Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Difference between the American, French, and Japanese restaurant experience

In America,

  • Labor is CHEAP (minimum wage in the US is nearly half that of France)
  • People eat THEN drink (i.e. people go to restaurants then to the bars)

The game in America is all about how fast you can get the customer in and out of the door. As soon as you enter the restaurant, the server will bring you the menu and something to munch on (bread, chips, etc.) so that you can start filling yourself up quickly. Restaurants hire adequate amount of waiters and waitresses and they are attentive, moving the plates as soon as they are done and refilling your glass as soon as they are empty. I heard once that most restaurants in the US try to get three cycles out of each table. More often than not, a check is brought to the table by the service staff who starts with the question: “Can I get you anything else?” They will say “take your time” but they don’t mean it.

In France,

  • Labor is EXPENSIVE (welcome to socialism)
  • People eat AND drink (i.e. French dinners go on and on with multiple bottles of wine)

Because French dinners are incredibly long and the restaurants have no intention of trying to get two cycles out of every table, the goal in France is to pack as many people into the restaurant as possible. Restaurant tables in France are much smaller than those in the US and sometimes one has to move the table in order to access the bench seats. As labor is expensive, restaurants are often understaffed and even then, with the low turnover, meals in France are more expensive than in America. Service is slow which annoys the foreigners who aren’t use to “la vie Francaise.” Check is almost never brought to you without asking and trying to get the attention of the waiter or waitress to pay your bill can be a time consuming experience.

In Japan,

  • Labor is CHEAP (this might be counter-intuitive, but it’s true)
  • People eat AND drink (people can spend hours picking on sushi and drinking sake)

In Japan, people go through many cycles of small dishes while drinking beer, sake, or shochu and chatting. In such a culture the game is all about how fast and how much you can serve your customers before they leave for the evening. As the labor is cheap in Japan, restaurants are often well staffed, and some places even have buttons where you can call on the waiters or waitresses. However, unlike the US, the waiting staff would almost never come to the table to interrupt your conversation and ask you if you want anything. As the dinners are not as slow as the French ones, restaurants can usually expect multiple cycles per table, and as a result meals can be very cheap (but like with many things in Japan, there is a huge range). The check is never brought to the table without requesting and you usually pay up at the counter instead of at the table.

There are, of course, many different kinds of restaurant in each country and what I wrote above does not apply to all of them. Instead, they apply to the more common restaurants in each country where you go for a casual night out with family or friends, not quick meal stops for single people or exquisite restaurants for banquets.

The basic need for eating out is universal around the world, but how each country addresses this need is formed from each’s complex web of culture, society, and tradition. How is the restaurant experience formed in your country? Where is labor EXPENSIVE and people eat THEN drink? Germany?


2 Responses to “Difference between the American, French, and Japanese restaurant experience”

  1. August 17th, 2010 at 1:23 am

    Tod says:

    Huh, weird you see the waiter coming around often as a negative – I notice much more when they don’t as a slight nuisance. Only when there are a couple of visits at the end of the meal do I think it can get annoying – but most of the time I prefer them being attentive.

  2. August 17th, 2010 at 12:39 pm

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