For French Sunday lunch. Arrive at 12.30 (which really means 12.45) Aperitif until about 1.30 or 2pm. The actual process of eating takes from 2pm to 4. Come 4pm, you’ll sit round for half an hour talking, then you’ll take a stroll with your hosts. Return around 6 pm or 6.30pm, at which point you will either take your leave, if you have work the next day, or, if it is the school hols, you will be invited to « stay for the leftovers », so another apéritif and around 8pm you will eat the reheated leftovers from lunch. E.T.A at your home, about midnight.
If you are receiving people here are a few essentials of French social etiquette
Welcoming your guests
It is very rare that guests all arrive at the same time. Guests must never be left alone, so Madame stays to chat to those already arrived, while Monsieur opens the door to welcome other guests. His first action should be to take their coats. If they have brought a present such as sweets or flowers, he former should be put in the kitchen to be served with the coffee after dinner. Flowers should be given to Madame who will immediately place them in a vase, then put them in the dining room. If no other guests have brought offerings, those who have should be thanked discreetly away from others so as not to embarrass guests who arrived empty handed. Guests should be introduced to each other by the hostess, who will take the opportunity to launch the conversation with some small talk.
It is always best to bring something – chocolates or flowers. Never take wine though, unless it is a great vintage, taking a bottle of wine can be taken by the host as an insult i.e., you’ve brought wine because you think that there is nothing in my cellar worth drinking.
In France the « places d’honneur are immediately to the left and right of the host and hostess, who sit opposite each other in the middle of the table. As far as possible, men and women should be seated alternately. Never sit couple together. At official receptions, the « ends » of the table are reserved for the youngest guests or those who are lowest in the social hierarchy.
Serve the ladies first in order of age or importance. Next serve the men in the same fashion. Madame will serve the food, while Monsiuer serves the wine and the bread. One pièce of bread per person and a glass of wine never more than half full. The hostess can offer second helpings of hot entrées and the main course. Soup, salad, cheese and fruit are only served once – no second helpings there.
Never begin to eat until the host and hostess are at table and they have actually started eating. Only take second helpings if they are offered. Never ask.
At the end of the meal, coffee is always served, but never at table. This is the occasion to open and share sweets or chocolates brought by other guests. Coffee should nly be served when it is clear that everyone is finished. Liqueurs may be served, but only after the coffee has been drunk.
You are allowed to smoke after the cheese course. The desert sometimes being taken with the coffee. Never ask to smoke at table. Always ask if there is somewhere that you may smoke, then ask to be excused if you are going for a cigarette.
Advice for guests.
On a first invite, it is traditional to arrive empty-handed. No point in buying flowers for the hostess. You don’t know if she likes flowers, and if so, what kind. You may also be unawares of the deco. You don’t want to choose flowers that clash. As for chocolates, you don’t know if they even like chocolate. Presents always come on a second invitation.
- Only sit down once the hostess is seated
- Unfold your serviette and place it on your knees
- In the case of a quiche or a tart, always take the slice immediately in front of you
- Take reasonable portions
- Eat everything that is on your plate
- Wait until you are served wine. Do not ask.
- Always wipe your mouth before drinking
- Never drink everything down in one go
- Break your bread off in small bits as you use it.
- Do not use your bread to wipe up the sauce or gravy on your plate.
- Never speak with your mouth full
- A few days after your dinner invite, it is traditional to send a Small thankyou note to the hostess.