The French are as arguably revered for their elegant tablescapes as they are for their famous cuisine. From monogrammed forks to linen napkins to bread etiquette—to the knowing eye, there are a few key things that distinguish a French dining setting from any other. Read on to learn a few secrets about the French dining table.
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Something about the French dining table that is recognizable straight away is the flatware—notably its positioning. The forks are (to anyone not French) presented upside down, with the teeth propped against the table. This originally was done to show off monogramming on the back, which was commonplace. For those with fancy forks, this still holds true today.
Although knife rests can be found on dining tables of other cultures, they are almost always found on French ones. Unlike between courses in other countries, in France, your cutlery is kept across all savory dishes (only the plate is changed).
Besides being functional (they prevent used knives from soiling the tablecloth), they come in a variety of motifs and colors and add a decorative touch to the overall tablescape.
We all know that bread is a French necessity. But what might surprise you is the fact that the French do not use bread plates! Bread is served in baskets and is meant to be—believe it or not—placed directly on the table.
Furthermore, bread is not just for before the meal, but rather throughout. And despite French cuisine being deeply associated with it, butter isn’t offered. Instead, bread meant to be torn and eaten both by itself and to accompany the food. The French even have a word for wiping the plate clean with your bread at the end of a meal – saucer.
On the French dining table, you’ll always have a glass for water and often two (or more) wine glasses if you’ll be drinking different kinds. Settings thus may feel a bit crowded if you’re not used to it, but everything on it is always beautiful and has a purpose!
In France, the salads might look different than what you’re used to; fresh and few ingredients are favored—often simple greens and a vinaigrette. Bigger leaves are torn, not chopped, into pieces small enough to eat (you should never have to use your knife for a salad at a French dining table!).
It is served either between the starter and the main dish, alongside the main or—which you may find quirky—after the main. And as with bread, separate salad plates are not usually offered.
A respectable French dining table will have linen napkins, and—if the host prides him or herself on authenticity—antique ones that are large enough to lay a table with (they can span up to 30 in sq!). French napkins are always crisp, clean, folded and often monogrammed. Tres chic.
Of course it’s not a proper French dining table without cheese! Unlike in other areas of the world, in France the beloved cheese course is last (just before or instead of a dessert). Not only is it a delicious way to round out a meal, it is also a wonderful excuse to open another bottle of wine and encourage guests to stick around for longer.
Find out how to assemble the perfect cheeseboard in our video
A variety of different types and textures should be included, extra points for varying regions. Cheese can be served in whole rounds or generous wedges and accompanied by fresh fruit. If you’re French, crackers aren’t served with cheese. Instead? You guessed it… more bread; we suggest a lovely country boule!
Last tip? A cheese platter in France is never offered twice—take what you desire on the first go around.