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14 Ways to Spend Less on Food and Drink in Paris

14 Ways to Spend Less on Food and Drink in Paris
Ⓒ Provided by Fodor's

By Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey, Fodor's

Paris is many things: always a good idea, the City of Light, and so romantic. But, one thing Paris is not is great for a tight budget. Having called Paris home for the past six years, I have learned a few tricks that allowed me to keep eating—and drinking—without spending a fortune. And you don’t have to be a cheapskate to follow any of these tricks; they simply make economic sense without detracting from your Parisian experience.

Read More: Money Saving Tips as The Holiday Season Approaches

Always Ask for a “Carafe d’Eau”

In Paris, as in the whole of France, tap water is tasty and perfectly safe to drink. Better yet, the tap water is free. Maybe you would not ask for it in your local three-Michelin-star restaurant, but in every other café, bistro, or brasserie, it is the norm to opt for tap water. Ask the waiter for une carafe d’eau, and you’ve saved yourself €15. You can even get endless replacements if they accompany a genuine order.

No Need to Tip

In France, there is no need to tip. It might feel unnatural to visitors from North America, but service charges are already included in your bill, so it is absolutely fine to leave no extra money on the table. That said, a pourboire or tip is always appreciated, so if you were happy with the service, then round your bill up or leave extra. It does not have to be 10% or even 20% of your total bill.

Do Lunch Instead of Dinner

There are so many great restaurants in Paris, and their prices can be truly wallet-cringing. But if your soul yearns for a certain place, you are celebrating a special occasion, or you simply crave something created by a certain chef, opt for lunch instead of dinner. Many fancy restaurants offer special lunchtime menus, which are always cheaper than their dinner options. As long as you don’t mind it still being light outside after your meal, lunch is much easier on your budget.

Drink a Coffee at the Bar

People-watching is one of the best ways to spend time in Paris, and where better than at a café terrace on a bustling sidewalk? But even the smallest cup of coffee can come at a price when you settle down in a prime location. Often it is money well spent, watching the crowds go by. But, inside, at the zinc bar of the café, that’s where you find the real Parisians getting their caffeine. People-watching is still possible, but with a lower price tag. Sitting indoors versus on the terrace can save you money.

Read More: 11 Gorgeous International Vacations That Are Remarkably Cheap

Avoid the Barkers

Paris is full of tourist traps, and some are more easily spotted than others. For example, you have restaurants in places such as Boulevard St. Michel that employ barkers (i.e., people who stand outside and try to convince you to enter). Those restaurants you should avoid at all costs. Not only are they aimed at tourists, but they also charge extra to pay for those barkers. Plus, who wants to eat at a place that is not authentically Parisian?

Choose the Prix Fixe Menu

Not only is eating out cheaper at lunchtime versus having dinner, but the vast majority of restaurants also offer a prix fixe menu at lunchtime. These menus come at a fixed price, set for two or three courses, and you can opt for starter-main-dessert, starter-main, main-dessert, or, I guess, starter-dessert if you so wish. Aimed at local workers, usually provided with vouchers by their employers, these menus are always ridiculously cheap and always the best and tastiest option if you are trying not to spend a fortune.

14 Ways to Spend Less on Food and Drink in Paris
Ⓒ Provided by Fodor's

Go for the Daily Specials

Almost every restaurant in Paris will offer you a daily specials menu in addition to their a la carte menu. Usually written on a blackboard, rewritten every morning, depending on what was fresh on the market that day, the chef prepares something created accordingly. It is not only always fresher than whatever else might be on the menu but is usually cheaper. The only down point is that these options are limited, and if another diner gets their request in before you, it can happen that they have run out by the time you place your order.

Download the La Fourchette

La Fourchette, the Fork, is an app that not only offers discounts on eating out and allows you to book tables in restaurants but which also rates restaurants according to their value for money. Plus, it awards points every time you eat at a restaurant booked through the app, which can be used later for further discounts. So, if you intend to spend a long time in Paris or anywhere else in France and are planning on eating out a lot, this app will certainly allow you to keep the cost down.

Have a Picnic in the Park

When you are out and about in Paris around lunchtime, you will spot people sitting on the grass in parks, dangling their legs toward the Seine on the riverbanks, use the benches provided everywhere, all enjoying a picnic. One of the cheapest ways to eat in Paris is buying a fresh baguette at a boulangerie, a hunk of cheese at the fromagere, and—because you are on vacation after all—a bottle of chilled rose or champagne at the supermarket. Coming in at a fraction of the price of a restaurant meal and providing so much more fun.

Order a Pichet

We established that sitting on a restaurant terrace usually costs a little extra compared to inside, but there are still ways of saving money. When you are enjoying the golden hour in Paris, there is not much better than sipping on a glass or two of wine while watching the world go by. But instead of ordering a bottle of labeled, well-known wine, ask for une pichet de vin, a (small) jug of wine, and you will get a serving of French table wine, which differs from place to place, but is usually very drinkable, and much cheaper than a bottle or wine by the glass.

Visit the Markets

Every morning, except on Mondays, Paris is bursting with food markets at every corner. While these can range from scarily expensive when compared to supermarket items, even if they offer such a better experience, they can allow you to find some bargains. Head to the markets toward the end of the day, i.e., around 2 p.m. when the markets close, and you’ll get great offers with vendors trying to sell their fresh produce often at a price of two or three for the price of one. If you stay in self-catering accommodation, you can secure some good deals. In addition, the markets also tend to have street food stalls, which offer affordable picnic options.

14 Ways to Spend Less on Food and Drink in Paris
Ⓒ Provided by Fodor's

Head to Hostel Bars

Snuggled in beside the fancy, grand hotels of Paris, you will find hostels. Okay, maybe not right next door to the Ritz Paris, but Paris has plenty of good hostels in some great locations, and a fair few of these have onsite bars. Not only can you stay cheaper in a hostel, but you can also drink cheaper. And, as a bonus, you will meet like-minded and equally budget-poor travelers who can share more good money-saving discoveries they have made on their travels.

Bring a Reusable Water Bottle

As mentioned, tap water in Paris is great to drink and is available practically everywhere. Bring our reusable water bottle, and you can fill it up at the historic Wallace Fountains, at more modern dispensers, and you can even find sparkling water on tap, in places such as the Eau de Paris office in 13th arrondissement, in Parc Andre Citroën, or outside the Hôtel de Ville. Once you know what to look out for, such as the dark green Wallace Fountains or the pink or blue modern dispensers, you will see them everywhere.

Eat Local

The best advice to eat better and cheaper is to step at least three blocks away from a major tourist route, heading toward the residential areas. Look at the menu – is it only in French? Stick your head through the door and listen, is it mostly French you hear? Both are good signs for better quality food, better service, and lower prices. The residential quartiers of Paris are studded with often tiny restaurants which rely on the locals, the neighbors who will come again and again, and restauranteurs make sure their food is so good guests will keep returning. Equally they will have prices that don’t scare people away, plus, you will eat in the real Paris among Parisians, rather than next to someone from your home state.

Read More: How to Spend a Day in London for $50 (or Less)

See more at Fodor's

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Travel Magazine: 14 Ways to Spend Less on Food and Drink in Paris
14 Ways to Spend Less on Food and Drink in Paris
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