Lunch is still the most important meal in France. Larger companies have to provide a comfortable lunchroom or Cafeteria options, depending on the number of employees, or hand out vouchers for local restaurants. Many businesses are closed for a couple of hours mid-day to allow owners or employees to go home for lunch. And if you’re contemplating to spend your hard earned money on a restaurant meal, you’re well advised to go for lunch, rather than dinner. The tab can be shockingly different! So, let’s go out for lunch.
|Lunch entrée at ‘Clos des Courts‘ restaurant in Saintes|
As you stroll past any restaurant, you’ll notice, their menus are posted on the outside. Either in a small, glassed-in display window, on a sandwich-board on the sidewalk or on a similar chalkboard device. You’ll find pages of their regular ‘à la carte’ choices plus the ‘prix fixe’ menu options. And that’s where it gets interesting. Most restaurants offer one or more meals at set prices, prix fixe. These meals usually include an entrée (entrance), which in the US is called an appetizer, followed by the main course, le plat principal (main dish), which in the US is called an entree, concluding with dessert. There are as many variations to prix fixe menus, as there are restaurants. You may have a choice between several offerings per course, there may be amuse-gueules to introduce the chef’s prowess or tiny sherbets to cleanse your palate between courses, there may be a separate cheese course or a shared preparation, like a fondue course. Customarily the menu price rises with the number of courses included.
[For all my foody readers out there, here’s a historical background on entrée versus entree]
Selecting from the à la carte offerings, assembling one’s personal course sequence, is almost always more costly, than choosing a prix fixe menu. Unless, of course, you opt for only a quick nibble of undressed salad greens, in which case they won’t seat you ever again and your worries about restaurant cost are over. All these prices listed by any given restaurant are a constant, independent of time of day. In other words, you don’t get a prix fixe menu or any à la carte item for less, just because the nearby church bells toll the noon hour.
|My lovely dessert|
What then makes a midday meal so much more affordable than eating out in the evening? Le plat du jour!
The restaurant meal offered exclusively for lunch. Here too, one runs into slight variations from restaurant to restaurant, but the main criteria of any plat du jour are identical: a freshly cooked dish to be served on weekdays only, between noon and 14 h or until they run out, whichever comes first.
This isn’t a smaller portion of a menu item, it’s the daily, market-fresh special for all those poor workers, who don’t have a chance to eat a proper lunch at home. Restaurants are packed for lunch, starred ones and dives alike. One might join friends or co-workers, lovers, neighbors, or, rarely, enjoy a quiet meal by oneself. And now that we have such mild temperatures in Saintes, many restaurants offer outdoor seating.
A plat du jour may consist of the main dish only, a choice of entrée and plat, or plat and dessert or all three and the price varies according to your choice. Some restaurants throw in a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. We estimate that the expense for lunch at an upscale restaurant is roughly 60% of the cost of a prix fixe menu, one would ordinarily order in the evening. At lunch you savor equally excellent, chef-prepared dishes, receive the same professional & courteous service – and afterward you can take a leisurely stroll through sun-kissed streets.
Followed by another perambulation around sunset to watch the tulips gently go to sleep.