Just as it’s essential to familiarize yourself with French business etiquette, it’s equally important to understand French table manners, before you visit. Especially when you’re dining within the French business culture.
The French have a distinct set of table manners, and you want to know them beforehand if you expect to express your respect and display a professional attitude while eating in the local restaurants with your colleagues. The last thing you want to do when trying to impress a new client or win over your manager is to come off uneducated, impolite, or disrespectful to the local culture.
For the record, French culture is highly regarded for its fine cuisine, and the dining experience in France is an art itself. Much respect and attention should be paid to the restaurant experience, and it will be expected amongst your French business acquaintances.
Wait to be Seated
If you are dining with a particular host or if someone invited you to a meal, wait to be directed where to sit. Do not place your napkin on your lap immediately after sitting, but instead wait for your hostess or the partner who invited you to the meal to place the napkin on their lap first. If you are in someone’s home, typical French dinning manners hold that you should wait until the lady of the house places her napkin on her lap before you place your napkin on yours.
Listen for the “Bon Appétit”
Whether you’re dining at a colleague’s home or at a local restaurant, wait for the host or the waiter to say, “Bon appétit.” This means, “Enjoy your meal,” and it is an invitation to begin eating.
Drink After the Toast
If you are served drinks, wait to see if the host will say a short toast. In France, it is common for the host—whether dining in public or private—to give a short toast before beginning the meal. Do not take a sip of your drink until after the toast and glass clinking has been done.
Keep Your Hands on the Table
Unlike many dining customs in the Unites States, French table manners dictate that you should keep your hands out of your lap and instead on the table during the meal. Ideally, you should rest them gently on the edge of the table as you eat so they are visible.
Do Not Marry the Salt and Pepper
The passing of the salt and pepper is another distinction of French table manners. If someone asks you to pass the salt, you should only pass them the salt. Do not pass both the salt and pepper unless you are specifically asked to pass both. This may be a small gesture, but it is a common practice of French table manners.