Fancy food abounds in France but even if you’re not out somewhere posh, here’s how to impress your French dining partner. Read on for my dining etiquette in France tips.
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 in France 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. Steak in France is pink, at a minimum.
Keep the fork in the left hand. No American switchy nonsense!
When it comes to cutting your food, Americans do it differently. This is one major dining etiquette France difference. 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!
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, how to pronounce French wines, 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 and is a dining etiquette France no-no.
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. (unless it’s a dinner for small children). 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.
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 !
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.
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.
Why the heck should I not have a glass of cola (or any other soft drink), especially if I’m not a drinker by choice (or, if I’m an alcoholic and can’t consume wine/beer/spirits, etc.)? If I feel like being comfortable while eating food, I’ll enjoy my favorite libation whether or not said citizen of France likes it.
This sounds like utter snobbery of the kind that gets French people a bad name, and also something to club Americans (and Canadians) with.
I’m french and i switch my fork too 🙂 I don’t think it’s a french thing.
Sara @ Simply Sara Travel says
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!
Said person should not be travelling to any foreign country at all, or should just stick to eating the same food they do at home, alone in their hotel when they do go on vacation.
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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!
Thanks for all the tips! I’ll think twice before switching my forks ever again!
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)…
There are never any refills in France. Not on coffee, not on sodas. Buffet-style restaurants are very rare.
Oh, and French take food seriously. You just don’t play with your food!
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 ?”
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 😉
Steve Durfee says
I have been studying the use of forks and knives in France for a couple of years trying not to be too obvious, and I have a theory. I think there are “tines up” foods and “tines down” foods. “Tines down” are fork left hand (for righties) because the strong right knife hand does either the muscle work of cutting meat or the precision work of folding the lettuce with the knife for salads and other things you arrange on the plate and spear. “Tines up” is for spooning actions where the right hand can bring it to the mouth more gracefully. Reverse for lefties. Observe!
I was dining with an American recently (I’m American raised by French mom who ran a very French house) and this person pre-cut a lot of their food before beginning. I think this is a def faux-pas. Also the picking up of large pieces of bread and buttering the entire thing like a flying saucer or something is another no. Tear the bread into a small piece at a time and insert it and chew with your mouth closed. Repeat as needed.