Paris restaurants don’t have a reputation for being very kid friendly, so before my most recent trip—my first with baby in tow—I wondered whether I’d be able to eat out with my nine-month-old daughter. Our first lunch at a neighborhood café was not encouraging. We were seated at a corner table with the baby parked in her stroller directly beneath the door of a refrigerator. Every few minutes, a waiter opened the fridge to grab one of the carafes of water cooling within. The glass bottle passed right over the baby’s tender head while the head waiter barked: “Fais TRES attention au bébé!” (Be VERY careful of the baby!) The waiter would shoot me a look that screamed “You are in the way!” and the fridge door would slam shut. When the baby began squawking, we bolted our food and beat a hasty retreat.
After this experience, it seemed likely that we wouldn’t eat out in Paris as a family for the next seventeen years. But after I canvassed a couple of Paris parent friends, we tried again, and again, several times—and found each meal easier than the last. I’ve combined their suggestions with my tips for dining out with a baby in Paris. I’d love to hear your recommendations, too—please leave them in the comments!
Choose wisely—I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Parisians are very child friendly. But not in restaurants. It’s important to pick the kind of place where kids are welcome (I offer a few addresses below). Casual spots like cafés, bistros, or non-French places like pizza or Chinese food are good choices. Only you know your kid’s limits, but personally I would avoid everything else with a baby. “I see the most kids in Asian restaurants, not traditional French restaurants,” says my friend Erin, mother of Felix, 4, and Lucie, 2. Another alternative: “Crêperies are definitely known as family friendly places.”
Eat early—French people are creatures of habit—they like to eat at the same times—that is, one o’clock for lunch; eight o’clock for dinner. If you show up at a restaurant early, you’ll catch the staff before the rush, and there will be few other customers to disturb with baby squawking. “The very best thing is to go immediately at 12pm or 7pm,” says Erin. “Make sure you’re the first people served so the kids aren’t waiting forever.”
But not too early—Paris restaurants keep rigid hours; most aren’t open before 12pm or 7pm. If you’d like to eat outside those hours, look for a place that offers “service continu”—continuous dining service—usually a café. Fair warning: the best food in Paris is not usually found in places with service continu.
Don’t expect kid accoutrements—High chair? Crayons? Kid’s menu? Fuhgeddaboudit. “I’ve never been to a restaurant that has a high chair available or that could easily accommodate our own portable high chair,” says Claire, mother of Theo, 21 months. Restaurants for families do exist, “but they’re chain restaurants,” says Erin. I brought most of the baby’s food from home, and gave her a chunk of baguette from the bread basket to keep her busy.
Case the joint in advance—Don’t just show up with the stroller, expecting to be seated. Scope out the restaurant in advance to see what kind of space they have. Pop in and ask if they’d mind accommodating kids and/or a stroller. “If they’re reluctant to welcome kids, it’s almost always a space issue,” says Erin. Paris real estate is expensive; most restaurants are tiny. “My father-in-law is in a wheelchair and when restaurants see us coming with him and the stroller, they’re like, ‘Forget it!'” says Claire.
Find an outdoor café— “I usually try for a restaurant with ample outdoor seating and sit at the end where I can pull up the stroller,” says Claire. Pedestrian streets like rue Montorgueil or rue Cler offer a large choice of cafés with wide terrasses—though they also attract heavy smokers. We had lunch in one café on rue Cler, which offered ideal seating—lots of room for the stroller, we were outside so didn’t have to worry about baby yelps—but the food left much to be desired.
Goûter is good—I’ve noticed children are more welcome at goûter, or tea time, the four o’clock hour when French people like to eat sweets. I’ve even spotted kids in chic salons de thé like Jacques Genin or Angelina. Otherwise, picnics are an obvious choice for families of young children—plus you have an excuse to buy lots of different types of cheese!
Bottom line—After several lunches with the baby (we never tried dinner since she goes to bed too early), and talking to several friends, my conclusion is that dining out in Paris with young children is not common. But it is acceptable, if you choose the right kind of place and right time, and if you’re considerate of the staff and other customers. In other words, maybe it’s not so different from anywhere else?
Where to eat with kids in Paris
Les Deux Abeilles
189 rue de l’Université, 7e
tel: 01 45 55 64 04
At first glance, this cozy tea salon does not seem kid-friendly—space is tight, voices are low, and there are crisp, white tablecloths. But they offer continuous service from 9am-7pm, which means you could eat super early without worrying about being a nuisance. I love their savory tarts, hearty salads, and gorgeous cakes.
Café Suédois à l’Institut Suédois
11 rue Payenne, 3e
tel: 01 44 78 80 20
This is a charming little lunch/tea counter at the Institut Suédois with housemade soups, bread, cakes, and even elderflower cordial. Best of all, there’s lots of seating in the spacious courtyard. There’s no table service here—just order at the counter and ferry the food yourself. They were kind when we rearranged the chairs to make room for the strollers (and we also spent several minutes replacing everything when we left).
West Country Girl
6 Passage Saint-Ambroise, 11e
tel: 01 47 00 72 54
Even though I said crêperies were family friendly, I would avoid one of my favorites, Breizh Café, because of the aforementioned space issues. West Country Girl is a good alternative, with excellent galettes in a less touristy (and populated) part of Paris. Admittedly, I have not been here with a stroller. But I have eaten an early, mid-week lunch here and the dining room was practically empty.
w 13 rue de Mézières, 6e
tel: 01 45 48 30 38
I love their pizza. But this restaurant is as chic as its name indicates. I have, however, seen older kids (aged seven and up) dining here—early. There are also a few sidewalk tables, which could be possible for an early meal with a stroller. However, wild horses couldn’t drag me to bring the baby to eat at this restaurant during regular service, either indoors or out.
5 rue du Cloître Saint-Merri, 4e
tel: 01 40 29 89 99
This center near Beaubourg offers everything from a kid-friendly café (with high chairs and simple meals), dance and music classes (for kids), meditation sessions (for parents :), as well as a beauty salon, massages—and babysitting. I haven’t been here yet, but it sounds great for a rainy day.
Do you have any tips to add or addresses to share? I’d be grateful for your advice!