From auberges to restaurants and everything in between, France has a wide variety of places to dine with different offerings, price ranges and atmospheres. This can lead to some confusion, however, if you’re hungry and not sure where to go if you’re looking for a multi-course meal or just a casual bite to eat.
The French café is so ingrained in the country’s reputation that you can hardly imagine France without it! Cafés are often casual neighbourhood hangouts but can also have trendier atmospheres. They mainly serve coffee, of course, as well as tea, hot chocolate and light snacks such as toasted sandwiches. Cafes are usually open from morning (roughly 7 am) until evening. Unlike some other establishments in France, cafés do not close mid-day
If you’re short on time or just not looking for a real-sit down meal, bistros generally offer a casual atmosphere and reasonably-priced, simple fare. They are very popular destinations and so tend to get crowded, but beyond their cramped quarters bistros offer a sampling of some of France’s favourite culinary staples. Many bistros also sell tobacco, lottery tickets and scratch-off games. They tend to be open only during meal hours, meaning from around 11:30 am- 2:00 pm for lunch and 7:30 pm- 11:00 pm for dinner.
Closely identifiable with pub restaurants, brasseries serve traditional French food, coffee and drinks at moderate prices. They offer a wider food selection than bistros and tend to be bustling and serving food all day long, from morning until late at night. As brasserie means “brewery” in French, you can expect a beer and wine selection that will satisfy true aficionados!
While traveling in Lyon, you will undoubtedly encounter the city’s typical bouchons serving the region’s traditional specialties, which tend to be meat-heavy dishes such as sausage, duck pâté and pork. Bouchons are known more for their convivial, lively atmospheres than refined haute cusine, but a hearty meal is guaranteed, usually accompanied by a glass of Beaujolais or Côtes-du-Rhône. Expect opening hours to coincide with meal times (see above).
For a traditional multi-course meal in France, restaurants are your best bet. Most will offer a wide selection of dishes on a prix-fixe menu (with some combination of appetizer, entrée and dessert) as well as an à la carte option. Wine choices and higher-end service are also often emphasized in restaurants. And like bistros, restaurants are usually open only during meal hours(mentioned above), and you may find that many are closed on Sundays or Mondays.
For a rustic family-style meal, an auberge attached to a rural bed-and-breakfast or hotel serves up cuisine that will hit the spot, and an auberge terroir uses certified local ingredients. In both cases, a table d’hôte with limited options is usually offered. Since they are often attached to bed and breakfasts or hotels, auberges will also offer accommodations to their visitors.
Not to worry: this list, though not exhaustive, highlights the major varieties you are likely to encounter while dining out in France.