How to Avoid Food & Restaurant Scams in France

France is universally renowned for its culinary superiority. French chefs, French restaurants, French wine, and French produce is lauded as being pinnacle to which every other country is compared.

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Photo © Getty Images/Bruno De Hogues

As millions of tourists flock to France each year to have the authentic food and wine experience, there are locals who seize the opportunity to make a buck by massively inflating prices, and providing a far-from-satisfactory result.

There are a few tips and tell-tale signs that'll help you navigate away from a tourist trap serving chicken cordon bleu from a frozen food pack, to the French dining experience you imagined.

Prix Fixe Faux Pas - Fixed Price Meals in France

Many Parisian restaurants, especially in the heavily populated tourist areas of the Latin Quarter and Champs Elysee, make a living ripping off tourists who struggle speaking French. The Prix Fixe meal is a set price menu, usually at lunch times, that changes daily. It's a good option for those who can't read French, and therefore have no idea what they are ordering.

Best tip when choosing a prix-fixe meal, point to it on the menu or board and repeat the price. Using eye contact helps as does attempting to use any modicum of French you can.

Even in upmarket "traditional" French restaurants in Paris, a spiteful maitre d' may bring you exactly what you ordered. One traveler reported her very unappetizing experience:

"It could only be described as chunks of semi-raw meat from something or someone that was slaughtered in the kitchen. I gasped when it came out, noted no one in the restaurant had ordered anything remotely similar, and hardly touched it - yet had to pay for it."

Use a French phrase book or app that way you can at least look at the menu and know what each dish is. If you end up with a meal you didn't order, and a bill that far exceeds what you ordered, complain loudly and if that doesn't work, leave without paying.

Beware the Bar Bill in Paris

There are some establishments, especially in Paris, where you don't want to be handing over your credit card and starting a bar tab without seeing a menu or price list.

Be particularly wary of strangers that invite you for a complimentary drink or show at a private club.

One of the worst places for this is the area of Pigalle, where you'll find the famous Moulin Rouge.

Some tourists who have visited or been coerced into the seedy bars in this area have run up exorbitant bar bills without knowing it.

If you visit an "adult show" under no circumstances order a drink for yourself or the workers without seeing the price list first. It is not unheard of to be charged 600 euro ($800) for two drinks. And threats of violence are used to force tourists to pay their bill if they dispute it.

Fake Water in France

If there's a scam to be had, someone in Paris will execute it! While it doesn't appear to be overly widespread, there are reports from tourists in France that the '1 euro only' water that is sold by mobile vendors, can be as dodgy as they come.

A male vendor was seen filling up water bottles he sourced from garbage bins at a nearby fountain in a park near Palais de Chaillot. If in any doubt, buy bottled water from a shop.

And remember Evian spelled backwards is 'naive'!

France's August Shutdown

Most French take the month of August off for their summer holidays. It can be a nightmare time to travel the country as a foreigner as major tourist areas, especially the south of France and the coast, are jam-packed.

Accommodation is booked, prices are high and the traffic is unspeakable. Plus it does leave many smaller stores in the cities closed. Such as the boucherie (butchery), boulangerie (bakery), fromagerie (cheese merchant), boutique wine sellers, and phamercie (chemist).This can make buying food supplies for the day a pain.

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1 Comment

  • Rémi said

    Good article, as in general Paris is no different from any larger towns when it comes to scams. It is so obvious to me as a French that buying the one-euro water bottle is risky, but the same happened to me in Italy.
    As for traffic, avoid the mains road (autobahns) in august is a good tip, secondary routes are usually empty and beautiful.
    But mostly you encounter "real" France when you step out of the main attractions. France is not the eiffel Tower ! It's the lovely corner restaurant where the tennant will be thrilled and friendly if you ask him which local wines are best in his menu.
    (and Are we the yet translates as "Quand est-ce qu'on arrive?" otherwise it's "are we still there")

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