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6 Etiquette Rules To Survive a Classy French Dinner

A Non-Frenchie's Guide to Becoming a "Frenchie" in HK

6 Etiquette Rules to Survive a Classy French Dinner

by Jobie Soo

Photo credit: The Restaurant Choice
Photo credit: The Restaurant Choice

Whenever someone speak of the French Art de Vivre, the first thing that pops into my head is always the food. Champagne, baguette, cheese, foie gras… you know, the quintessential French gourmet that leaves you satiated with a full belly.

But to French people, a meal is not just about the delicious food and the sparkling wine. It’s also the etiquettes and manners that put the “fine” in the word "fine"-dining.

Photo credit: Rech by Alain Ducasse

So next time when you visit a French fine-dining restaurant, like RECH by Alain Ducasse, EPURE, LE 39V etc (don't worry, foodies, we have a great list of fine restaurants for you to check out on our French Guide Gastronomy page), here’s a thing or two you should know about to survive a full course entrée-plat-dessert French dinner.

1. Work your way in with the utensils.

It's your first time at a fancy French dinner. Lying before your clueless eyes are not one but FOUR sets of cutlery in different shapes, sizes and form that you've never seen before. The first dish is here and you're in a panic because you have no idea which one of the four knifes and forks is the right one to grab...

Photo credit: House of Home

Don't worry, take a deep breath and listen to me. Different course requires different type of cutlery - steak knife, fish knife and bread knife etc. And usually, they are formally placed in a course-by-course order, so all you have to do is Start with the farthest set from the plate then work you way in one course at a time.

2. Master the “baguettiquette”

Baguette is a staple in French gourmet - that pretty much goes without saying.

But when it comes to treating a baguette, there are certain etiquette rules to follow and they are called the “baguettiquette”. A major breach (yes, it's THAT serious) of “baguettiquette” is placing the baguette directly on a plate. Never do that. Unless there’s a specific bread plate already laid out in front of you, you should always place the baguette directly on the tablecloth instead.

Another important note is that you should always use your hand to break the bread into bite-sized pieces instead of a knife (which is probably the only time during a French meal to ever touch the food with your bare hands).

3. Keep both hands on the dining table at all times.

Yep, this rule is as simple as it sounds.

Relax your hands on each side of the plate but never your elbows. Don’t rest your head on your hands or cross your arms because having a proper dining posture is an important manner, especially in the European dining culture.

4. Learn to speak the "dining" language.

Photo credit: Diply

Placing your fork and knife side by side across the dish translates as “I’m done eating” in the dining language. This signals the waiters to come and put away your plate without having to holler or wave like an inexperienced diner.

Apart from saying "I'm done eating" in the language of knife and fork, you can also construe other meanings by placing your cutlery in different positions. The above diagram will show you the tricks!

5. Say “sante” to a toast.

Photo credit: tuula

“Sante” means “health” in French, so next time when someone at your table proposes a toast, instead of “Cheers”, you should raise your glass and say “Sante” like a true Frenchie.

6. Take your time and really enjoy the food.

Before you throw that “French people take 4 hours to finish their meals” speech - which of course is ONLY an exaggeration - into this conversation, their attitude towards food is an admirable quality that Hong Kong people should learn something from.

It's not about how many hours it takes to finish an entire meal that suggests to people how much you love food. It's the act of treating food the way it deserves to be treated - with patience, admiration and love. (Yep, that's the foodie me speaking.)

So Hong Kong people, try to tone down your motor-like “fast-food” eating practice. Slow down to truly savour the taste of the food that you’ve paid good money for!


A classic full course French dinner consists of 17 courses and can take up to 5 hours to finish. But of course, any chance to partake in a feast as majestic as a 17-course meal is definitely worth every second.

Now that you’ve learnt the skills of dining at a French table, it’s time to put them into practice! Bon Appetite! 🙂

>> Browse all the fine French restaurants recommended by French Guide here.


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