Food, travel and photography

French etiquette at a dinner party

French etiquette at a dinner party

A short guide on seating arrangements, on how to set the table properly, and on the appropriate attitude at a formal dinner party, …



A seating arrangement cannot be improvised, you need to think ahead of time, decide who will sit next to whom before your guests arrive. Here are some recommendations or principles you may wish to consider:

  • ​You can actually sit a couple separately as long as they have been married for over a year. Young couples, married for less than a year, or fiancés cannot be separated.
  • Place your guests of honor to the right of the hosts as well

as if they are a religious representative, an old person or someone who is invited for the first time.  

  • Any other guest of honor will be placed to the left of the hosts.
  • When you host a dinner, your spouse sits across from you, unless the dinner party is thrown in honor of someone in particular.



You want to make a good first impression? Here are some rules that will show you have received a good education.

  • The lady hosting the dinner party is always the one starting to eat.
  • f you are hosting, make sure that your guests have access to the bread, the water, the salt and pepper. Don’t leave the table at the same time as your spouse as you are not supposed to leave your guests alone. As the host, you are the one serving the wine: if you serve it in a decanter, the bottle should remain at hand if your guests wish to know which vineyard it comes from. They usually enjoy knowing more about the grapes and the region the wine you have selected originates from.
  • Sit up straight with your wrists on the table but not your elbows.
  • Be sure to talk to both the guests sitting next to you, but do not turn your back to any of them at any time.
  • If you need something a little too far to reach on the table, no need to stand up and try to extend your arms across the table, just ask the person sitting next to you to give you a hand.
  • If you are a surgeon, or a medical doctor on call, or if you plan to receive an important call at some point during the evening, let the lady of the house know. Otherwise, just put your mobile on “Flight mode”, so it does not ring, buzz or vibrate… you can do without looking at your phone a few hours, can’t you? …
  • Put your bread on the left of your plate. If it is already placed on a tiny plate, yours is the one on the left!


It is not that complicated!

There is just a set of rules to go by:

  • ​The fork is on your left as you hold it with your left hand to eat. The knife is placed on your right with the sharp blade facing your plate. The soup spoon is placed next to the knife, the curved side facing the ceiling and not resting on the table. If there are specific silverware for a starter, they will be set farthest to the plate.
  • The dessert silverware are to be positioned above the plate. Closest to the glass will be the cheese knife, blade facing the plate and on the left. Then you set the spoon, handle to the right. Closest to the plate, you will have the fork, teeth facing right and the sharp tips resting on the table.

Please note that in France, the sharp tips of the fork teeth will be resting on the tablecloth whereas in the UK, it is the other way around: the sharp tips of the teeth will face the ceiling.

  • The knife-holder is merely decorative. If the silverware does not need to be changed between dishes, the knife-holder will be convenient for the guests to place their knife without fearing to make a spot on the tablecloth, which is always embarrassing.
  • Glasses should be placed just above the tip of the knife, or in a triangle. I usually place the largest one (the water glass) on the left as it seems easier to reach with the right hand. One last etiquette tip : the water glass should already be filled when the guests are invited to the table.

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