Things you should never do when dining in France

The French love their food rules, so here's how to get through the minefield of a French dinner unscathed, according to Paris-based author cook book author and teacher of French cooking classes Susan Herrmann Loomis.

A person prepares a slice of foie gras
A person prepares a slice of foie gras (Photo by Stefano RELLANDINI / AFP)

Don’t ask for more food

Sure, the French often serve smaller portions, but asking for more would “clearly be a faux pas”, said Herrmann Loomis.

“It would be an insult to the chef or cook to ask for more. If they offer more, of course, then you’re safe.”

And if you’re still hungry just remember that there is still cheese and dessert to come. 

Don’t get your steak well done

These days French chefs may be used to the fact that some people are sensitive to the sight of the slightest trace of blood in a steak, but in France it has been known for chefs to refuse to grill an entrecôte “bien cuit” (well done). 

Either go for “à point” (medium) and get used to it like everyone else – or just order the chicken.

Don’t put your bread on the plate

While it may be tempting to put your bread on your dinner plate like you do back home, resist the urge in France, said Herrmann Loomis. 

“In France the bread goes on the table. They think it’s odd if you try to balance a piece on your plate. It’s a custom.”

Don’t put butter on the bread

“The French just don’t do it except at breakfast, and then they slather it on,” Herrmann Loomis told The Local.

“But the French don’t serve butter with meals so don’t expect any.” And don’t put any on your croissant either, it’s made of butter.

Don’t drink anything but wine or water with dinner

“Americans often drink coffee with their meals and I have seen people ask for it here,” Herrmann Loomis said. 

But this isn’t the French way to do it. Here it’s wine or water. Also on the banned list of drinks is coke (maybe for kids but it’s not typical). Beer is OK depending on the meal – it goes great with choucroute, for instance, or mussels. 

Cut into cheese correctly (or let someone else do it)

There are so many faux pas with cutting cheese that you’re bound to go wrong from the beginning. 

For a start the cheese comes after the salad, before the dessert. 

But most importantly, you have to cut it the right way. Cut the cheese in the direction it’s already been vit, never cut off the point and don’t leave the cheese board looking a warzone, she added.

Don’t cut up the lettuce

Cutting the lettuce with a knife and fork is a faux pas in France, Herrmann Loomis said. 

“If you cut the lettuce it is an insult to the cook and suggests to them it was not prepared correctly. The right thing to do is just fold the lettuce leaves and put them in your mouth.”

Don’t eat with your hands

It might sound like obvious advice, but you’d be surprised at what some people think is good dinner table etiquette. 

“Don’t take a chicken leg and pick it up,” Herrmann Loomis explained. “Use the knife and fork.”

Leave the ketchup alone

Basically no one in their right mind should ask for ketchup at a French dinner table or in a French restaurant unless you’re having French fries, but it still happens. 

Your addiction to the red sauce can cause all sorts of problems in France, especially if you want it on your omelette – but you’re just going to have to quit it. The same goes for BBQ sauce, unless you’re at an American style joint, and don’t expect any “French dressing” on your salad. Where do you think you are?

Don’t spread your foie gras

“Many French people are proud of foie gras; when it is served cooked and chilled, take a generous slice, set it on the toast that will be served with it, and enjoy. Don’t treat it like a mousse, and try to spread it,” Herrmann Loomis advised.

“This controversial delicacy and like all fine foods in France you have to treat it with the respect the locals think it deserves. And a big part of this is resisting any urge to spread it on bread before you eat it. It’s not a Brussels paté, you’ll be told.”

“And while we’re at it, don’t talk about animal cruelty when there is foie gras in the neighborhood. It’s a traditional dish; the French copied it from the Egyptians a gazillion years ago, so if you really have a problem with it, take it to Egypt.”  

Another version of this story was published in 2013. You can sign up for cooking courses with Susan Herrmann Loomis at her website here.

Member comments

  1. Well, I’m sure its all true but personally I don’t care if the “chef” is upset. He’s a cook, and should stay in the kitchen and get on with his job – cooking food for which people pay.

  2. I completely agree about cutting the cheese. How it irritates me when someone cuts a large chunk taking the point – effectively leaving the next person with the back skin!

  3. A question for all you out there :Is it acceptable to ask that magret de canard be served ‘bien chaud’? I like duck quite a bit but it is often served tepid or even near room temperature. How can I ask for the duck to be served hot? Thank you!

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Revealed: How your food and drink habits change when you move to France

From shopping to cooking, eating out to wine, here are the ways readers of The Local have noticed their eating and drinking habits have changed since moving to France.

Revealed: How your food and drink habits change when you move to France

France prides itself on its gastronomy and food and drink play an important part in everyday life and culture. It can take a bit of getting used to for foreigners, but when we asked readers of The Local, most said that the change has been in a positive direction.

In our survey asking readers how their relationship with food and drink has changed since moving to France, 90 percent said that they noticed that the quality of the food they consume had improved.

Fresh food and markets

Janet Parkinson told us that she feels “healthier overall, despite the quantities of butter and cheese I consume!”

“I may be one of the few people who LOSE weight when they visit Paris. We shop at the outdoors food markets all the time and eat a ton of fresh produce. The quality is so much higher than in the US and the prices are so much lower, it’s astounding”.

For readers from the United States, the availability of fresh markets was one of the primary ways they noticed the quality of their food increase.

Jim Lockard in the Rhône département said he feels “more healthy here”.

“It is much easier to obtain affordable healthy ingredients here, especially with the outdoor marchés and the prevalence of smaller food shops”. 

Another American, Gregory Long, in the Paris area, said “we do not waste food here. We go to the bio marché [organic market] on Sunday and buy food for the week. We are definitely making more “big salads” at home. Eating much more fresh pastries”. 

Karen Hairston said the main thing that surprised her about eating and drinking in France was the “vast availability of fresh markets in Paris”.

As of 2021, there were over 10,700 food markets (both covered and uncovered) in France. In Paris, you are never too far away from a market – there are several per day all across the city, and they are all listed on the town hall’s website with an interactive map.

READ MORE: All you need to know about shopping at French food markets

Eating out vs. cooking from scratch

About half of respondents said that they eat out more often in France, while the other half said they are more likely to cook from scratch.

As for respondents from the UK, several found that they have been doing more home-cooking while on this side of the Channel.

Elizabeth Lynes, who has been living in France for over four years, said: “our diet is more healthy as we don’t eat takeaways here. Food isn’t as processed, meat is a far better quality here, though fruit and vegetables don’t store so well here”. 

Mandy Moat, who is vegan said: “it is more difficult for me to eat out and there is less variety of vegan options in France than in the UK.

“I do a lot more cooking since moving here, but I eat better and healthier, and I’m able to grow my own food as I have a bigger garden here. I rarely eat out”.

Simultaneously, many other respondents – both from the UK and US – were surprised to find that restaurants can be more affordable than previously imagined.

Jane Fisher, who has been visiting France for several years, noted this: “Generally we can eat much better and for a much more reasonable price in France than we can in the Boston area.

“We’ve had lunch for two at a Michelin one star restaurant for €140. Going to an equivalent restaurant in Boston would cost twice that. Many Americans think France is expensive, but when restaurant prices include tax and tip, and wine is reasonably priced, in general meals will cost less than comparable meals in the US”.

As for Susan Parker Taylor, said she “[goes] out more for food as it is great value for money. We also socialise more with friends”.

The joy of a meal

Almost half of the readers who responded to the survey said that living in France has made them more adventurous when it comes to trying different and new types of food, and many noticed themselves slowing down to really enjoy each bite.

Jim Lockard said that in France “Meals are to be savoured, and you talk about life, not about what you are eating and drinking”.

Another reader, Jen Williams in Paris, noted that “we sit at meals much longer than we would in the US. I’m much less picky now”.

This sentiment of really savouring a meal was a common one. 

Canadian Jo-Ann Gagnon, who has been living in France under a year, also noticed that she eats slower in France – she said: “I take more time to taste my food. I pay more attention to my table manners. For instance, I put my fork and knife down between each bite. I drink Champagne instead of wine because it is affordable in France!”

For many readers, this is best reflected in the way restaurant service works in France.

READ MORE: Reader question: Do I really need to reserve before going to a restaurant in France?

“I love the slow rate at which a meal at a restaurant is served and eaten. Dinners out are about relaxation and not about wilding down food. The waiters don’t rush you out,” Sarah Van Sicklen told The Local.

Richard Stenton, who lives in the Gard, felt similarly, saying that there is no rush to finish. “When you go to a restaurant you have the table in most places for the whole evening or afternoon. You have to ask for the bill”.

Not all positives

Some readers did find some negative aspects about eating and drinking in France, however. Roger B in Pyrénées-Orientales lamented the fact that “there are no robust breakfasts available”.

Two readers also referenced the fact that fast food has become more prevalent in France in recent years, particularly those that focus on selling burgers and pizza.

READ MORE: Krispy Kreme, Popeyes, Five Guys: the American fast-food chains taking on France

And as mentioned above, adjusting to the French diet can be challenging for those with food restrictions.

Sarah Van Sicklen said that before she moved to France, she had been vegan for almost 10 years. “The quality and availability vegan food made continuing to be vegan extremely difficult. It’s still easy to avoid meat but good luck avoiding butter. It’s practically in the air here”, she said. 

Nonetheless, Van Sicklen did add that this was one aspect that surprised her: “the butter is insanely delicious!”