Picture this: You’re in France and you want to invite a platonic French friend out to dinner at a restaurant. So you invite him or her — they seem delighted — mention a restaurant and time to meet, and then you both go on to have a wonderful meal. When you ask for the check, your friend doesn’t move or say anything about paying the bill or splitting it, and it just sits there on the table. Finally, you pick up the bill and leave feeling a little confused because you assumed you’d split the bill. After all it was just your idea to eat out and you guys are just friends — you didn’t volunteer to cover the cost!
But a-ha! You did!
Let’s talk about how to invite someone out to eat in France and what it means in France if you say je t’invite…
Quick French Lesson: Invite someone out to eat in France
In French, there’s this little word inviter that has some built-in rules if you’re French. On the surface, it means to invite.
But listen up, in France, when you use the word “invite” with a French person in the context of a restaurant, you’re in essence telling the person that the meal is “on you.” It’s your treat. In France if you say je t’invite, you’re saying that you’re paying and treating them.
In English, we can invite a friend out to eat but it doesn’t automatically mean that the person doing the inviting is going to pay the restaurant bill. This is a cultural difference that you need to be aware of if you’re big on making plans with French folks! Watch out for this if you’re trying to translate “invite” from English to French!
Saying “je t’invite au resto ce soir” is making it clear to the other person that you’re paying and almost rewarding the person for something.
Like a manager saying thanks for all your hard work on this project, let me invite you out tonight (meaning let me treat you to this meal). Or a friend treating another friend for his or her birthday.
Using “invite” is not formal exactly, but it’s clear that you’re telling someone you’re footing the bill at the end of the night. Like in English, it sounds a little old fashioned, at least to my ear to say, “I’d like to invite you to the new Thai place tonight for dinner at 8.” I’d just say, “Want to grab dinner at the new Thai place tonight at 8?”
If you’re using the word “invite,” it’s because you’re telling the person you’re paying.
Personally speaking, I’ve gotten myself into trouble with this one. Back when I first met Tom, we were talking about a new trendy restaurant in town (with equally trendy menu prices) and one day he asked me in English if I wanted to invite him out for a meal there.
His eyes were kind of wide and he was doing a weird thing with his eyebrows. His grin should have clued me in, but like an idiot, I said sure, why not.
Inviter in French means to invite in English. I thought nothing of it and said we’ll go Saturday. I thought he was just suggesting that we eat there… and he was, but I accidentally said I was paying for it! It was that Saturday night that I let Tom know that in English, using the word “invite” to suggest going somewhere with someone doesn’t necessarily tell you who is paying!
Keep in mind that the “inviting” someone phrasing includes other instances as well and is not just something to watch out for when talking about restaurants. You could accidentally “invite” someone to a concert (them expecting you to pay for the ticket) or to a play or anything else that involves money. So be careful when you invite someone out to eat in French (or invite them to do anything else).
Tips to wow your French dining companion >>
So how do you invite someone out to eat in France without accidentally telling them you want to pay?
As I mentioned above, just suggest that you go out to eat and don’t translate invite in English to inviter in French to avoid a misunderstanding (unless you do want to foot the bill, that is).
So in French, just say, “Est-ce que tu veux aller au resto chinois ce soir ?” That way you’ve asked someone out to eat but haven’t unintentionally told them you’re paying!
Is this news to you? Have you ever accidentally “invited” someone out to eat in France without realizing it?
Check out other “Quick French lessons” here. If you like this series, please tell me below!
Taste of France says
Ha! You explained this very well.
Yes, this happened to me, but in a lower-stakes situation. I was in a café with my French tutor. The check came and I reached to pay. She said, “non, je t’invite.” Then she explained the whole “inviter” thing, saving me great confusion later.
BTW, among the things I did with my tutor was go to the supermarket to have her explain products that were mysteriously packaged differently than I was used to, and go to a restaurant to have the menu explained (like what is a dame blanche).
Thank you. 😉 You bring up a good point, one that I had forgotten about, that in the moment someone can say “je t’invite” when the check arrives and they’re not saying they’re inviting you anywhere but that they’re treating you. Good to know that as well. This tutor sounds like a keeper!
annette charlton says
I am intrigued, will find out what dame blanche means now.
I’ve seen it on menus as a dessert, usually an ice cream and whipped cream type of thing. But there may be other meanings. Will have to wait for Catherine to explain 😉
Christine Leroy says
“Dame blanche (French, “white lady”) is the name used in Belgium and the Netherlands for a sweet dessert consisting of vanilla ice cream with whipped cream, and warm molten chocolate. In Germany and the German-speaking part of Switzerland, the same type of dessert is known as a Coupe Dänemark. The dessert is similar to the American sundae.” From wikipedia.
Ah! Now I know why my friend, when my husband and I visited her this summer in Boulogne-sur-mer, said to us “je vous invite!”. My French is so rusty….I knew what she meant, but I was suprised to hear “invite”.
Yup, it’s pretty common phrasing so a good one to know if you make plans with people!
annette charlton says
Thanks for this heads up. I am sure it will come in handy in the future.
You’re very welcome. Happy to help!
What the hell, that is great from the point of view of the person being invited maybe not the person doing the inviting one would have to be sure they could afford to invite a person out for a meal before doing so.
Yup, at an expensive restaurant, it would be quite a shock to your wallet to discover you’re the one paying the whole bill. I feel like a misunderstanding could be cleared up between friends but in a business context with a client? Could be an expensive mistake!
Also more common mix-up when it’s the cinema you are inviting someone to. Same thing for the more common use of “offrir”. You may be asking someone to join you for drinks but if you say Je t’offre une verre de vin, you’re paying.
Yup, excellent points!
uthman Saheed says
I don’t know how you guys do in France, but definitely here, if you are taking others out to eat, you must be ready to pick up the bill. SIMPLE.