ambiance. This is what many writers and ‘tumbleweeds’ in Paris have done, drawing inspiration from their chance meetings.
The service is quicker
The au comptoir (‘at the counter’) service allows you to gulp down your noisette espresso – which most Parisians opt for when they need a quick burst of caffeine to kick-start their day – much quicker than elsewhere in the room. It makes sense, as you’re closer to the waiting staff, and to the precious supplies. You’re also closer to the cash register, which helps for a quicker exit if you’re in a rush. If you choose to eat or drink in the salle, then it’s tradition to sit down and wait until a server shows up – however long that may take.
It’s more convenient
Dining in any Parisian restaurant always entails, at some point or another, the labyrinthine quest for the toilets. However, if you’re already stationed at the bar, then generally the toilets are closer. If not, then you have the staff on hand to help you out. The bar is generally the best place to be if you want something – more sauce, more pepper, another fork – and, what’s more, the bar staff will usually agree to charge your phone if you ask nicely.
It’s perfect if you’re nosy
Sitting at the bar counter is great if you’re into gossip, or even just up for practicing your French, as you won’t be able to avoid the conversations of people sitting next to you. The best reason, though, is that you’ll be able to gaze straight into the kitchen, which is where the bar always leads. From here, you’ll have an almost unobstructed view of the chef, and be treated to all the mouthwatering smells coming from within.