Love France… What to do when you are invited to a dinner party (or want to throw one)

Sharing a meal in France is a social event in itself. Whether you are invited to a dinner party or want to throw one, it’s good to know the etiquette that goes with it.  It may seem that there are a lot of rules, but once you get going, things tend to flow…  

When you are invited to a dinner party

  • It is a tacit rule to arrive 15 minutes late to give your host more time to be perfectly ready. If you are really going to be late (more than 20 minutes after the time agreed), it is preferable to ring your hosts to let them know.
  • Although it is not considered rude to come empty handed (especially with close friends), it is always nice for your hosts to bring a little gift. Most people sending the perfect holiday gift think of a bottle of wine (of course), flowers, or a box of chocolates.
  • Again, although it is not compulsory, when invited to a dinner party, you can offer the host to bring something (usually dessert).
  • French people always clink glasses before starting eating. Make sure to look at people in the eyes and not to cross other people’s arms – and of course clink glasses with everyone, even if they are sitting far from you. Some people are very strict on not crossing arms as it is said to bring back luck.
  • Don’t start eating until everyone else is served. It is better to wait for the cook to sit down and say “bon appétit !” before starting to eat.
  • Do not cut the salad, but fold the leaves. It is considered rude as it implies that the cook didn’t prepare it well themselves.
  • Always keep your hands on the table, but do not put your elbows on it.
  • Finish your plate, but don’t ask for seconds. If there are any left, your host will offer them. If you don’t want seconds, it is totally fine to say no.
  • Say “merci” before going back home.

When you throw a dinner party

  • Offer an “apéritif” before dinner. This includes a drink (alcoholic or not – try to have a selection) and nibbly bits like peanuts, “saucisson”, crackers or cherry tomatoes. (Read our article about apéritif in France for more information).
  • When laying the table, put the knife on the left side of the plate, blade facing the latter, and the fork on the right, face down. Put two glasses: a big one for water and a smaller one for wine.
  • Always have a basket of sliced bread on the table, and keep it full throughout the meal. Same for water.
  • Respect the courses order: entrée – plat – fromage – dessert (starters, main course, cheese, dessert), and serve wine that goes with each dish.  As a rule of thumb: red wine with meat and cheese, white wine with fish, and rosé with white meat and delicatessen (or instead of red wine when it’s very hot outside!).
  • Serve a cheese platter with the unmissable camembert, comté, etc , but also several local ones. Always serve it with salad with French dressing, and bread.
  • Offer coffee at the end of the meal.
  • When there are children, it is very common to give them a separate table and to serve them earlier than the grown-ups.

Language buddy…

Merci pour l’invitation = thanks for the invite

Merci pour ce délicieux repas = thanks for this delicious meal

Veux-tu que j’apporte quelque chose ? = would you like me to bring something ?

Je peux t’aider ? = can I help you?

Trinquer = to clink glasses

Tchin/à la vôtre/santé ! = cheers!

Mettre la table = to lay the table

Le plateau de fromage = the cheese platter

Bon appétit !