Dining etiquette in France: How to wow your French dining companion

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

Howdy from the other side of the Atlantic! Tom and I are on vacation visiting friends and family in the U.S., so things might be quiet here in blogland until we return at the end of the month.

how-to-wow-french-dining-companion

Fancy food abounds in France but even if you’re not out somewhere posh, here’s how to impress your French dining partner.

GO!

Dining etiquette: France restaurant tips

Pretty much all of us have committed a faux pas at least once but if you want to try and look like you know what you’re doing when you’re sitting across from a French person, at least when out at a restaurant, these dining etiquette tips are for you.  Here’s what you can do to wow them:

Don’t order your steak well-done. Ever.

Although I’m not a fan of medium or rare steak and actually like burnt steak, when I’m out to eat in France, I order my steak medium. Crazily enough, I actually have gotten used to it and enjoy it. The French eat their meat à point usually and it’s almost always pink inside. Well-done steak would be bien cuit but you might get a few side eyes if you want your steak charred to death.

Keep the fork in the left hand. No American switchy nonsense!

When it comes to cutting your food, Americans do it differently. And this often stands out if you’re in an international group. Typically, many Americans will put their fork in their left hand, the knife in the right, and cut the meat. Then to eat the meat, we switch and put the meat on the fork that’s now in our right hand. If we need to cut again, the fork goes back in the left, and so on. Tom’s brother kind of stared at me the first time we ate together because I would cut a few pieces and then switch and he informed me kids eat like that. Adults cut one piece and eat it with the fork never leaving the hand you cut it with. As time went on and I watched others around me, I realized the French way is to keep that fork in your left hand after cutting one piece of meat and use it to put the piece directly into your mouth without switching the fork to your right hand. So if you want to fit in, no switchy business!

french wines

Know your wines.

Not every French person is a wine expert, but it’s true that wine is a part of mealtime and French culture in general. No one is expecting you to know every last detail of every wine on the list, but at least know the basics like the main grape varieties, what and where the big wine regions are in France, what they’re famous for and some basic info on what wine goes with what type of dish. And if wine isn’t your thing, no worries. Ask your server (or the sommelier if there is one) for their recommendation.

Skip the substitutions.

American restaurants are extremely accommodating to those with food allergies and other dietary restrictions (Servers also work for tips). In France, while you can certainly ask, meal substitutions aren’t the norm and might annoy those around you and the waitstaff. Stick to what’s on the menu unless it’s dire. If you just don’t like it, order something else. In many places, you can get your pick of side, type of sauce, etc. But asking to have something cooked plain with this or that on the side and veggies instead of fries, etc. will come across as culturally unaware.

Dinner starts after 7 p.m. at the absolute earliest.

If you invite a French person over for dinner or are tasked with making a dinner reservation, remember that the French do not eat dinner before 7 p.m. — and really that’s more like 8 p.m. So if you make an American-style reservation at 6:30 p.m., you will stand out and in many cases, restaurants don’t even open for dinner that early.  

 

What would you add about dining etiquette in France?

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Comments (12)

  • Cynthia

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    Yup, that’s it ! My mom taught us to use the knife and fork in the exact same way ! It’s funny how you pointed this out today ! We were taught it was bad table manners not to do so. It didn’t matter how anyone else ate, we did as we were told !

    Happy Monday !

    Reply

  • Punaiz

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    And don’t ever, ever, EVER eat at restaurant with a glass of cola.
    Before the meal as aperitiv, as a max if you explain you hat alcool. But never while eating.
    Never.

    Reply

    • Punaiz

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      And oh! If you REALLY want to “WOW!” him or her, just casually order some traditionnal cuisine lyonnaise dishes: pork feets or ear, lamb brain or cooked guts. It is delivious, but almost purely French delicacy.
      With a little Gamay wine.

      Reply

  • priscilla

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    I’m french and i switch my fork too 🙂 I don’t think it’s a french thing.

    Reply

  • Sara @ Simply Sara Travel

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    Haha, I love the no substitutions rule – of reminds me of a picky visitor I had last summer. We were in St Malo, and I had just navigated translating her order at a creperie, involving a veggie swap and asking for “not too much cheese.” (I don’t even know if they understood that concept.) Then she looks at me and says, “Oh, and can you ask for salsa with that?” I had to immediately tell her no, that that was not an acceptable request. Good thing we weren’t kicked out of France!

    Reply

  • Kelly

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    Bonjour! I just found your blog through a link on another travel blogger’s FB page. Thrilled to have found you. Looking forward to exploring your site. I’m Kelly and I blog at http://www.alovelylifeindeed.com. My husband and I live in the Boston area and part time in the northwest corner of Spain, in Galicia. Cheers!

    Reply

  • Jamie

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    Wonderful post! My husband and I still can’t quite get used to the later dinner times! It seems to be that way in most of Europe!

    Reply

  • Catherine

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    As a well-done steak gal, I’m having to get used to eating pinkish meat… as well as many other French dining rules and traditions. I love to visit your blog and feel the kindred American spirit (especially after having made an inevitable faux-pas, i.e. the other day I put something sweet out to eat with the aperitif! I got some pretty cold looks :o)…

    Reply

  • Laure-Line

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    Despite being a French gal, I like my meat ‘well-cooked’ and ask for it at restaurants when they ask me how I would like it (and sometimes apologize when I see the look on the waiter’s face 😀 ) but stick to ‘à point’ meat and eat it rosy when they only ask me “Saignant ou à point ?”

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Glad I’m not alone! I figure if I’m the one paying and eating the meal, I can choose how I’d like it to be cooked 😉

      Reply

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