Whether you have been invited into someones home for a dinner or are just in Paris for a few days visiting as a tourist, there are a few rules that you should abide by as you enjoy the many culinary treasures France has to offer.
After over a decade of faux-pas at dinner parties and out at restaurants, we have come up with the ultimate tips for dining French-style to help you out!
Time Your Meal Right
Try to time your meals with the locals. Lunch is usually between 12:30-1:30pm and dinner is between 8pm-10pm. Most kitchens close from 2pm until around 7:30pm so, even with jet-lag, try not to walk into a restaurant demanding steak-frites at 3:30pm. You will rarely have any luck with this. Same goes for early dinner eaters. 6pm is nowhere near an acceptable dining time here in France.
If you have been invited to a dinner party, never arrive early, or even on time for that matter. It is usually expected that guests will arrive about 10-15 minutes later than invited and always with a little something or a bottle of wine for the host.
What You See Is What You Get
When dining at a restaurant, you are putting your taste buds in the hands of the chef. The chef has chosen flavor combinations that he thinks work together, therefore, there are no changes or substitutions as this is taken as an insult to the chef. If you have allergies or dietary restrictions, it is better to mention this when you call to reserve your table or to the host of the dinner party in advance.
In France, it is seen as very rude to have your hands in your lap. “Who knows what you could be doing down there!” exclaimed a French dining companion a few years ago. Always have both hands visible while dining, but don’t go so far as to put your elbows on the table – we aren’t animals!
When dining in a restaurant, closing your menus is a sign that you are ready to order. You could sit there for hours with your menus open before ordering as the wait staff will take this to mean you are still deciding.
When you are finished eating, your fork and knife should be placed together on the right side of the plate. This will show the wait staff that it is acceptable to take the plate away.
Bread, Wine and Finger-Food
Hold up your hands and make a circle with your index finger and your thumb while keeping your three other fingers straight and lined up. The ‘b’ in your left hand means that your bread will sit to the upper-left of your plate (yes, right there on the table and not on your plate) and the ‘d’ in your right hand means that you drink will be to the upper-right of your plate.
When serving wine, always serve yourself last. Wine glasses should only be filled to the widest part of the glass and never all the way to the top.
Bread is served with every meal and is eaten with your hands. It is considered polite to pull off bite-size pieces with your fingers and not to take a bite from a large piece of bread. It is also generally considered acceptable to soak up those delicious French sauces with a piece of bread in casual dining. French-fries, on the other hand, are not considered finger-food in France and should be eaten with a fork.
Be Careful With That Knife!
It is an ultimate no-no to cut the nose off the cheese. When eating cheese from a cheese platter, it is important to always keep the original shape of the cheese. For triangle-shaped cheeses, cut slices from either side of the tip and for round cheeses, cut out small triangles from the middle outwards to create a sort of Pac-man looking shape.
Never cut your lettuce but, rather, fold it onto your fork. Cutting the lettuce is a sign to the chef or your host that they did not properly prepare the lettuce for the salad.
Wrapping It Up
It is always polite to finish your plate, however, if there are left-overs, they must stay on the plate. Doggie-bags to not exist here, so please don’t ask if you can take home your leftovers.
Coffee is always served at the very end of the meal, after dessert and before the check. Do not order a cappuccino with your salad at lunch or when the waiter is taking drink orders. Cappuccinos are considered a breakfast drink and it is usually a small espresso or noisette (espresso with a nut-sized dollop of steamed milk) that is served at the end of a meal.
When dining out, you will have to ask for the bill by saying “l’addition s’il vous plait.” The check is not brought automatically as the wait staff does not want you to feel rushed. It is also considered rude to take out your wallet or credit card before the bill has landed on the table.
A service charge of 15% is always included in your bill. It is nice to leave a few euros as an extra tip but do not feel like you should leave an additional 15-20% tip as this would be too much.
Has this been your experience as well? Please let us know if you have encountered any variations in what we have written or if you have any dining tips that you think we should add.