French Table Setting Etiquette

Written by denise brandenberg
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French Table Setting Etiquette
When dining in France, expect a different type of table setting. (restaurant sur l"eau. image by Bruno Bernier from

France is known for its gourmet food and culinary traditions. Dining is part of the French lifestyle and is more than just about eating there. If you are lucky enough to have an upcoming trip to France, you should be aware that the French table setting is different than the American table.


At a traditional French dinner, expect to be served several different courses--all which will require a fresh plate. The most elegant and formal French dinner tables will usually have a large under liner plate, typically in brass, gold or silver, that never leaves the table, nor is food served on it. The main, large service plate for the main dish is typically a part of the place setting. The smaller salad plate usually goes on top of it or to the right of the main plate. If there is a bread plate, it igoes at the upper left-hand corner of the main plate. In lieu of a bread plate, diners simply place their bread products on the table.


The French are famous for their wines. In fact, each region boasts its own special wine, according to Europe Cities. The French table setting accounts for this, and place settings typically include a minimum of three glasses at the top of the setting. A large goblet goes at the far top left-hand side, a large red wine glass in the middle, and a smaller white wine glass at the top right-hand side of the place setting. Some place settings have champagne flutes if champagne is to be served.


While most American table settings place the utensils on top of the napkin, the napkin is by itself in the French place setting. It is typically folded into a simple rectangle or triangle and placed on top of the plates or to the left of the plate and left-hand utensils.


Just like in the American place setting, the French eating utensils are placed in the order of their use, so the utensils at the furthest edges of the setting are used first. Forks are placed on the left-hand side of the plate with their tines pointing down, and knives are located on the right-hand side of the plate with their cutting surfaces pointed toward the plate. Spoons face downward and go at the right of the knife. According to Easy French Food, dessert spoons are not in the place setting at formal affairs, as they will be given when the dessert is served. Oyster forks, cheese knives or forks and fondue forks are common at French place settings as well.

Seating Arrangements

The French table setting etiquette also calls for assigned seating arrangements. The host and hostess sit at the opposite ends of the table. The most honoured male guests sit at either side of the hostess, while the most honoured female guests sit at the right and left of the host. Spouses are never seated together or facing one another unless they are just recently married. However, fiancés are always seated together.

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