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How to Throw a French Dinner Party and What to Serve

Everything You Need to Know About Throwing a French Dinner Party

Elegant but laid-back, convivial but slow-paced … the French know how to do dinner right. For your next dinner party, bring some of the charm of a long French evening into your home with these French dinner traditions and menu ideas.

Set the Table

Set the table before your guests arrive to create a warm and welcoming environment for your French-inspired dinner party. Keep it simple —a plain tablecloth, cloth napkins, some candles, and perhaps a vase of fresh flowers. If you want to capture the spirit of French style, less is always more.

Start With an Apéritif

Before-dinner snacks and drinks, known as apéritif, or apéro for short, are taken seriously in France. When apéro are served at home, they’re presented in a separate space from the dinner table, if possible, while guests arrive for the party. The drink can be any cocktail of your choosing —for example, a classic martini, a spritz, a glass of Champagne, or a Champagne cocktail like a Kir Royal. The snacks should be simple and salty to whet the appetite, such as olives, charcuterie, and radishes with salt.

Plan the Perfect French Dinner Menu

A French dinner traditionally follows this order: apéritif, entrée (starter), plat de résistance (main course), fromage (cheese), dessert, café, and finally digestif—all of which will be covered later in this piece! The apéro snacks, cheese, bread, dessert, and drinks can all be about planning and shopping rather than actually cooking, but you’ll want to cook the starter and main course.
(Tip: Try to find recipes that you can prepare as much as possible in advance so that when guests arrive, you can entertain rather than cook. You can find some good ideas at the end of this piece.)

Don’t Forget the Wine

Once your menu is planned, head to your favorite wine shop and let the experts there help you pick French wines within your budget to pair with each course. The more details you give them about your party, the more they’ll be able to help you.

Indulge in a Cheese Course

Cheese is never served before dinner in France. Instead, it’s served between dinner and dessert, to linger over with some more wine and conversation. To serve a cheese course, choose three (French!) cheeses to assemble on a platter or board. They can be any French cheese you like, but try to keep them all different in shape, texture, and milk variety. Add a little bowl of honey or jam, some dried fruits or pickles, and some sliced apples or pears to the board. And of course, more bread.

Serve (But Don’t Make) a French Dessert

If you love to bake, find a traditional French dessert recipe, such as a galette, tarte Tatin, clafoutis, or crème brûlée, and give it a go. But in France, bakeries are so prolific that buying dessert from a bakery for a dinner party is common. So, you can also leave it to the pros and make your life easier by picking up a tart or cake from your nearest French bakery.

Always End With Coffee (and Then Digestifs)

Coffee is traditionally served after dessert in France, not with dessert. Set up the coffee pot before your guests arrive so all you have to do after dessert is press start. After coffee, a sweeter and stronger alcohol called a digestif is traditionally served to aid in digestion. Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, whiskey, aged sherry, sweet vermouth, eau de vie, or any type of amaro are all suitable options. Put out your smallest, prettiest glasses and a few bottles for guests to help themselves. Add ice, or not, as you wish.

Most Importantly, Do Not Rush

The length of French dinners is legendary, so don’t rush. Take time between each course to be with your company. Encourage lively conversation around the table. Don’t look at your phone, don’t look at the clock—just enjoy.

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