Dining in Paris on a Budget

Gourmet cuisine is part of the Paris travel experience.
(c)Mark Kahler, under an arrangement with About.com

Dining in Paris on a budget might seem like a worthy but lofty goal. After all, food is expensive here.

Friendly advice: you must experience French cuisine as part of your overall travel experience. It is an essential part of your trip. That can be said in most destinations, but the statement resonates within the borders of France. The French take cooking and Budget travel is defined by value, so beware of skipping an excellent dining experience just to save money. To truly know this city, you must experience the food.

Naturally, that doesn't mean eating at every five-star restaurant you encounter, but it does mean choosing authentic cuisine and savoring the experience. You will save up for several of these meals during your time in country.

It isn't difficult to identify restaurants in Paris and other French cities that offer quality food at mid-range, reasonable prices. These are places at which you will eat one meal each day. Don't hestitate to start with a few chain restaurants such as Chez Clément, which serve delicious French cuisine at reasonable prices. Then branch out into locally owned, neighborhood favorites.

Even if your budget is very tight, a French restaurant meal should not be the first thing you strike from your "to do" list. Some budget travelers eat their biggest meals at lunchtime, when prices are lower than in the evening.

You can partake of French cuisine without paying a restaurant bill. Weather permitting, enjoy one of Paris' incredible parks with a picnic lunch in hand. Most neighborhoods offer places where you can buy fresh fruit, that delicious French bread (baguettes) and other ingredients. In fact, street vendors often sell them along with delicious fillings. The further you are from a tourist attraction, the more likely the prices will be reasonable for such treats. If you look around the parks, you'll find Parisians eating picnic meals in leisurely fashion.

See the pattern? You should have little trouble creating at least one memorable meal in Paris, and preferably several, even if you're on a fairly strict budget. Invest some effort into this goal, and you will not regret it.

Student travelers juggle some of the tightest budgets. Students in Paris will find economical meals with ease. The area's many universities offer basic meals. You'll probably need a student ID to eat in campus buildings, but food vendors that cater to clientele at the schools usually offer reasonable prices out of necessity.

Even so-called ordinary food can be extraordinary here. Department stores such as Printemps have coffee shops and small restaurants. Most of these places don't serve up anything too fancy, but items like salads and brownies here are made with such care and such fine ingredients that visitors often leave quite satisfied.

Remember that in Paris (and much of Europe) you will pay more for anything that is served at a table. If you only want a drink and you don't mind standing at a bar, you'll pay less than if it is served at a table. Speaking of drinks, be careful when asking for water with your meals. Ask for a carafe of tap water (carafe de l’eau) or your waiter is likely to bring you a potentially pricey bottle of mineral water.