I think you’ll all agree that no one throws a dinner party quite like the French….Ever-flowing wine, a cheese course and a bottom-less bread basket anyone?!
If you would like to emulate the French savoir-faire for entertaining, but feel overwhelmed at the idea of multiple courses, unique serving styles and French dining etiquette, fear not.
We’ve broken down the tradition of the French dinner party into 7 easy-to-follow tips that will help you whether you want to throw your own perfect Parisian party, or navigate the etiquette of someone else’s soirée.
1. The Order of Ceremony – 5 Courses
French dinner parties have clear ‘sessions’ dictated by courses, allowing for a concise flow or order to the evening.
Welcome Drinks & Nibbles: Upon arrival, serve guests an Aperitif, along with small bites to eat such as olives or tapenade on toasts. These welcome drinks and nibbles typically last an hour.
Seating & Entrée; You may then invite your guests to take a seat, and serve the entree.
Mains; Following the clearing of the entrée, the time comes for the main meal, or the Plat principal, as it is known in France.
Cheese Course; The main course is followed by the cheese course, served with bread.
Dessert; Guests will then enjoy dessert, followed by tea or coffee.
2. Selecting the Correct Beverages
Guests should be served an aperitif upon arrival. This is to prepare guests for eating, so avoid serving anything too sweet or alcoholic. We would suggest a sherry, vermouth, pastis or Champagne.
When selecting wine to be served alongside your main, think about the origin of the food, and the flavours.
Fuller-bodied white wines go well with fatty fish or meat.
If you’re serving a salty pasta dish, or chicken or lamb, a darker hued Rose pairs well.
Light reds work well with fish, while darker reds are better suited to strong flavored sauces or fatty foods.
3. Selecting Your Cheeses
The cheese course is always eaten after the main course but before dessert.
Serve at least 3 cheeses of varying textures with bread, rather than crackers for an authentic Parisian cheese board.
We’d recommend starting with a mild, creamy cheese such as a Brillat-Savarin, which pairs well with Champagne or Sauvignon Blanc.
Then guests can move on to a milder, firm flavour, like a goats cheese such as Le Chevrot, which will also go well with the Sauvignon Blanc.
Finish the cheese course with a Roquefort, a sheep milk blue cheese, accompanied by a glass of Sauternes.
The cheeses should be served at room temperature, not straight out of fridge, and ensure there is one knife per cheese.
4. Bring the Bread to the Table
Bread is a staple at a French dinner party and is a feature throughout several courses.
Try buying ‘une baguette’ from a boulangerie (a French bakery where the bread is made on premise) instead of your local supermarket.
Make like the French and skip the bread plate when setting the table. Simply place the bread on the tablecloth or placemat between plates. Not only will you feel more Parisian, but you’ll save yourself the extra washing up!
5. Keep it Simple – Stay Out of the Kitchen
A French host wants to enjoy as much of her guests’ company as possible at her dinner party, so try to prepare the meal in advance, leaving only a few finishing touches to be made before serving.
Keep the stress of cooking, hosting and entertaining to a minimum, by sticking to simple, homemade dishes, such as this filet mignon in mushroom wine sauce. Click here to view our favourite recipe!
If you’re lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a French dinner party invitation, here are a few things to remember…
6. Never Arrive on Time to a French Dinner Party!
This is a golden rule of dinner party etiquette in France. By arriving a little late, you’re giving your host a few spare minutes to straighten that last place setting and put the finishing touches on her entree.
Keep an eye on that watch though, as more than thirty minutes late is considered just as rude as arriving early.
7. The French Never Arrive Empty Handed
Wine is the perfect gift, but it can be difficult to guess your host’s taste.
If possible, find out what food will be served so you can select a wine that will pair well with the meal.
Flowers are also a popular choice.
Final Notes on French Dining Party Etiquette
A French dinner party will usually last two, to four hours, due to the number of courses.
The French do not rush their meals, and love to chat with one another between bites.
Similarly, don’t be too quick to polish off your glass of wine. The French sip their wine slowly and with consideration. It is a pleasure to be enjoyed, not rushed.
For help creating the perfect French table setting, read our post here.
Have we missed anything? Share your own dinner party tips and tricks in the comments below.
Be sure to tag us in photos of your next dinner party!