French Table Manners

 table setting- french style
French table setting

I've had some requests for french table manners, so I decided to interview my french teacher Julie, who is possibly the as french as the French can get.

In this article, I'll cover french dining manners, french table setting, french restaurant etiquette, and what french meals are like (generally speaking).


First, of all, I asked to show me How to Set the Table for a French meal.

French Table Setting

French table manners - A visual example of a formal table setting

I showed her my formal table setting reference and she modified it with her pencil.

I redrew it for you all here.

etiquette proper table setting- french formal

The difference between french table settings and universal formal table settings?

The drinks are placed in the front, place cards are at the top right hand corner.

They don't drink tea as part of their dessert (usually) so the teaspoon has been removed.

Of course, if the french hostess would like to serve tea or coffee at the end, she simply adds a tea spoon on the right.

The dessert fork has been replaced by a cheese knife, or a tiny cheese fork, depending on what cheese is served.

For the standard international formal table setting, see Etiquette Proper Table Setting How To Set A Table Properly

Interview with Julie, on French Table Manners

basket of french bread



Background of Julie, the French lady

Julie is a french lady and I studied french with her.

She is totally french and is from Paris.

She was brought up in a household where the traditions for table setting and table manners have been traced back beyond the lineage of her grandparents. Not only is the table set formally everyday, they dine with fine china and real silver.

Table Manners And Settings Were Important

French table manners were very important in her family. Though they live separately, everyone in her family, from her grandparents, her parents and her own family dinners set their table formally daily.

The standard practice in her family is serving (at minimum) the formal meal of aperitif (if they decided to have a glass of wine), entre, plate principal, cheese, dessert/fruit and the optional coffee.

Every meal is set beautifully and she remembers her parents and grandparents correcting her in the ways of french table manners when she grew up. (She adds, even on occasion, right now, she gets 'reminded'.)


I asked her whether the french table manners were similar to the continental ones around the world.

In her heavily French-accented english, she explains that she does not know too much about american table manners.

So I told her to simply describe her french table manners to me.

This is what Julie says of her french table manners.

She claims she is less formal in her table setting than her parents and grandparents at her own home. Though she has the basic four courses of entre, plate principal, cheese and dessert every evening.

At holidays and festive celebrations, the dinners are more elaborate and formal.

(She is known to cook all day from morning to evening whenever she hosts a party! I definitely know that.) See French Girl as Hostess.

At home, the table is set, and they dine using utensils from outside in. (Same as us.)

No elbows on the table, no slouching, no chewing with the mouth open. Definitely no eating with any noise.

She lays the napkin on her lap ONLY when everyone is seated. She picks her fork/spoon to start eating ONLY when the owner of the house commences with "Bon apetit!"

Phone etiquette should be practiced at all times. There should be no phones, laptops at the table. You should not even answer them or look at them. They should not be heard or referred to. It is looked at as very rude.

When you're done with the meal, you should not fold your arms and lean back. One should never half fold their arm by placing one arm on the table either. I suppose good posture is practiced all the time.

It looks lazy and projects a lazy attitude. It gives a bored and unappreciative look especially to the host who put in much effort to prepare the meal.

Salty food should always be served before the sweet foods. Sweet foods should always be consumed last. In many cases, it is the highlight.

I've heard several times, Julie and Pascal, both my french teachers, exclaim how they cannot understand someone ending a meal with a salty food. Like chips for instance, or cheese. They cannot comprehend it and detest it. They are almost offended if someone offers it to them. The cultural difference is interesting, huh? :)

french cheese


French Table Manners At A Restaurant

I asked her, do all french people dine in courses?

She answered that in her family, yes, And especially so in very traditional families, they serve full courses at home everyday.

I continued my interview, So are you expected to order the full course at French restaurants? What if i'm not that hungry?

She replied, 'If you go to just a cafe, you can order just a plate principal and dessert, that's fine. Or perhaps some coffee, the entre and the plate principal. You can eat whatever you want on the menu in whatever order you please.'

Key phrase to note, just a cafe.

However, if you go to a chic restaurant('Chic' - her own words exactly), it is considered rude if you only ordered an entre. It is expected that you will order the whole course.

Going to the restaurant is viewed as an experience, not just to dine. The authentic French restaurants are designed to perfection with not just the food, but right down to the ambience, silverware etc. You are expected to want to sit there for a long time. So restaurants are not meant for a quick and fast dinner. They usually don't come cheap so the French go when they have prepared to pay.

French Table Manners Tips

The table settings varies depending on what is served. So when you are at a french dinner, you might find different utensils on the table, such as an escargot fork, soup spoon, a shell cracker etc. I guess in retrospect, that should be the way. Think of the food first before setting the table, not plan the menu according to the table setting.

You don't have to worry too much about the french table setting etiquette, just remember to use the silverware from outside in.

If in doubt, follow the person sitting in front of you!

In the world of fine dining, there are generally two types of table settings officially recognized - the Continental style and American style, with the American style only found in America.

Again, forgive me if I'm repeating myself but she told me the basic differences in table settings are the difference in the order of foods served first.

So that simply means it depends on whether the host wants to serve you the salad first or after the appetizer etc - things like that.

I hope this interview has shed some light on your french dining experience. :)

Thank you for reading 'French Table Manners'!

Go back to How To Be Classy.

You may like:

  • Etiquette Proper Table Setting How To Set A Table Properly

  • Table Setting Etiquette Three course dinners, family dinners and do you know your wine glasses?

  • Elegant Table Settings

  • Elegant Weddings: Borrow Some French Style

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    Tags: French table manners, french etiquette, french manners, dinner table etiquette, basic table manners

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