Café du Monde is a New Orleans institution, one that's been frequented by tourists and locals alike for over 150 years. Their creamy café au lait and crispy beignets are a siren call that, given the right circumstances, even the most die-hard anti-French Quarter local snobs cannot resist.
But it's a confusing and slightly chaotic scene there at the terminus of the French Market, and one that gets a lot of first-timers totally befuddled, sometimes to the point where they just walk away.
But don't give up! All you need are these simple tricks to make it an easy, fun experience.
Go at Off-hours
Going at breakfast-time is fine, as long as you don't mind waiting in a 20-minute line. Locals like to hit up the Café at odd hours -- late afternoon, late evening, and very early in the morning. They're open 24 hours, but pretty much any time except the breakfast crush, you'll get a table in under 10 minutes.
Don't Wait to Be Seated
There's no hostess, so just sit down at a table. It's very likely that there won't ever be a clean table available. At busy times, the servers just bus the tables as people sit down, so find a dirty table and have a seat. A server will be over and whisk away the dishes and trash and wipe it clean once you've already sat down.
If a line is forming but there are a number of free tables, note that no local would be caught dead waiting in the line. They'll just swoop right past and have a seat.
We're not telling you to budge, and we're not saying that you shouldn't mention to the other folks in line that they don't need to wait, but we promise you this: if there are empty tables and you sit down at one, regardless of the status of the line, no Café du Monde employee (or local) is going to think twice about it.
You certainly won't get scolded.
Be Ready to Order
If you tell the server that you need "just another minute," you won't see her again for a decade, so be ready. You'll want to order one plate of beignets (little squares of fried dough) per person unless you're already really stuffed from dinner or something, in which case you can share, but ordinarily, just get one plate each. Everyone also wants a cup of café au lait (chicory-laced coffee with milk), unless they really can't or won't drink coffee, in which case they can have orange juice or hot chocolate. But decide beforehand.
And practice saying these words: ben-yay and caf-ay oh lay.
Have cash on hand
They bring you the bill when they bring you your food, so be ready to pay when that happens. It's a cash-only establishment, so be prepared for that. Also, if you need anything else, that's your last sure chance of getting your server's attention -- after that, you'll have to flag her, and that's a real challenge. So if someone forgot to order something, get it when the food arrives, because that's probably it.
Don't wear black
The powdered sugar that is mounted on top of the beignets will get all over your shirt and you'll have to walk around the French Quarter looking like an obvious tourist.
(In fairness to tourists everywhere, I made this total rookie mistake last time I went to Café du Monde. Amateur!)
Don't Breathe in (Or Out) While You Bite Down
Not through your nose, not through your mouth. That powdered sugar is lethal stuff, and a quick inhale will have you coughing up a storm. A harsh exhale and, whoops. All over your clothes. Hold your breath and bite. It's the only way.