One of the most integral parts of French culture is food, more specifically the act of sitting down around a table together to enjoy it. Whether you’re in France or not, you can embrace this cultural tradition by hosting your own French dinner party right at home.
French Dinner Party Menu
Once you’ve established how many guests you want to invite (it’s best to keep it 8 people or under), then you’re ready to plan a French dinner party menu.
I don’t know about you, but French dinner party or not, I don’t like to be stressed out or stuck in the kitchen when I’m entertaining guests. That’s why I lean towards foods that can be made ahead or partially made ahead for ultimate ease and comfort.
Here’s what an ideal French dinner party menu looks like to me, when I’m hosting:
Apéro: Champagne (Bollinger, Veuve Cliquot, and Nicolas Feuillatte are all favorites) with a splash of crème de cassis for the ultimate kir royale! Serve with delectable, cheesy gougeres. If you’re not much of a baker, then something like these cheese-stuffed dates or spiced nuts would also be perfect. If you want to keep it really easy, then simply offer a bowl of olives marinated in herbes de Provence with toothpicks. That’s totally acceptable!
Appetizer (known as the Entrée in France): French onion soup during the fall/winter, or an asparagus soup in the spring, prosciutto-wrapped melon in the summer. All of these recipes can be made ahead of time and, if needed, kept warm (or re-heated) over very low heat on the stove. For the onion soup, you would simply want to add your sliced bread with cheese at the last minute and set under the broiler for a moment before serving. For the asparagus soup, don’t stir in the cream until you’re re-heating the soup (in case you have refrigerated and are re-heating).
Main Course (known as the Plat in France): Beef bourguignon during the fall/winter, or Chicken Provençal during the spring/summer. Both of these dishes can also be made ahead of time and kept warm in the oven. I usually serve the beef with mashed potatoes, kept warm over the stove on low heat, and the chicken with French bread and roasted potatoes, which are also kept warm in the oven.
Cheese course: a selection of 2-3 cheeses, typically brie, gouda or manchego, and goat cheese. This is not served with bread, although a basket of bread slices on the table is nice for anyone who wants it. The board with the selection of cheeses and a set of cheese knives is available for guests to grab just a small piece or two of each cheese as a palate cleanser before dessert.
Dessert: Pots de creme, which can be made the evening before and kept refrigerated until ready to serve, during the fall/winter. French yogurt cake, which can be made the night before and stored in plastic wrap on the counter, served with fresh berries and whipped cream during the spring/summer. I typically offer hot coffee or tea too.
Wine and bread: And of course, don’t forget to have wine and bread readily available on the table throughout the night, or else it just truly wouldn’t be a real French dinner party! I love to pick up a couple of baguettes from a local French bakery or Whole Foods, and wine is typically purchased from my local Trader Joe’s. I always have both red and white available for my guests. My favorites include a bottle of Bordeaux and a bottle of Sancerre.
French Dinner Party Decor
Planning out the menu is one aspect of hosting a French dinner party, but creating a beautiful table setting is the other. Thankfully, you don’t have to be Martha Stewart or only use fine china to have a beautiful table.
- Assemble your place setting. First, choose which plates you want to use. This will help you with your overall color scheme. For example, I have a set of green toile printed plates that I sometimes like to use when I’m hosting a dinner party, and will often make the other table accessories more neutral in color to work with the green color of my plates, or pick colors that compliment the green. Here’s a tutorial on how to actually place each table setting.
- Add a floral arrangement. You don’t need to be an expert florist to create a beautiful floral arrangement. You can either purchase an already designed bouquet from the store, or stick to one set of flowers (say tulips or roses) and either display that on its own, or add a simple filler like eucalyptus to fill it out. The only think you’ll want to be conscious of is choosing a floral arrangement that can be kept low to the table so that it’s not blocking any guest’s line of sight.
- Add candles. Whether you decide to do votive candles or tapered candles is totally up to you, but candles are a must for a French dinner party. They’re one of the easiest ways to add an inviting, warm ambiance to your home and table. Just be sure to pick something unscented for the dinner table.
- Use cloth napkins. One of the easiest ways to add instant elegance and refinement is to offer your guests cloth napkins instead of paper ones. You don’t even have to use fancy napkin rings if you don’t have them; simply make a neat fold in your napkins and place them over the dinner plates.
- Use salt and pepper pots with little spoons. This is one of my favorite très French additions to a dinner table. Most people have salt and pepper shakers at their table, but many French people have little pots or bowls of freshly ground salt and pepper with tiny spoons available, should anyone want more seasoning on their food.
- Set up background music. I love playing jazzy music during my dinner parties for soothing sounds that add to the lighthearted mood without being too overpowering or headache-inducing. Here’s a favorite playlist.
French Dinner Party Invites
Like most people, the French simply call up their guests to invite them for dinner. No need for any formal invitation cards and envelopes.
It’s custom to have dinner later in France, so it would be totally normal to host your dinner party at 8pm. That said, the French also don’t arrive promptly on time, so if you ever are hosting a French guest, just know that they are not being rude. It is actually considered a bit rude to arrive right on time in France, as you are to give the host or hostess a little extra time to get everything in order before you arrive. I would say a 10 to 15 minute delay is fair.
You’ll also want to make sure you don’t offer an end time for your dinner party. The best French dinner parties extend late into the evening, as good conversation and ample drink will keep everyone engaged and pleased to stay.