4 Things You Must Know to Nail a Business Lunch in France

France is known the world-over for its food and wine. But, despite its popularity, many people don’t know what to do when a plate is in front of them.

The French take great pride in the culinary, which can be intimidating for international visitors. Especially in business dealings, knowing about French cuisine and its traditions can make or break a negotiation (to find out more read our comprehensive guide on How to do Business in France). Knowing a thing or two may even seal a deal before discussion starts.

Though it may seem like a relaxed setting, you shouldn’t underestimate the meaning behind a business lunch France. It can spell disaster for your business dealings if you don’t take it seriously. That being said, knowing everything is all but impossible, and takes way more time than you have to spend. This brief “how-to” for the French business lunch has the essentials you need to make a great first impression.

Keep it Classy

As we said, France loves its traditions. It has a storied history, and formality hasn’t been lost to time. Whether it’s how you dress or how you handle yourself, it’s always good to step it up a notch.

Wear the nicest things you own. The French have an eye for fashion and cheap clothes won’t go unnoticed. It’s an investment, but it’ll be worth your while. Even if the setting is relaxed, don’t be fooled. Informal will usually mean jacket and tie, or something else professional.

Wear the nicest things you own. The French have an eye for fashion and cheap clothes won’t go unnoticed.

Good posture doesn’t only help your back aches. Sitting up straight and poised shows attentiveness and interest in the meeting, and can only help your clothes fit and look better. Slouching and leaning can make you seem bored, tired, negative, and ultimately not adhering to dining protocol.

Complimenting your host is a vital formality. The French go to great lengths to ensure a positive dining experience for their guests, often meticulously choosing the right restaurant, wine listing, and menu options. Put as much effort in as they have, as the time they spend is a direct reflection of how valuable your partnership is.

Mind Your Manners

Tradition extends directly into the dining experience. There are specific procedures and practices that the French follow when eating, and you will be expected to do the same. We can’t list all of the rules, but there are a couple of important and interesting ones we think you should know about French dining etiquette:

  1. Keep your hands to yourself. Hands and elbows on the table is considered rude and ruins the presentation of the food. Don’t put them in your pockets, though. Just set your hands in your lap when not eating, and press your forearms to the table if you need support.
  2. Always keep your fork in your left hand and knife in your right. This might seem like a slight against left-handed people, but don’t question it. This might be a hard one, as the general North American custom is the opposite, fork in right, knife in left. Try to keep it in mind in France. You can eat more comfortably in your hotel room.
  3. Toast properly. It’s a nice gesture when thanking your host or celebrating the close of a negotiation. Toasts have their own procedures in France. Be sure to look the person you are toasting in the eye. If it’s a general toast to a partnership, don’t worry too much. Also, don’t cross arms with anyone. A common toast is “santé,” the short form of “to your health.”

Respect the Food

We can’t say it enough. The French are proud of their food. So much so that the way dishes are treated is part of dining etiquette there. It all depends on what you’re ordering, but there are a few general “don’ts” to keep in mind at lunch.

Don’t add anything. You may be used to spicing your food with some salt and pepper, or adding some hot sauce at home. Avoid this at all costs in France. It is considered a slight against the chef, and the French cooking style. If the dish was recommended by your dining partners, altering the taste can damper your budding business relationship.

Don’t mistreat the bread. Baguettes are an essential part of any French meal. Be sure to keep the bread beside your plate. As well, don’t be surprised if your fellow diners clean their plate with the remaining bread. It is considered rude to leave food on the plate, and the baguette is great for absorbing what is left of your meal.

Don’t fill your glass. Wine is an essential part of any French meal. When filling a glass, or having it filled for you, be sure to keep it at a little under half full. Not only is this cheaper in the long run, but filling a glass to the rim can give the impression that you enjoy it a little too much. Also, the aeration of the wine is lost if out of the bottle for too long. So, unless you’re chugging it, keep your glass on the low side.

Offer to Pay

Reaching for the check at the end of a meal is a great send off for a business lunch. It shows that you are grateful for the opportunity, happy with the outcome, and are generally a generous person. If your hosts insist on paying, even the gesture will make a great impression. If you do pay, though, watch out for the value added tax (VAT), which will bump your order up a whopping 20% in France.

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