There’s nothing more satisfying than bagging the perfect table in the perfect corner café. Here are my tips for helping you to choose the best one: stake your claim and then settle in for the long haul.
- Stay local
Parisians find a good local café and go there a lot. On a daily basis, even. By staying local and becoming a regular, you’ll be treated to better service – a warm greeting from the waiter, a larger bowl of crisps to go with your drink and maybe even the occasional top up on the house.
- Assess the people watching potential
Breakfast, lunch, coffee, an evening aperitif, dinner, after dinner drinks… there are many reasons to stop in at your local corner café but often it’s simply to see and be seen. The best people watching spots are on an open corner in a busy street away from the grand boulevards. You want a spot that isn’t on the main tourist drag—people watching American tour groups in their white trainers and khaki shorts is not why you came to Paris. We love people watching in the Marais, where the crowd is ecclectic and oh so Parisian. A top tip is to pick a café next to a local market. It’s fun to watch as shoppers taste, barter and fill their roller-bags. Or find a seat on a trendy shopping street and consider yourself to be at a Paris fashion show.
- Count the waiters
The service in the cafés of Paris is mostly friendly but efficiency can vary. You’ll find anything from whole teams of smart waiters to one overwhelmed barista who is also expected to wait on ten tables outside. If you’re impatient for your glass of rosé, check how well staffed a busy corner seems to be before sitting down. If you’re there for the people watching, just grab a table and enjoy the wait.
- Check out the specials
The menus in the cafés in Paris are much and much the same. Each will offer a couple of salads, burgers, pasta dishes, snacks like croque monsieur and a small selection of meat and veg mains. It’s the specials board or the ‘plats du jour’ that tells you more about the personality of the place. Look around until you find a specials board that speaks to your own personal appetite.
- How’s the happy hour?
Almost everywhere has a happy hour but the drinks on offer vary. Most will have a selection of basic cocktails, but not all offer wine or beer. Check the happy hour drinks menu to make sure you don’t end up paying full price for your favourite. Chances are the place around the corner will have it.
- Test the patio heaters
There’s nothing I love more than sitting outside, toasty under a patio heater when there’s a chill in the air. But patio heaters were not made equally. Some give you the feeling of sitting in a centrally heated living room; others give off little more heat than a tea candle. Look for the large freestanding gas heaters or the ones that hang down from the parasol itself. And don’t be afraid to ask your waiter to turn it on.
Based on the criteria above, here are a couple of my favourite cafés in the Marais.
See you there!