The art of the French Dinner Party is something that is at the very heart of French culture: sharing a good time with friends around drinks, fantastic food, and plenty of laughter. So whether you’ll be inviting four guests or fourteen, here’s how to host a French Dinner Party that your friends will be raving about for years to come!
Indeed, hosting people at your home is known in French as “Art de recevoir à la Française” (the art of hosting like the French) and the gastronomic meal of the French is considered to be so important that, since 2010, it has been inscribed on on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Set the ambiance of a French-inspired dinner party
There are several things to consider when setting up your home to host your guests, and most of these can be done on a budget if you so wish. The first is the music. I would personally stick with classic French music, and you can check out our guide to French music here.
When it comes to lighting, how you light your space will impact the ambiance and vibe of the party more than almost anything else. Candles are a great way to set the mood, as are fairy lights if you live somewhere where lighting candles aren’t an option. For more inspiration, you can check out our guide to decorating your apartment in a Parisian style.
The final piece of the puzzle is setting the table. Even when you’re dining in a Parisian restaurant, it’s customary to order ‘une carafe d’eau’ (a pitcher of tap water) and French homes are no different. Most people will serve water from a ceramic top glass table bottle, though a jug can work well too. Glass cups, wine glasses (for those who will be consuming wine), cutlery, and nice tableware are all staples.
Food and drink to serve at a French dinner party
For those who don’t drink alcohol, elderflower cordial or Diabolo grenadine (grenadine syrup mixed with lemonade) are both lovely alternatives that can be sipped as an apéro or drunk together with the meal. French baguette is traditionally served throughout the meal. It is usually torn into small pieces by the guests and left on the table itself. It is not usually served with butter, salt, or even olive oil.
Apéritif & amuse-bouche
As guests are arriving, it’s typical to serve up an apéro, which usually comprises of drinks and a light bite to eat such as olives, some nuts, or crisps. Drinks of choice typically include things like Champagne or cocktails like the Kir Royale.
The tradition of the French apéro, which is the colloquial way of saying apéritif, is a casual affair that is the perfect way to start any dinner party. In general, people will stand around or sit in the living room.
Traditionally, the first course of the dinner (the starter) is a light dish which whets the appetite. In France, depending on the season, this can be foods such as quiche, salads, soups, Deviled Eggs, or small servings of puff pastry.
Plat Principal (main course)
The main dish is known as the Plat Principal and is not only the biggest dish, but also the start of the show. The dish varies wildly depending on which region you’re in (there is no ‘French food’ but rather regional food) and also depending on the season and the taste of your guests.
If you’re hosting, then I recommend making something that will allow you to spend as much time with your guests as possible! Vegetarian options which you can make ahead of time include ratatouille and tomates farcies (stuffed tomatoes).
In France, the cheese course is always eaten before the dessert and is one of the most important parts of the dinner party. You can serve up as many or as few cheese as you like. As a general rule of thumb, I like to provide one soft cheese, one hard cheese, and one more unique cheese such as a goat’s cheese. Alternatively, you could ask your friends to bring a cheese as their gift to you for hosting.
Dessert & Coffee
The meal ends with a light dessert (chocolates, ice cream, patisseries purchased from a local store) and coffee. Some people may choose to have a digestif after the dessert and coffee (typically whiskey or cognac) but this is completely optional. Don’t set an end time with your guests as it is customary for the guests to stay a while after the dinner is finished.
Tips for guest attending a French dinner party
While every culture has different habits, French customs are fairly easy to get to grips with, if only you follow a few simple rules. It’s typically seen as polite to not arrive at your host’s place without a small gift.
This can typically be a bunch of flowers, a potted plant (if you know they like this sort of thing), or a bottle of wine (rosé, red, white, and Champagne are the classic choices). If you want to purchase a bottle of wine that will pair well with the meal, consider asking your host what you’ll be eating ahead of time.
Other gifts can include a box of artisanal chocolates, a candle, speciality food, or something handmade. When in doubt, I tend to stick with a bottle of white wine or a small box of chocolates, particularly if I don’t know the host very well. In terms of flowers, it is customary to purchase flowers that are currently in season (this is both better for the environment and your wallet).
When attending a French-inspired dinner party at someone else’s home, be sure to arrive late. In general, it is customary to arrive around 15 to 20 minutes late so that the host won’t be pressured to have everything prepared for the moment that guests are all meant to be arriving.
In French, this even has a name: le quart d’heure de politesse (the quarter hour lateness of politeness). With this being said, if you are running more than 30 minutes late then it is only polite to let your host know ahead of time so that they can adjust cooking times accordingly.
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