We just returned from my first trip ever to Paris and want to thank all on CH for their advice. I had great expectations which were easily exceeded across the board. During our stay, we dined at Le Violon d'Ingres, Aux Lyonnais, Hidden Kitchen, Le Cinq, 404 and Joséphine Chez Dumonet. All were excellent - both service and food. Before my trip, I was a bit concerned before my trip because I'm not fluent in French and my wife lacks some of my adventure in dining (i.e. well done meat and potatoes preferred). I brushed up on some very basic French conversation and basic food vocabulary just in case. While I think my attempt to communicate in French was appreciated, almost every server asked us (in perfect English) if we wanted to communicate in French or English.
I was most concerned about Joséphine Chez Dumonet as I had read several stories of servers who were less than helpful for American diners. Our experience was delightful, the waitstaff was fun and the food was amazing. The foie gras, the duck confit, beef bourguignon, cheeses and souffle were all wonderful. During our desserts, Chef came by our table and we had a delightful exchange despite his English being apparently as limited as our French.
I have read many posters in CH who are about to go to Paris and, just after concerns about the quality of food, many seem to share common concerns: dress code, language, quality of service. As an American who enjoys wonderful dining fresh from his first trip to Paris, I offer the following:
1. Dress up a bit. Those in Paris are typically smartly but well dressed. Even during the day, dark slacks and dress shirts are typical and jackets / suits common. Nobody wears shorts and tee shirts - even to walk around Paris and see the sights. If you are going to dinner, at least wear slacks and a dress shirt. If you are going to spend more than $100 at dinner, wear a jacket. I'm not saying it's the dress code but I would have felt underdressed if I hadn't. And I think my experience was better because I was wearing nice slacks, a dress shirt, dress shoes and a jacket at each of the above restaurants. I wore suit and tie at Le Cinq but I was the only diner who did - all the rest only wore slacks, dress shirt and jacket.
2. Learn a little French. Nothing outrageous, not enough to be conversational - just some pleasantries and as much vocabulary as you can absorb. Especially food vocabulary which will help navigate the menu to at least know if you are looking at beef or fish or lamb or lobster.
3. Go with the flow and ask for what you want. I expected slow service with small portions. Instead, we had surprisingly fast service and either huge portions or so many courses that they added up to huge. But if you don't ask for something, you may or may not be offered. If you want water, ask for water. The only wait we'd ever experience as at the end of the meal as the check would not come until we asked for it. Not bad service but instead just the French being polite. But a single "L'addition, s'il vous plait" and voila, we had our check. Now, I'm not suggesting we were in and out of dinner in less than an hour. In fact, dinner typically lasted around 2.5 to 3 hours. But we were never sitting there with nothing to eat or drink and wondering what / when was next either.
Again, I thank all for their wonderful advice and wish all going to Paris can have as much fun there as we did.