Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five differences between dining in Paris and Prague


With all of their similarities, Paris and Prague go together like café crème with croissants and goulash with beer. Both of these destinations have cobblestone streets perfect for romantic strolls, meandering rivers and excellent public transportation systems. The short flight time between the two cities make them the perfect pairing for a "best of Europe" vacation.

If you're more accustomed to traveling in France, here are some of the differences I've noted between dining in Paris and Prague:

Smoking is still allowed in restaurants. If you would have asked me a decade ago which country I thought would be the last one in Europe to change its smoking laws, I would have answered "France, without a doubt!" But the French, who are the champions of liberty, have restricted smoking to their terraces while it's still permitted inside Czech restaurants. One of the first questions you may be asked upon entering an eating establishment is if you prefer a smoking or non-smoking table. Interestingly enough, some of the pubs obviously cater to smokers by allocating a surprisingly small number of tables for non-smokers. An anti-smoking bill recently advanced in the Lower House of Parliament but it remains to be seen if it will become a law. The Czech Republic is the last EU member to allow unrestricted smoking in restaurants.

Reservations for restaurants and wine bars are highly recommended. "Do you have a reservation?" Even if it's completely empty, this is the very first question that you'll invariably be asked upon entering a restaurant in Prague. If you have a reservation, the host(ess) will smile benevolently before escorting you to your table. A look of consternation will usually pass over their face if you respond in the negative. This is usually because a restaurant will start holding a table for someone hours before the time at which they've actually reserved  it. For example, if you book a table for 9:00pm, the restaurant will place a "reserved" sign on it well before 7:00pm. While the person who reserves knows that they are assured of having a table, this custom has led to some harsh criticism of restaurants on TripAdvisor by tourists who are upset that they aren't given a table in a seemingly empty restaurant. The old adage of "When in Rome" really applies to reservations in Prague. But should you find yourself at a restaurant without reservations, you'll occasionally be given a table after explaining that you won't stay longer than an hour. That way the restaurant is assured that they won't have to be rude by rushing you out the door and that the table will be available at the correct time for the guest who reserved. Because restaurants in Prague don't usually close between lunch and dinner, we've found that it's easier to get a table without reservations during off-peak times.

Bread isn't always free. If you're used to pouncing on the bread basket as soon as it's delivered to your table in Paris, you may want to ask if there's a charge for the bread or other snacks served before your meal in Prague. We've occasionally been surprised by the additional charge, as much as 90CZK ($3.70) per basket in an upscale restaurant.

Tipping in restaurants is customary. Some restaurants include a discretionary tip. If it's not already added to your bill, it's customary to tip 10% in Prague. Rather than leave the tip on the table, which isn't polite in the Czech Republic, ask your waiter to add the tip to your bill when paying by card. If you're paying with cash, tell the waiter the amount that you would like added to the total.

Beer is cheaper than water. It's almost five years later and I'm still reeling from shock at the 12 euros that I paid for my son's beer in the Latin Quarter in Paris. Even though I wasn't much of a beer drinker when we lived in France, the excellent Czech beers have proven to be seductive -- both for their taste and price. Surprised when a French restaurant in Prague charged 39Kč ($1.50) for a pitcher of tap water, I told the waiter that beer really is cheaper than water in the Czech Republic. He agreed. The going rate for a .3L glass of Pilsner Urquell is 29Kč ($1.20). According to French law, a restaurant must provide a carafe d'eau (pitcher of water) free of charge if a customer requests it to accompany his meal.

If you want a truly special non-alcoholic drink, try one of the homemade lemonades. Most restaurants offer some combination of fresh lemon, mint, cucumber, lime and ginger. They're thirst-quenchingly delicious!

One difference that you won't find between Paris and Prague is in the quality of the meals. Stéphane and I have had some truly remarkable dining experiences in Prague, all at a fraction of the cost that we would have paid in Paris. Bon appétit and dobrou chuť!

Edit: Here's another difference that I noted after publishing this article:

Don't be offended when a server in Prague removes someone's empty plate before the other people at the table have finished eating. They're not trying to rush you out the door. They just don't seem to like it when empty plates clutter the table.

V Zátiší's lamb chops crusted with herbs, roasted root vegetables, kale, smoked tomato relish and cucumber-mint espuma was such a tantalizing blend of flavors that I can't wait to return!

8 comments:

  1. Haha, I still remember paying 8€ for a glass of Sprite on the Ile de la Cité back in 2007! Back when I was in Prague, I was told the etiquette was to say the total amount to the waiter e.g. if your bill was 90, say "100" when you give them your money (rather than saying you will tip 10). This is probably the same as what you were saying, but anyway, I found that a fun way to do things so thought I'd mention it :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Gwan! You perfectly conveyed what I was trying to say if someone is paying with cash. When I pay by card, which is most of the time, I ask the server to add 10% because they usually have a tip button on the card machine that saves me from having to do the math in my head. I think I'm going to be shocked by the prices in Paris when I return for a visit in three weeks. Perhaps I should avoid the Ile de la Cité and the Latin Quarter!

      Delete
  2. Thanks. Enlightening, interesting and entertaining.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Vadalia! I'm happy you found the post to be of interest. :)

      Delete
  3. It's always interesting to hear about the quirks of different restaurants...I know I was surprised when visiting California, because most restaurants ask you if you want water because of the drought!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bridget, That must have been a surprise, especially since you're from water-plentiful Minnesota! It seems that they also asked if we wanted glasses of water when we were frequent visitors to CA back in the 1990s.

      Delete
  4. Yes, the smoking. I'm a little bit of a romantic still and the smoking fits into my film noir ideas of bohemia in Paris and Prague. The reality of it though is surprising. I remember eating in some good restaurants last summer in Prague and it didn't really matter which section I sat it, the whole place was smoking, smokey and as an American, it's a hard and surprising adjustment.

    And that lamb dish looks amazing! Yum.

    You're just coming into Spring there. I wonder what the cuisine will be like.

    joseph

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joseph, I know exactly what you mean about liking the idea of hazy, smoke-filled rooms but not the reality! Perhaps we were influenced more than we realize by all the people who smoked during romantic scenes in the films of our youth.

      One of the surprisingly things that I've read is that Czechs don't like lamb but that's probably because it's often overcooked here. The lamb chops at V Zátiší were perfectly pink! :)

      I'm also curious to see what springtime changes there will be to the menus. Soon (I think) it will be the start of asparagus season in Western Europe.

      Delete