Ten Lessons American Restaurants Can Learn From European Restaurants (And Vice-Versa)

July 14, 2014 | By | COMMENTS

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Now that I’m back from my Europe trip, I’ve had some time to synthesize my experiences eating at nice restaurants in four different countries (Scotland, England, France, and Germany). Coming from Los Angeles, where the restaurant scene is as vital as anywhere else in the U.S. right now (possibly the world), it felt a bit like stepping into a history book; or, to put it another way, like watching a bunch of classic movies after a Quentin Tarantino marathon. There’s no question that America is setting the trends these days; the hottest restaurants in Paris are all popular because they’re considered “Très Brooklyn.” What, then, might a modern American restaurant have to learn from a modern European restaurant? Here’s my attempt to answer that question with a list.

Ten Lessons American Restaurants Can Learn From European Restaurants

1. Let us linger.

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Getting a table at a restaurant in Europe is almost like getting a hotel room; you’re going to be sitting there for a long time. At first, I had a hard time with the laid-back European-style service; we might be sitting for ten minutes, or so, before a server might come to the table. Then I began to relish the fact that restaurants in Europe not only want you to stay a long time, they expect you to stay a long time. Especially at the end of the meal; flagging down a server for a check is almost like trying to conjure a spirit at a seance. Lots of luck to you. But lingering, it turns out, is a real pleasure–more like being at someone’s house than at a place of business. So now when American restaurants attempt to shoo us out the door, I’ll harken back to those happily endless meals on the other side of the Atlantic.

2. Apéritifs, Not Cocktails.

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American cocktail culture has graduated to the point now where, at the start of almost any meal, you’re offered a cocktail list featuring drinks made with jalapeno-infused green chartreuse or elderberry-scented gin. The problem with that is that these drinks don’t necessarily whet your appetite. They often take you in a direction that has nothing to do with the meal you’re about to eat. In Europe, I noticed, most places don’t have a cocktail list; they simply ask, at the start of the meal, “Would you like an apéritif?” This most often means something dry–like a glass of champagne or a glass of Muscat d’Alsace (which I drank in Strasbourg)–a drink that doesn’t overstimulate your palate but gets you primed for the meal to come. It’s much simpler and smarter and, often times, cheaper than the barrage of cocktails we’re subjected to in the States.

3. Don’t make a big deal about offal.

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When a chef serves offal at a restaurant in the United States, he or she gets branded the “offal” chef, the restaurant becomes known for its “nose to tail” dining. In Europe, offal is greeted with a shoulder-shrug. Like when I ate that haggis-cake you see above at The Dogs in Edinburgh, I made a big fuss asking the waitress about it–”Is it really lungs? Liver? Kidneys? What goes in it?”–and she looked at me like I was crazy. “It’s good,” she said, bluntly. “You’ll like it.” And I did like it and didn’t think twice about what I was eating. The lesson seems to be if you just put all the parts of the animal on a plate and don’t hang a lantern on it, people will eat it and enjoy it without making a big deal about it.

4. Good butter.

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If I could sum up in two words what makes European food better than the food you get in America, it’s “good butter.” American bakers know, when making a French pastry, to seek out butter with a higher fat content to replicate the results you get overseas. But even sitting down at a restaurant for dinner in Europe, the butter they put on the table for the bread is so much better than what you get here, it could easily spark another American revolution. Slowly, as American food culture progresses, we’re starting to see better butter on our dinner tables. But it’s not the norm, as it is in Europe, and it should be. Good butter makes everything better.

5. Utensils can be fun.

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When I ordered the famous bone marrow dish at St. John, the waitress brought me out the utensil you see above, an instrument built specifically for scooping the marrow out of a marrow bone. Was it entirely necessary? Well, it made the job easier, that’s for sure. But also it added to the ceremony of the dish, and that’s something you don’t see a lot of in America. Another example: the rice pudding at Chez L’Ami Jean came with a big wooden spoon for doling it out.

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Turns out the utensil can be part of the pleasure of consuming a dish.

6. Serve a bonus side.

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It first happened in Edinburgh, at a place called 21212. My Chinese chicken dish came out and along with it came a little saucer and ramekin filled with a concoction that reflected what was on my main plate. It wasn’t a side dish, it was more like a separate dish with echoes of the main dish I was eating. Then, it happened again in Strasbourg at Buerehiesel:

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The lobster dish that I ate with white asparagus came with a bonus side of some kind of lobster soup; again, not a side dish, just something to enhance what was happening on the main plate. It’s a way to keep things interesting without diverting too much from the theme. America, take note.

7. Brown sauce is king.

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My first taste of a really good brown sauce, this trip, was at Restaurant Miroir in Paris and it was the veal dish you see above. There’s a reason that sauce-making is considered the most fundamental part of classic French cuisine; it elevates whatever’s on the plate to the realm of the divine. As I continued eating my way around Europe, there was no question that brown sauce–more than any other sauce–put all other sauces to shame. (And by brown sauce, I’m talking the stuff you make with veal bones that eventually becomes demi-glace if you reduce it.)

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The lesson is clear: bow down before brown sauce.

8. Don’t just use seasonal, local ingredients; use the best.

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It’s easy to forget, when shopping locally and seasonally, that just because the time is right to buy asparagus, the asparagus you’re holding in your hand may not be worth buying. What made our dinner at Le 6 Paul Bert in Paris so compelling was that the ingredients weren’t just local and seasonal, but they were also the very best of their kind. The berries and cherries in this dessert were Garden of Eden good:

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As were the carrots you see above them; and that’s an important lesson because most of us are happy to buy things when we see them pop up (finally) at the market. Europeans know that’s not enough; only buy them when they’re at their very best.

9. A good condiment goes a long way.

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When this giant plate of meat arrived at Chez Yvonne in Strasbourg–a giant plate of meat known as Choucrute Garni–there wasn’t a brown sauce to top it. Instead, there was this little condiment on the side:

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A powerful mound of horseradish that transformed each bite of meat into something way more exciting. Turns out, a good condiment is sometimes all you need to take a dish to the next level. Like the oxheart and chips that I ate at St. John; it came with a house-made ketchup which pushed everything over the edge:

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Or, perhaps most obvious of all, the mustard they serve with sausages in Germany:

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Germans take their condiments really seriously. For example, only use the sweet mustard on the white sausage. Or is it the dark sausage? Ack: hope no Germans are reading this.

10. Bring back the cheese cart.

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It’s dramatic. It’s elegant. It’s perhaps a breeding ground for bacteria, but let’s not worry about that. When I finished my entree at Buerehiesel, a waiter arrived pushing the giant cheese cart you see above and it was like the restaurant was throwing me my own personal parade of fermenting milk solids. And yes, I’m aware that many classic French restaurants in America do have cheese carts (like Daniel, for example) but my suggestion is that it shouldn’t just be the restaurants at the tippy top. Cheese carts are likely to make everyone happy; let’s see more of them in the future, please.

* * * * *

Now, as a quick corollary to my post, here are…

Five Things European Restaurants Can Learn From American Restaurants

1. Give people water without asking.
Oh my God; I was so dehydrated in Europe. What’s the deal with European restaurants not offering you water? Everywhere I went, I’d sit down and wait for the water to arrive and it never did. Inevitably, if I asked for it, a giant glass bottle would appear on the table and we’d be charged 3 Euros. America has lots to recommend it, but my #1 favorite thing about living here is that we drink lots of water and most of it is free.

2. Bring the heat.
Dear Europe, there’s this new plant they discovered with little green and red things growing on it–they’re called chiles–and if you add them to your food they make it spicy! It’s delightful. And while that horseradish condiment was certainly a nice dose of heat, that was the only example of spiciness I experienced my entire three weeks on your continent. Imagine how fascinating it might be to incorporate a splash of Tabasco or Sriracha into one of those classic dishes that made you guys famous in the first place. So go ahead and get a little spicy. Don’t be scared. It’s worth it.

3. Innovate.
To be fair, I didn’t really seek out the restaurants in Europe that are on the cutting edge–I was more interested in sampling the old school sauces than anything inspired by El Bulli–(apologies to Heston Blumenthal). That said, the typical restaurant I visited in Europe was still playing with the tried-and-true formulas that have been passed down for centuries rather than breaking the mold and reinventing the form. American chefs, on the other hand, are nothing if not innovators. From the seaweed tofu beignets here at Alma in L.A. to the legendary Cronut in New York, Americans are constantly pushing the envelope, taking chances, shaking things up. It’s something for you to think about, Europe.

4. Not so formal.
One of my friends in Europe told me a story about going to a restaurant where he and his boyfriend ordered a bottle of wine; when the boyfriend went to pour himself a second glass, a waiter charged over, grabbed the bottle out of his hand, and poured it for him. That would never happen in America, but in Europe these things are taken more seriously. Even though much of the service I had in European restaurants was casual and relaxed, there was often a formality to it that was highly unnecessary. It’s OK to loosen up a little.

5. Bring the check already.
OK, I know I started this whole post talking about how Europeans like to linger, but really… we’ve been at this table for almost three hours. Can I have my check please? Pretty please? Really, it’s time to go.

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Categories: Lists

  • Andrew Gordon

    The water thing is the worst. When I was in Brussels last summer it was extremely hot out and there was never enough water at the table. Free tap water is the best thing about America (or Canada, in my case).

  • Denise MHMc

    I’ve been in Buenos Aires for the last 10 days and I must say that your post today could also refer to BA restaurants! Of course BA is highly influenced by Germany, France and Italy…

  • Denise MHMc

    I’ve been in Buenos Aires for the last 10 days and I must say that your post today could also refer to BA restaurants! Of course BA is highly influenced by Germany, France and Italy…

  • Roberto Jose Burnett

    For your next European foray go farther east – I just came back from 10 days in southern Poland in mid-May and my-oh-my, the game meats, the bread and oh yes – the BUTTER! So creamy delicious smooth – why oh why do we not have those delightful butters of the continent?!

  • Roberto Jose Burnett

    For your next European foray go farther east – I just came back from 10 days in southern Poland in mid-May and my-oh-my, the game meats, the bread and oh yes – the BUTTER! So creamy delicious smooth – why oh why do we not have those delightful butters of the continent?!

  • Adrian Reynolds

    And the whole service charge/servizio incluso thing vs tipping in the U.S….I prefer it being included.

  • http://lettersfromtheline.wordpress.com/ Letters From The Line

    During my travels abroad I’ve gotten lackluster service when the gratuity is included. Maybe because we’re obviously tourists or my expectations are different, but it’s almost as if they don’t need to work for a tip they know they’re going to get regardless of their performance. And I hate how you have to pay to sit out on the patio! Aside from that, I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. Get out of my brain!

  • limric

    Re: #5 in the first list. If you look closely at the long skinny utensil you will see that it is etched with a lobster. These are actually seafood picks/forks–but good to know that they work for marrow as well! Wonderful posts of your trip. Thanks

  • limric

    Re: #5 in the first list. If you look closely at the long skinny utensil you will see that it is etched with a lobster. These are actually seafood picks/forks–but good to know that they work for marrow as well! Wonderful posts of your trip. Thanks

  • limric

    Re: #5 in the first list. If you look closely at the long skinny utensil you will see that it is etched with a lobster. These are actually seafood picks/forks–but good to know that they work for marrow as well! Wonderful posts of your trip. Thanks

  • Anonymous

    Tipping has actually very little to do with quality of service. My guess is you just ate at bad restaurants.

  • http://lettersfromtheline.wordpress.com/ Letters From The Line

    Not through any scientific experiments, but I think the quality of service goes down the closer you get to tourist ‘traps.’ La Rambla in Barcelona for instance was a case of poor service, however a few blocks north we had wonderful meal with great service. Some places felt like we were family and others almost as if we were inconveniencing them with our presence. They can’t all be winners.

  • cybercita

    I had the same problem in Belgium with water, and was told by the waitstaff that the tap water there is so bad that no one drinks it.

  • Lindsey

    Someone told me to make a point to learn how to ask for a carafe of tap water in the local language, and more often than not I got one! Didn’t work everywhere, but most times it was great.

  • Lindsey

    Someone told me to make a point to learn how to ask for a carafe of tap water in the local language, and more often than not I got one! Didn’t work everywhere, but most times it was great.

  • Lindsey

    Someone told me to make a point to learn how to ask for a carafe of tap water in the local language, and more often than not I got one! Didn’t work everywhere, but most times it was great.

  • Sarah Rosenthal

    Don’t forget the pricing! When i lived in Germany, my Dad and I frequented this this Chinese place- they always remembered us just bc we rounded up to the nearest total ending in -5 for the bill. We had many a 3 course meal 20 euros. Tax, tip, it includes everything. take that, the $9.99 special, Ruby Tuesday.

  • Julie

    ME TOO! So true.

  • Julie

    I heard this as well.

  • Kirsten | My Kitchen in the Ro

    I like it more formal. I like my water without ice. I don’t want to see a check before I ask for it nor am I interested in my waiters private stories. Yes, sweet mustard is served with Weisswurst. Yes, I am German And we are World Soccer Champions! :)

  • Kat

    I totally agree about the water thing! I’m someone who never leaves home without a water bottle, so it is off-putting that water is never free in European restaurants. In Paris especially, they give you the Evian and charge you upwards of 5 euros for it. At that point, I would rather order wine. Once in Rome, I had the audacity of specifically asking for tap water. The waiter resisted or a while, before eventually getting me the tap water accompanied by a dirty look…and then was nowhere to be found for the rest of the meal. Sigh…

  • Charlotte

    I live in Paris – tap water is always free by law in France, just ask for ‘un carafé d’eau’. You can also ask for a glass of water in addition to your coffee, or other drink for free.

  • Charlotte

    “carafe” sorry!

  • Ollie

    I live in Berlin and the water thing drives me insane. It is normally cheaper to get a beer, glass of wine, or a soda than a bottle of water. And if you are bold enough to ask for tap water, you get a crazy look back and end up with a small glass of water, no carafe or anything. Yet everyone drinks the tap water at home. Also, side note about this water thing: even my gym didn’t have a water fountain.

  • http://www.pinoymatters.com Desiree Munoz

    The water! We eat out and will be charged 7 euros for a big bottle of water (to share) in Belgium. Urrrrrgh! But water is free when eating out in France, they put a cold carafe of water on the table each time.

  • http://www.pinoymatters.com Desiree Munoz

    The water! We eat out and will be charged 7 euros for a big bottle of water (to share) in Belgium. Urrrrrgh! But water is free when eating out in France, they put a cold carafe of water on the table each time.

  • Mia

    We don’t want these things you suggest for Europe!! We don’t want the check without asking for it!! We like it the way it is!! We actually don’t like the standards in USA: beer with an ice in it(!!), that the waiter bother us 100 times asking “Are you ok?” etc.

  • Galina Danard

    I am totally agree with Charlotte: some restaurants are trying to get a bit more money from the visitors by not serving the simple (free) water from the very beginning (quite doubtful as a commercial strategy, but that’s their choice). But the French law obliges them to bring you as much of free water as you wish – if you ask for it. So don’t hesitate and ask for “carafe d’eau” [kar'a:f do:] as many times as you need, wherever you are in France.

  • http://www.mytravelingjoys.com/ My Traveling Joys

    Absolutely loved the French butter and the cheese cart on our 2 recent trips to Paris and Provence! And it’s just as difficult to get the check here in Poland. Servers simply forget about you! :-)

  • Tookl

    ” What is with it”is that most people don’t drink tap water at all in Europe. When i’m in Paris i get the water delivered in bottles to my apartment.

  • Tookl

    ” What is with it”is that most people don’t drink tap water at all in Europe. When i’m in Paris i get the water delivered in bottles to my apartment.

  • http://www.platefodder.com/ Toby@Plate Fodder

    I’ve never understood North America’s rabid fascination with having a water trough at the table, some cultures just don’t drink it. But really, that goes with all the “be more like us” items. If you want Europe to be more like Des Moines – stay in Iowa, eat at Chez Whatever, and be happy.

  • Anonymous

    All French restos will bring you a carafe of tap water,free , they are required to by law.

  • Natasja

    As mentioned by others, in most European restaurants you’ll get free tapwater if you ask for it…sometimes a carafe, sometimes a tiny glass…but, as mentioned before too, in a lot of countries people prefer to drink bottled water, even at home.

    I agree on the whole “bring the check” thing and if it takes too long I’am always tempted to leave ‘movie-style’…just throw some bills on the tabel and leave…
    And I don’t like to wait too long for my first waiter-contact when I get in either. Greet me, seat me and take my drinks order…after that I’m all good.

  • Lauren Aloise

    Totally agree about the things European restaurants can learn– especially the water and innovation! There is a disease here in Madrid to copy certain trendy dishes (tuna tartar, prawn carpaccio, carrot cake…) that drives me insane, especially since NO ONE seems to actually nail it. But I do love the lingering here…

  • Anonymous

    Nobody I know puts ice IN their beer. They may put the bottles ON ice (to make it cold), but never in the beer.

  • Mia

    I’ve been living in Florida for almost 3 years, and EVERYWHERE we got a pitcher of beer with sack of ice IN IT!!! Just horrible..

  • Mia

    Plus, we don’t want to tip if we don’t like the meal or service. We decide, if we do tip or not.

  • Kitty

    I read an article once that said the reason why Europeans brought bottled water when asked for water is the fact that they feel their food is much more worthy of a glass of tap water. They feel it’s impurities would ruin the taste of their food. It is usually a spring water they bring and it can be ordered with gas or without. Meaning a seltzer vs a non seltzer. You can ask for tap water, but the waiter will show disgust when you do. And very reluctantly bring you tap water.

  • Kit

    I read an article one time that stated that European brought bottled water to the table when asked for a glass of water. It stated that they felt that the food they were serving was way to worthy of tap water. They felt it’s impurities ruined the taste of the food they had so lovingly prepared. They felt the bottled spring water was so much better on the palate. Most prefer the gassed water (seltzer) to clean the palate between bites. You can ask for tap water. It very well might warrant a very dirty look from the waiter. And reluctantly they will bring you one.

  • Anonymous

    Mia, I seriously have never heard of this practice. That is a weird thing to do. Where in FL are you?

  • Tina Richmond Hudelson

    Actually, I’ve had pitchers of beer in Florida that have a central compartment with ice in it. Never just ice floating like you would in a soda, but like a core of ice to keep it cold. That’s fine with me, just don’t put ice floating in it to dilute it!

  • Anonymous

    Well that would make sense since FL is hot and often bars are open air or not air conditioned, but I think they meant ice right in the beer.

  • Anonymous

    Well that would make sense since FL is hot and often bars are open air or not air conditioned, but I think they meant ice right in the beer.

  • Stef

    I’m Italian but now I’m living in NY. I think the worst things in Italian (or French, I love also French cuisine) restaurants is that you can’t order your well done meat without someone, waiters or chefs, complain… So boring…

  • Jan

    In France and Spain you can always ask for free water. I suppose in many other European countries as well.

  • Kathrin

    About the water and the tips: It’s different in every european country.

    I’d love to get free tap water in restaurants in Germany. Mainly because the water is so good and everyone drinks it from the tap at home. But I hated the free water in the US, because it tastes like swimming pool water (or maybe I was in the wrong places). I got free tap water in Sweden, France and Denmark, though.

    About the tips: The waiters in Germany aren’t as dependent financially on their tips as the waiters in the US (or that’s what I’ve heard). And you can decide to not give a tip, if you didn’t like the food or something. But that’s different in Italy, and a lot of other european countries.

  • KintburyCook

    Tap water free in UK too – just specifically ask for it tather than bottled water.

  • KintburyCook

    Tap water free in UK too – just specifically ask for it tather than bottled water.

  • Jake

    Umm, 20 euros is nearly $28, so I’m going to say that $10 Ruby Tuesday thing is the better deal even after tax and tipping.

  • Jake

    Umm, 20 euros is nearly $28, so I’m going to say that $10 Ruby Tuesday thing is the better deal even after tax and tipping.

  • Jake

    Umm, 20 euros is nearly $28, so I’m going to say that $10 Ruby Tuesday thing is the better deal even after tax and tipping.

  • Jake

    Umm, 20 euros is nearly $28, so I’m going to say that $10 Ruby Tuesday thing is the better deal even after tax and tipping.

  • Craig

    Yes, I was all poised to mention the free water thing in the comments, but it was top of the list. That was one of the most refreshing things about dining in New York – water, often with a covered straw, brought straight to the table as you were seated. In Britain, you have to ask for it, but at least its usually free (I think there is a law that places that sell alcohol have to provide tap water) – the rest of Europe, it’s true, tend to only sell you mineral water (especially in nightclubs. On a recent trip to Berlin, in a sweaty techno club in an old powerstation, they sold me a litre glass bottle of water. That just about lasted until my next bathroom trip when my drunk friend managed to drop it on the floor).

  • Craig

    You should read The Undercover Economist. There is an economic theory in there that explains it. Basically, it’s a tourist trap, so locals stay away. Restaurants can all sell bad, overpriced food, because tourists will wander in, thinking this is all there is on offer, and have a horrible meal, and don’t go back – but, they wouldn’t have gone back anyway, because they’ve gone home. And new tourists will always be showing up who don’t know the restaurant is rubbish.

  • Sarah Rosenthal

    Yes, a better deal. I was only pointing out the psychological effect of a 9.99 meal that really ends up being $15. Versus in Europe what it says is what you pay.

  • Sarah Rosenthal

    Yes, a better deal. I was only pointing out the psychological effect of a 9.99 meal that really ends up being $15. Versus in Europe what it says is what you pay.

  • Sarah Rosenthal

    Yes, a better deal. I was only pointing out the psychological effect of a 9.99 meal that really ends up being $15. Versus in Europe what it says is what you pay.

  • Sarah Rosenthal

    Yes, a better deal. I was only pointing out the psychological effect of a 9.99 meal that really ends up being $15. Versus in Europe what it says is what you pay.

  • Sarah Rosenthal

    Yes, a better deal. I was only pointing out the psychological effect of a 9.99 meal that really ends up being $15. Versus in Europe what it says is what you pay.

  • Aimee

    Heston Blumenthal? Isn’t Ferran Adria the chef/owner of El Bulli??

  • http://longdrivejourney.com Amy @ Long Drive Journey

    It’s true – the first thing we did when we arrived to every country was learn how to say “tap water” in their language. The only place that refused to serve it to us was in Santorini.

  • http://ymuchomas.com/ Kaley

    Agreed, you can ask for water in Spain. In Madrid especially, the tap water tastes really good. However, in other parts of Spain, you may get a look when you ask for “agua de grifo.” Do it anyway!

  • Lori Carter

    In Germany if you asked for water they’d bring you water “with gas” (aka carbonated). If you asked for it “without gas” they’d look at you like you had 3 heads! One waiter said “but the only water we have without gas is *gasp* TAP WATER! I said “ok”. He said “but….that’s what we wash DISHES in!”. Ok…..it was like I was from a third world country!

  • The Fledgling’s Gourmet

    I’m with the Europeans on the water issue. I drink water throughout the day, but seldom with meals. Water dilutes, that’s it’s nature. By drinking glass after glass of it you’re changing the impact that your carefully prepared meal with ultimately have on your palate. It’s just a habit we grow up with here in the States, but it really doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Of course, if you’re thirsty, you’re thirsty and hospitality dictates that they bring water to you. Tap water is almost always available. The reason they don’t automatically offer it to you is that most Europeans would prefer bottled water to the tap when dining out. This never made much sense to me in Italy, because the tap water there is excellent, but each culture has their little quirks!

  • Steve

    You finished you main course before the cheese cart. Entree in Europe and most other places outside the USA , is the starter. Something must be done about this!

  • Steve

    You finished you main course before the cheese cart. Entree in Europe and most other places outside the USA , is the starter. Something must be done about this!

  • Steve

    You finished you main course before the cheese cart. Entree in Europe and most other places outside the USA , is the starter. Something must be done about this!

  • Steve

    You finished you main course before the cheese cart. Entree in Europe and most other places outside the USA , is the starter. Something must be done about this!

  • Steve

    You finished you main course before the cheese cart. Entree in Europe and most other places outside the USA , is the starter. Something must be done about this!

  • Steve

    You finished you main course before the cheese cart. Entree in Europe and most other places outside the USA , is the starter. Something must be done about this!

  • http://www.itsasecret.co Natalie Luffer

    ‘Agua no gazeuse’…that was the only thing I learned to say the moment we sat down to eat throughout Europe but mostly Paris and Italy.

  • MyriamC

    Congrats, Kirsten!
    Me too, I like it more formal, I like my water without ice and I don’t want want to see a check before I ask for it. And I like to linger, glass of wine in hand. I’m Belgian and we, Belgians, are Burgundians!

  • MyriamC

    Congrats, Kirsten!
    Me too, I like it more formal, I like my water without ice and I don’t want want to see a check before I ask for it. And I like to linger, glass of wine in hand. I’m Belgian and we, Belgians, are Burgundians!

  • MyriamC

    I will always drink bottled water, also at home. Belgian tap water isn’t very good.

  • MyriamC

    I will always drink bottled water, also at home. Belgian tap water isn’t very good.

  • Anonymous

    Because they force farmers to pasteurize dairy and won’t sell butter made from real cream. Also, if cream is made into butter, it is rarely left so that it cultures–cultured butter tastes even better than fresh raw cream butter. It’s not just the quantity of the fat, it’s the quality of it, as well. Pasteurize it and it’s a dead substance, and produces the butter we have here.

  • confit

    Regarding points #2 and #3 – some things are best when kept simple and traditional. There’s nothing wrong with that, but, if some chefs are inclined to experiment, that’s THEIR option. Just because you are a fan of spice and innovation, doesn’t mean everyone is. There’s lots of restaurants in Europe that DO innovate and make spicy food. It’s like your plate of choucroute above; that’s a dish that has been served basically the same way for a hundred years. Most people like it the way it is!

  • Laura

    Just wondering if you noticed how the table clearing etiquette
    in Europe is to wait until everyone has completed their meal and clear everyone
    at once? Or that when you are finished eating (whether you’ve eaten your plate clean, or not) that you should place your knife and fork together in the “twenty past four” position, as if your plate were the face of the clock, with the knife on the
    outside and the fork on the inside. Or place the utensils side by side in the middle of your plate, fork tines down, knife to the right, sharp blade turned inward toward the fork.

  • Caro

    All this tells me is you ate like an American tourist. Fair enough. But as an American who has lived in Europe for over 20 years, it doesn’t reflect reality. You can ask for tap water in every restaurant, big or small, and get it with alacrity and free in pretty much every single European country (and without constant pouring like you’re in the Sahara without a canteen, like in the States). It’s called “asking”. – not too hard. Hot (spicy) food – you were in Scotland and England and didn’t notice that for every tourist “big name” restaurant there are about 100 Indian, Bangladeshi, Thai, Moroccan, West African, Caribbean, and countless other cuisine restaurants serving chili and hot spiced dishes that would blow the taste buds off any American thinking Siriracha and Tex Mex is “spicy”. As for innovative – again, someone mentioned Heston Blumenthal – and even in my area, there are about 6 or 7 restaurants, including Blumenthal’s (and I live in the equivalent of commuter Connecticut) which have incredibly outre dishes and menus. London, not far away, is leading the world pack in innovative cuisine. Formal? depends where you go. We are having a food truck explosion here. Starred restaurant in a garden centre? Got that too. I don’t think I’ve experienced overt formality except a few really “highlight” meals at tourist restaurants – and at a local amazing place with a 12 course tasting menu. Again, highlight of an American abroad, really.I HAVE had waiters in the States keep a wine bottle out of reach and interrupt when we tried to pour it ourselves. I will admit I get edgy about the “not bringing the bill” thing but you have to play it right.

  • CFrance

    kar-aff doe

  • CFrance

    especially in the summer, its purpose is hydration. water is good for everyone, no matter what country you live in.

  • liberpolly

    The main reason food in Europe is so much better is that their taste buds and not burned by spicy foods, and they can taste subtle flavors. And here you are asking them to “bring the heat”? Never!

  • liberpolly

    Also, you can buy Amish butter here in America, and it will put to shame any butter old Europe has to offer. It’s hard to find, though, you have to go to Russian delis or Asian supermarkets.

  • Steph

    I love that you have to ask for the check in European restaurants! That, along with the lingering, are the 2 biggest draws for me. I never had an issue with water. We always were asked, ‘with gas or without gas’ and that was that.

  • Dorinda

    After living in Europe for 25 years, one of my very favorite things to do is sit at an outdoor table with a friend, play cards and enjoy the food, and relax. Your table was considered yours for the duration, the meal and wine exceptional. Often when you are considered local by the staff, it is like visiting friends for dinner. An experience I miss since being back stateside.

  • Erin B.

    I remember in Paris, after the first time I asked for water, I learned to ask for water “sans gas” and “avec glace.” Oh, Europe – you and your room temperature beverages!

  • Erin B.

    I remember in Paris, after the first time I asked for water, I learned to ask for water “sans gas” and “avec glace.” Oh, Europe – you and your room temperature beverages!

  • Erin B.

    I remember in Paris, after the first time I asked for water, I learned to ask for water “sans gas” and “avec glace.” Oh, Europe – you and your room temperature beverages!

  • Erin B.

    I remember in Paris, after the first time I asked for water, I learned to ask for water “sans gas” and “avec glace.” Oh, Europe – you and your room temperature beverages!

  • Erin B.

    I remember in Paris, after the first time I asked for water, I learned to ask for water “sans gas” and “avec glace.” Oh, Europe – you and your room temperature beverages!

  • Erin B.

    I remember in Paris, after the first time I asked for water, I learned to ask for water “sans gas” and “avec glace.” Oh, Europe – you and your room temperature beverages!

  • Erin B.

    I remember in Paris, after the first time I asked for water, I learned to ask for water “sans gas” and “avec glace.” Oh, Europe – you and your room temperature beverages!

  • Erin B.

    I remember in Paris, after the first time I asked for water, I learned to ask for water “sans gas” and “avec glace.” Oh, Europe – you and your room temperature beverages!

  • Erin B.

    I remember in Paris, after the first time I asked for water, I learned to ask for water “sans gas” and “avec glace.” Oh, Europe – you and your room temperature beverages!

  • Erin B.

    I remember in Paris, after the first time I asked for water, I learned to ask for water “sans gas” and “avec glace.” Oh, Europe – you and your room temperature beverages!

  • Erin B.

    I remember in Paris, after the first time I asked for water, I learned to ask for water “sans gas” and “avec glace.” Oh, Europe – you and your room temperature beverages!

  • http://lettersfromtheline.wordpress.com/ Letters From The Line

    Thanks, Craig. I’ll definitely check it out.

  • Ilse Wouters

    one important comment : don´t think UK+France+Germany represent the whole of Europe when it comes to food (and drinks) : for instance, you can ask for tap water (free) in France, always more often in Spain, and other countries as well, and very often it isn´t ice+bit of water as in USA either; spicy dishes do exist, try eating a gilda pintxo in Spain; not everywhere in Europe, sauces or good butter are the core of the cuisine (around the mediterranean, it´s olive oil that rules), and I should think that in Scandinavia and around the Mediterranean a lot of creative cuisine is to be found, indeed using local produce at its best.
    But I do feel very proud of our restaurant-mentality where eating out is a pleasure and not something quick-quick to be over and done with. Another advantage as far as I´m concerned : the waiters are paid by the restaurants, so tips are only given when the experience was exceptional…often in USA I feel waiters are just overacting to earn their tip, which I find particularly annoying.

  • B

    Yes, but the tap water in Brussels is genuinely disgusting. The food there is amazing, but always, ALWAYS, order bottled water (petillant ou demi-petillant, if you like sparkling)!

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  • Anonymous

    I remember when my family visited Paris, it’s very hard to get water avec glace so we stopped asking. Once when we were at Angeline home of the great hot chocolate ever, I remember we ordered water and our waitess gave us the famed Parisian eye roll and huffiness but produced water with one single ice cube floating in it. Points for trying…

  • Anonymous

    Servers only make 2.15 an hour. I’ve given paltry trips before but I always tip a little. It’s not the server’s fault if the food was poor.

  • Marie Françoise

    1. Don’t make such a big deal about water. Just order it when you order your meal or other wine. Don’t want to pay for a bottle? Ask for une carafe d’eau.
    2. Your entrée is your first course (after, perhaps, your amuse-guele). I doubt you were ever presented with a cheese selection directly after that. You would have been served un poisson or une viande or un plat (vegetarian or containing seafood or meat or poultry) and almost certainly a salad before the cheese.
    3. Re chiles- some dishes need spices, some don’t. Europeans may not use the term but they certainly understand the concept of umami.
    4. Personally I think that the politesse is one of the pleasures of France. Greeting everyone as you enter a shop. The handshaking and bise/bisous when you greet friends and acquaintances. And a bit of formality in restaurants. Not looking-down-your-nose pretentiousness but a respect for the client and the occasion. A sign of taking the meal seriously.

  • Marie Françoise

    1. Don’t make such a big deal about water. Just order it when you order your meal or other wine. Don’t want to pay for a bottle? Ask for une carafe d’eau.
    2. Your entrée is your first course (after, perhaps, your amuse-guele). I doubt you were ever presented with a cheese selection directly after that. You would have been served un poisson or une viande or un plat (vegetarian or containing seafood or meat or poultry) and almost certainly a salad before the cheese.
    3. Re chiles- some dishes need spices, some don’t. Europeans may not use the term but they certainly understand the concept of umami.
    4. Personally I think that the politesse is one of the pleasures of France. Greeting everyone as you enter a shop. The handshaking and bise/bisous when you greet friends and acquaintances. And a bit of formality in restaurants. Not looking-down-your-nose pretentiousness but a respect for the client and the occasion. A sign of taking the meal seriously.

  • Ttrockwood

    How could you not mention the awesome cheap wine available in europe?!? I live in nyc where a glass of wine is easily $13-$16, so to find really delicious wines for just 2-3euro a glass thrilled me to bits!
    I also want to add that european restaurants can learn to offer vegetarian main dishes- as a vegetarian who can’t have much dairy i often had a hard time finding a meal on menus at non- vegetarian restaurants.

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  • tunie

    Lol…clearly you’ve never seen ancient european plumbing. You do NOT want to drink the tap water…

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  • Meghan

    I’ve been drinking beer in US restaurants for 12 years and have never once seen an ice cube, unless it was a michelada. I don’t think you’ve been to many US restaurants.

  • Meghan

    I’ve been drinking beer in US restaurants for 12 years and have never once seen an ice cube, unless it was a michelada. I don’t think you’ve been to many US restaurants.

  • Meghan

    I’ve been drinking beer in US restaurants for 12 years and have never once seen an ice cube, unless it was a michelada. I don’t think you’ve been to many US restaurants.

  • Meghan

    I’ve been drinking beer in US restaurants for 12 years and have never once seen an ice cube, unless it was a michelada. I don’t think you’ve been to many US restaurants.

  • Meghan

    I love how the Europeans are getting all offended by your teeny-tiny suggestions at the end of a post that’s basically about how awesome European restaurants are. Whatever. I love my New York restaurants, but I’m not offended that you think we could have better butter.

  • zeiserl

    Yes, but then you have to pay for it.

  • Anonymous

    No kidding. We live in Germany and there are a few places I’ve trained to bring me tap water along with another drink without a hassle. I’ve found in most places, if I order some other drink, too, the water is usually free; if not, they’ll charge you 2-3 euros for a cup of tap water! However, the higher cost of the drinks is partially offset by the lower tips expected, since the waiters actually are paid a livable wage.
    Northern Italy is the best. They charge a service fee for the table and it includes a large bottle of water, basket of bread (something else you don’t normally get in Germany for free (although get German bread–it’s the best!!)), and the tip.

  • Charlie

    Sweet mustard only on the white sausages :) (a reader from Munich)

  • tortellini

    Thank you for this comment, this is my feeling exactly. I don’t want to know how much water is wasted in the United States every day because of this custom (or should I say “silly obsession”? )
    I have heard this comment about the tap water from every american visitor coming to Germany (I live here) And all of them carried a water bottle with them, so if they where dying of thirst the could have easily had a drink from their own bottle.
    I say: it’s an obsession. And a water wasting one at that.

  • Jane Houston

    There are more & more restaurants in the states going towards a NO tipping type of establishment, and adding a service charge into the meal price. I wrote a bog post on this exact same thought http://www.kitchenrestock.com/Restaurant-Trend-Banning-Gratuity_b_27.html

  • Alma la Douce

    If you want spicy, go to Hungary. Tap water is free everywhere, but in some restaurants they serve only bottled water for which you pay. Long sitting in the restaurants is due to very strong social role of restaurants as meeting points. Greetings from Sarajevo!

  • Helena

    funny.. I have lived in Belgium all my life (for those who have no idea, Brussels is the capital of the country Belgium) and felt that American water was disgusting (fluoride laden “for your health”) very chemical tasting.. it took a LONG time for me to get used to American water after moving from Belgium to the US. And now whenever I go back to visit the tap water in Belgium tastes very plain.. because there aren’t all the chemicals in it that they add to the American tap water. Maybe that’s why you felt the water in Brussels tasted disgusting, you’ve gotten so used to tasting fluoride in your water..