French Table Manners: a Crash Course.
Do you Have Good French Table Manners?
Not sure? Well, here are the French table manners to brush up on before going to Paris...
Whether you will be dining out in a French restaurant or invited to a
dinner party while in Paris, you will undoubtedly be glad you've taken
this little crash course on French table manners and other mealtime
standards of French etiquette!
The French pride themselves in French cuisine....or I should say, the
French have a lot of national pride in many things, and French cuisine
is definitely one of them. And why would they not? French cuisine has
been held as an international standard for excellent food, and excellent
chef training, for so long that it has basically become a stereotype.
The French like to honour their good food with good presentation
and good manners. You'll find that in France, eating a quick sandwich
over the sink is pretty much unheard of, and perhaps even bordering on
A French meal is generally eaten in courses, and will often go something like this:
Amuse-bouche/amuse-gueule which translate
to 'mouth-plaything'(the latter version being a more slang/vulgar way to
say it. These will generally be little one-bite treats like nuts,
Fish course This is often followed by lemon or lime sorbet.
Salad Usually simple and with fresh vinaigrette.
Dessert and coffee (Most often, just coffee.) (A coffee gourmand means dessert with the coffee.)
Not every meal will have all of these courses, of course. It's important to note that what we call 'entrée' on our English-language menus, is the main course or 'plat principal' and what they call 'entrée' on French menus, is what we call 'appetizer'.
In France, there is a certain amount of ceremony at every meal,
which makes it all the more important to mind your French table manners!
General French Table Manners:
At the table in France, manners are more important. Dining is more formal, even within a family setting.
Here are 5 tips for good French table manners:
- Keep your hands on the table, this is very important.
- Eat with the fork in your left hand, and the knife in the right.
- Always wait for the head of the table or the host to say "bon appétit" before starting to eat.
- Always cheers before drinking: raise your glass and say "a
votre santé" (other toasts exist in French as well, of course, but this
is the one that will suit all occasions. Most of the others are just
for casual settings). If the table has a host or head, this will be the
person to give the toast as well as to say "bon appétit"
- Most meals come with bread. If you don’t have a side plate,
putting the bread on the tablecloth beside your plate is fine.
Doesn't sound too hard, now, does it? You'll do great!
French Table Manners Au Resto... At a French Restaurant:
Undoubtedly, while you are in Paris, you will end up dining out
in a restaurant. Here are some tips to help you know what to expect and
how to deal with it.
It is considered very bad manners in France to make people feel
they are being rushed through a meal. For this reason, French waiters
will be looking to you to set the pace... If you are used to American
style restaurant service, you may feel a bit neglected by your server.
Servers in France pride themselves on their ability to keep their
presence subtle but helpful throughout a meal. They won't be checking
up on you periodically throughout your meal as you may be used to in
other countries, but they will be watching for a few cues from you.
Since it is very much customary in France to greet someone before
speaking to them, it is quite important that the first thing you say be
"bonjour" (or "bonsoir” if it is after 6pm). It would be considered
rude of you if you didn't, so please remember this small detail to get
your evening's server-diner relationship off to a positive start.
At the restaurant:
- When you are ready to order, set your menu down on the table, closed.
- If you need to get your server's attention and can't catch
his or her eye to subtly wave them over, use "s'il vous plait" to get
their attention. PLEASE don't snap your fingers (this would be a
particularly rude hand gesture in France). Definitely don't use
"garcon". I’m not sure why we English-speakers think French people say
- If you must stop eating momentarily or leave your plate
briefly but are not done eating, leave your knife and fork on your plate
with each handle pointing out towards the hand holding it, as if ready
to be picked up again.
- You will need to ask for the cheque when you are done. The
standard hand gesture for this, is to pretend to sign a cheque in mid
- If you have gone to the restaurant with French people, don't
talk about money. Don't split the bill. Whoever gave the invite for the
meal at the restaurant will pay, and the understanding is generally
that it is up to the other party to invite and pay next time. The
subject of money is considered quite personal in France, so avoid it
gracefully whenever possible.
- The tip (gratuity) is included but you should generally round up a little, particularly if you appreciated the service.
French table manners to be mindful of if you've been invited as a guest to dinner or drinks ('un apero') to someone’s home:
The 'rules' involved in being a good dinner guest go a bit beyond
simple French table manners and onto matters of general French
If you have been invited over for 'un apero', this is a
relatively casual visit over drinks, usually meant to last only about an
hour or an hour and a half. In this case, since it's not a meal,
French table manners are not such an issue and all the following
guidelines can be followed a little more loosely, if necessary at all...
- Bring a hostess gift such as flowers, a plant or chocolates.
- Never bring foreign wine, or any wine for that matter. Of
course there are situations when this is fine, so if you do have a
particularly good bottle to offer, for example, that you know from
conversation they love, this would be okay to bring...but don't expect
them to open it while you are there. It would be standard that they
have wine picked out specifically for the evening already and will most
likely put your offering aside for another occasion.
- There are certain rules to giving flowers, and certain
flowers mean very certain things to French people, so ask your florist
to be sure. Generally, flowers should be given in odd numbers, but not
13. Don’t give red roses, yellow roses, chrysanthemums, red carnations,
or white flowers, particularly white lilies. This is because of their
respective meanings or uses in France.
- If it is a big event, arrange for a flower bouquet to be sent that morning.
- Always show up for dinner within ten minutes late. Telephone
if you will be any longer than ten minutes late. Drinks won't be served
until the last guests arrive, so try not to be last!
- Never pour your own drink, and don't take your first sip
until the host says "a votre santé" or some variation of 'cheers'
- Drinking water -your host will pour the first one, and then it is up to you to top up yours and others if you like.
- Don't start eating until the host or hostess says “bon appétit”
- Talk about the weather to start, or families, children, food,
restaurants etc. Don't ask what they do or did for a living. Don't
talk about money. And if you are going to talk about religion or
politics, expect it to escalate into a heated debate. (...But then
again, that can probably be anticipated just about anywhere in any
- The kitchen is often off limits...even to helping to clean
off the table. Feel it out. The hosts won't want you to see the prep
mess in the kitchen. If you are a woman, there may be situations where
it would be polite to get up and help deal with the dishes; you'll just
have to feel it out, I guess. And I hate to say it, but if you are a
man, it would probably seem unusual to them if you offered to help with
the dishes, so it might actually be best if you don't even offer.
- Ask for toilets discretely at a dinner setting; just ask where you can go ‘freshen up’. Freshen up in French is “me rafraichir".
Above all, please do not say "J'ai besoin de faire pipi”. I swear this
is the 2nd favourite line non-French speakers like to use (first being
"Voulez-vous couchez avec moi?") and will not endear you to your
- Always send a thank you note the next day, or phone to say thank you.
Hopefully this little crash course on Parisian etiquette and French
table manners will help you to quickly feel confident and comfortable at
mealtime so that you can concentrate on building relationships with new
Parisian friends.....with fewer initial moments of awkwardness!