Eating and drinking is a crucial part of French culture and social life. There are rules and codes to be aware of so here are some of the dos and don’ts of French dining etiquette.
General French food etiquette
1. Eat together and at the dinner table, not in front of the TV.
2. Break the baguette, don’t slice it.
3. Know your wine glasses: small oval ones for white wine, large round glasses for red.
4. Never spread foie gras but place it on the piece of bread.
5. Use fingers when eating frog’s legs but eat fruit with a knife and, sometimes, a fork.
6. Fold lettuce leaves, don’t cut them.
If you are invited to a dinner party
7. Arrive 10 to 15 minutes late to give your host time to prepare everything perfectly. If you are going to be more than 15 minutes late, warn your hosts with a phone call.
8. Never come empty handed when invited to a French dinner party. Good gifts include a bottle of wine, flowers or a plant, macarons or perhaps something homemade like jam.
9. Look people in the eye when you raise a toast and don’t cross other people’s arms when reaching to clink your glass with someone.
10. Wait until the cook sits down and says ‘bon appétit’ to begin eating.
11. Always keep hands above the dinner table.
12. Finish your plate but don’t ask for seconds: your host will offer seconds if there is any left.
If you are hosting a dinner
13. Start the evening with an apéritif which includes a drink and some light appetizers.
14. Systematically provide bread – offer different types of bread in a basket on the table – and water: a jug of still water and a bottle of fizzy water.
15. Order is important: white wine before red, cheese before dessert.
16. When serving a cheese platter, have a different knife for each type of cheese and don’t serve crackers, just bread.
17. Generally, children eat at the same time and the same meal but in smaller portions as the adults.
18. Stay up to date with local news and national stories to keep the conversation interesting. It’s not unusual for the French to have heated political debates around the dinner table.
Dining etiquette at the restaurant
19. Do not be late.
20. Always greet your waiter with a ‘bonjour’ or ‘bonsoir’.
21. Close your menu to indicate you are ready to order.
22. To get the attention of a waiter, catch their eye and say ‘s’il vous plaît’ or give a little waive. Never call out ‘garçon’ or snap your fingers!
23. If you need to leave the table but have not finished your dish, place your knife and fork with the handles facing up, as if you were about to take them in your hands.
24. When you are finished with your meal, place your knife and fork side by side across the plate.
25. You’ll have to ask for the bill – the usual gesture is to catch your waiter’s eye and pretend to sign a cheque in mid air.
26. Unless you’ve discussed otherwise, whoever gave the invitation for the restaurant will pay the bill and it is expected that you will pay the next meal out.
27. Service is included in your final bill but you can leave a little extra for your waiter.