France has an international reputation for delicacies and fine dining but finding the right restaurant is very important. The best advice for the best cuisine would be to eat where the locals eat as there are many restaurants, brasseries or bistros that serve a virtually standardised menu and could be well below par. Try looking through reliable local guides or try specific local restaurants like "crêperies" in Brittany (or in the Montparnasse area of Paris) or "bouchons lyonnais" in Lyons.
There is lots of ethnic food available throughout France including North African, Greek, Italian and Chinese takeaways and restaurants. If you're feeling like something familiar, hamburger eateries are also available.
Booking in advance is advisable, as it is compulsory in many restaurants. You may be turned away without a reservation even if the restaurant appears to have room. Also, not all restaurants are open for lunch and dinner and some only open at specific times of the year. Weekend dining is near impossible unless you stick to the tourist areas.
When eating out in France, your tip is included in the bill. The breakdown is as follows: 19.6 per cent of the total is tax plus a service charge, usually around 15% is added on top. French people do occasionally leave one or two coins if they are really happy with the service and it is considered an extra tip.
If you want water in a cafe or restaurant, ask for a carafe d'eau otherwise the waiter will try to sell you mineral water (Thonon, Évian) or sparkling water (Perrier, Badoit) at a high premium.
There are two common formats for restaurants, either fixed price menus (prix fixe) or à la carte. Each option in the fixed price menu is comprised of three courses, usually of the following:
1. Appetiser (also called hors d'œuvres or entrées)
2. Main (also called plat)
3. Dessert (typical dessert) or cheese (fromage)
If you do not want the full three courses, some restaurants offer the option of having only two of the three courses at a reduced price.
A French tradition is to finish the meal with coffee. Try to avoid ordering coffee during the meal as it would be considered quite strange.
What makes food in France so interesting is the variety you find as you travel around the country. Each region has its own dishes which differ depending on the kinds of foods that thrive there.
Fondue Savoyarde (in the central Alps)
Hot or melted cheese with alcohol
Choucroute aka sauerkraut (in Alsace)
Stripped fermented cabbage and pork.
Raclette (in the central Alps)
Melted cheese with potatoes or meat.
Fondue Bourguignonne (in Burgundy)
Pieces of Beef in boiled oil served with various sauces.
Boeuf Bourguignon (in Burgundy)
Slow cooked beef flavoured with garlic, onions and carrots and garnished with onions and mushrooms.
Pot-au-feu ("pot on the fire")
Boiled beef and vegetables served with spices, course salt and strong dijon mustard.
Aligot (in Auvergne)
A puree of potatoes mixed with melted cheese.
Gratin dauphinois (in Rhone-Alpes)
Oven roasted slices of potatoes.
Confit de Canard (in Landes and Gascony)
Duck Confit. Consists of duck legs and wings bathing in fat.
Foie Gras (in Landes)
The liver of a goose or duck. Usually quite expensive but is enjoyed by many around the holiday season.
Bouillabaisse (in Marseille and the French Riviera)
Fish and saffron. Requires lots of fish and therefore is a costly dish.
Tartiflette (in Savoie)
Pork or bacon with potatoes and reblochon cheese.
Cassoulet (in the south west)
Duck, beans, pork and sausages.
Photo credit: Flickr's robylab