Demystifying French dining etiquette – Part Two: Beginning the meal


Table manners are very important to French people and can be tricky for overseas visitors. If you are planning on visiting France any time soon, you can’t go past our guide to French dining etiquette. 

Last time, we explored what happens before the meal: the etiquette for extra guests, BYO and what time to arrive.

This week, we take a look at what happens at the start of the meal. From aperitif to eating speed, Cyndie – better known as Mademoiselle Slimalicious – has covered it all. So don’t be intimidated by the French dinner party – learn these ground rules to be the best guest ever, and ensure a repeat invitation.

À table !

1. Aperitif

A firmly established tradition. If you are invited for lunch or dinner, expect to start the festivities with pre-drinks for at least one hour before the meal is served.


Tip: Don’t forget to ‘cheers’ with your host and other guests before starting your drink.

2. Meal duration

In France, a meal with guests usually takes from two to four hours because one meal consists of several courses served separately. French people usually like to eat slowly and savour each mouthful or their food. They also like to talk – a lot, in between each mouthful!

3. Sitting

Ask your French host where they would like you to sit or if they have any preference.


In a formal setting (wedding, business dinner), French people like to alternate: one man, one woman. In a more casual setting, men usually sit close to each other and women do the same.

4. Elbows and hands

Do not rest your elbows on the table. Your hands should be visible but not on your lap.

5. Wait


Do not start eating before your French host. Often the host likes to say a few words and thank his or her guests for being present.

By the way, I have never came across anyone who prays before eating in France; maybe they did 60 years ago, but definitely not any more.

6. Eat slowly


Remember that French people like to eat slowly, to enjoy their food. Make an effort. It would be regarded as rude to finish your plate within a few minutes from it been served (even if you were hungry). Show your host that you are enjoying the food by making it last.

Tip: Take the time to talk, laugh (and drink wine) between each mouthful.

This article was originally published on Mademoiselle Slimalicious.

Image credits:
1. Dining etiquette, via Kitschy Koo
2. Dinner Party, by Kirk T on Flickr
3. Le Diner a San Francisco, by Sam Breach on Flickr
4. Dinner, by raging wire on Flickr
5. My sandwich, by roboppy on Flickr 

About the Contributor

Cyndie Bowen

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