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.