Eating Etiquette in Europe: The Ultimate Guide

Dining abroad can be one of life’s most simple and joyful pleasures to experience when traveling around the world. Eating in a new country brings you to a fascinating new world, one filled with delicious cuisines and new tableside manners that you may not be accustomed to yet.

Unfortunately, getting to understand and know where you’re eating and what to do is always going to be easier said than done. Lucky for you we’ll guide you along and teach you how to dine properly the next time you visit Europe and it’s many different countries.

Whether you’re deciding to visit just one country or you’re going to be visiting multiple countries throughout Europe, it will be a good thing to brush up on your dining etiquette knowledge so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb the next time you sit down to eat at a restaurant.

It can be hard for foreigners to follow along with all the different intricacies and nuances that are involved with eating abroad. We’ve decided to make the ultimate guide for etiquette while eating in Europe and give you a breakdown of the more popular countries you might find yourself eating in.

France

Basic Table Manners

Before you start eating in France it’s customary that as a man, you first serve any lady sitting next to you before you serve yourself.

Proper dining etiquette before you start eating is to wait until the host proclaims “Bon appetit!”

Never say you don’t like something, don’t put your elbows on the table, always sit straight with proper posture, don’t lick your knife or your fork, don’t speak loudly while dining at a restaurant and never snap your fingers to get the waiter’s attention.

If you’re invited to someone’s house for dinner, make sure to use the restroom before you arrive. Leaving the dinner table when you’re eating at someone else’s house for any reason is considered impolite and rude.

To show extreme appreciation to your host, the best thing you can do is send them a thank you note along with flowers the day after dinner to show them your gratitude.

Utensils

Like all other countries on this list, France eats “continental style” which is holding your fork in the left hand and have your right hand gripping the knife. The knife located above your plate is used for bread and butter (it can also be a smaller knife laid to the side of your main dish).

If you’re not holding any utensils, make sure you have your hands visible at all times above the table.

When you’re finished eating your food, to let your host know that you’re done, your knife and fork should be laid parallel to each other on the right side of your plate.

Food

Don’t touch any of your food with your hands or fingers, especially the cheese or bread, but pretty much everything else should be eaten with a knife and fork.

It’s inconsiderate to ask for more food from your chef or cook. If they offer you more, it’s ok to say yes but asking for more could insult them.

Don’t ask for your steak to be well done (“Bien cuit”), you can either ask for your steak to be cooked medium-rare (“À point”) or you should probably find something else that you like to eat.

In France, the bread goes on the table, not on your dinner plate. If you’re going to butter your bread, your best bet to do that is going to be for breakfast. French people don’t generally serve butter with their meals so you should get used to the idea of eating your bread with cheese instead.

Wine

In France, wait until everyone has their glasses of wine filled first before you start to think about taking a sip. In general, the host will either make a toast or they won’t, regardless if they do or not, it’s considered polite to wait until they take a sip of their wine first before you start drinking. Once they take a sip you must also take a drink, it’s considered rude not too. If you don’t want to drink at least get your lips wet and act as if taking a sip.

If someone wants to clink glasses of wine with you then it’s considered customary to look deep into each other’s eyes. Make sure not to cross arms with anyone at the table when you clink glasses with someone.

Women are never supposed to pour their glasses of wine. If there’s a table full of woman then one woman will pour everyone’s glass for them. But if you’re a man at a table full of women you should make sure to be a gentleman and pour a glass for each one of the ladies. Also if you’re a man, make sure to pour the ladies’ drink sitting next to you first before pouring your own.

To say cheers in French it’s “Tchin-tchin”.

Germany

Basic Table Manners

Like France, Germany also uses the continental style of eating. In Germany, you must wait for your host to say “Guten Appetit” before you begin to eat.

When dining at a restaurant to get your waiter’s attention the most proper and considerate thing you should do is make eye contact with them. Avoid calling them by name or waving them over with your hand because it’s considered quite rude.

If you’re invited to someone’s house in Germany that you know, it’s customary to bring a gift from your home country. Usual gifts include wine, sweets, or flowers (no red roses though, keep it friendly). Make sure to respect their time and arrive when specified. Germans consider it extremely rude and inconsiderate to be late to any occasion.

You should finish all the food on your plate when eating in Germany. Not doing so could cause your eating companions to think that there was something wrong with the food.

Utensils

Everything in Germany is eaten with utensils. Even food that Americans consider “finger foods” should be eaten with a knife and fork. Generally speaking, Germans avoid using their knives altogether. Whenever you can you should use the side of your fork to cut through your food.

To show you’re done eating, take your utensils and lay your fork and knife parallel to each other to the right side of your plate with the blades pointed at 10 o’clock towards the center of your plate.

Hands

Keep your hands in view of your dining company at all times. Avoid putting your hands in your lap and keep your elbows off the table.

If you need to pass anything to someone you should pass to your left. If you have to pass it directly to someone, make sure to pass it into their hands and don’t set it in front of them on the table.

Napkins

While you’re eating your food you should keep your napkin on your lap and only use it when you need to. If you need to excuse yourself from the table, fold your napkin and place your napkin to the left side of your plate.

Italy

Basic Table Manners

Italians are notoriously bad at being on time. If you’re invited for dinner as a foreigner you should probably arrive on time but expect everyone else to be 15 – 30 minutes late.

Dining on average takes about three to four hours to do in Italy. Take your time to savor your meal as you’re not going to want to rush eating anything too fast. Italian people can spend hours preparing a meal to get it absolutely perfect. They want to savor every last bite they eat so they can enjoy their food for as long as possible.

If you’re at someone else’s house eating dinner (or a more formal setting), you may start eating once you hear the host say “Buon appetito!”

Utensils

The Italians also use the continental style, when it comes to eating with their utensils. If you have a fork and spoon above your plate, those are considered for dessert.

If you have two different size plates on your table, the smaller one is used for antipasto (appetizer) and the larger plate will be for the main meal. You could also receive a salad plate later on during the meal.

Drinks

For the most part, there are only two types of drinks served with meals; water and wine. If you’re not familiar with how to pair your wine with your food a good rule to stick with is red wine for meats and white wines with fish. Italy is known for its excellent tasting wines, so if you’re eating a meal and decide to order wine make sure to try something local.

Water is served in bottles so don’t always expect them to fill your glass with water. You can either order still water(“Acqua natural”) or you can order bubbly water (“Acqua frizzante”).

Pasta

Pasta is a staple food in Italy. Don’t expect to order any fettucini alfredo or spaghetti with meatballs as these dishes didn’t originate in Italy and you might get some strange looks.

When eating pasta never use a spoon. You should use your fork and the side of your bowl and twirl your pasta onto your fork. Slurping your noodles into your mouth is something you should avoid doing, the proper way to eat pasta is to put the entire amount of pasta in your mouth with your fork all at once.

You might think that adding cheese to everything Italian is the right thing to do but let us assure you that the only time you should add extra cheese to your food is when you’re offered some. If you don’t know what to order try asking the staff what the “Regional specialità” is. This will guarantee to be the most delicious, scrumptious, authentic tasting thing on their menu.

Pizza

If you’re looking for pepperoni pizza you should first make sure that you know what “Peperoni” is in Italian (notice the spelling difference). Asking for “Peperoni’s” in Italian is the equivalent of asking for bell peppers. So if you’re not looking for strips of yellow and red vegetables on your pizza you should double-check the menu and look for “Pizza diavola”, “Pizza calabrese”, or “Pizza al salamino. Just make sure to note that it will be quite spicy.

Poland

Warsaw Poland Restaurant” by Loco Steve, used under CC BY / Desaturated from original

Basic Table Manners

Polish people are quite friendly so if you get invited to a Polish dinner then show them that you’re a courteous and respectful person by arriving on time. Say hello to everyone you meet but make sure to not shake anyone’s hands in the doorway. There’s a very old superstition that greeting someone in the doorway will bring bad luck!

Make sure to step into the house first before you start greeting people (which may be done by kissing on the cheek, hugging, or shaking hands). Upon entering the house you should take off your shoes and also be aware that Polish people don’t generally like being asked if they can show you a tour of their house (but they might act as if they’re delighted if you do).

If you can, bring a small gift from your home country, nothing expensive is needed. Flowers, candies, or something that shows you took the time to think of them will be adequate enough. If you buy flowers never bring an even amount of flowers, always odd (also avoid yellow chrysanthemums since they’re usually reserved for funerals).

When dining in Poland make sure that everyone has food on their plates first and then wait for the host to signal you to eat. The host will announce “Smacznego” to get everyone to commence eating.

Drinking

Drinking in Poland is quite common and they will most likely serve you some sort of alcoholic beverage with your meal. If you don’t drink plan on explaining to them a good reason why you’re not drinking. Drinking in Poland is the best way to turn strangers into friends, that’s one of the reasons most people don’t drive when they go to visit their family or friends.

Whether you’re drinking or not, Polish people love to talk about a variety of things to make small talk, however, not all things are considered appropriate to talk about. While they may bring up how bad their government or economy is/was but make sure not to join them with your opinion, they can be very sensitive to this issue and it’s best to let them vent to you and keep your opinion about Polish any affairs to yourself.

Eating

Polish people will very much appreciate it if you try to eat a little bit of everything on the plate and compliment them on their food even if you don’t like it very much (seriously compliment the food no matter what you think of it). You should always let elderly people and women into the room before you and if a lady enters the room and there’s no place for her to sit, offer her your seat.

Great Britain

Basic Table Manners

Eating in Britain is a lot like eating at one of the other European countries you may have visited but with many more rules. If you happen to be invited to a formal or informal dining event in Britain the worst thing you can do is not respond to the invitation.

Since there are so many rules when it comes to British dining etiquette, we’ve listed out an extensive list of do’s and don’ts you should follow while dining in Britain.

Do’s

  • Eat continental style (all countries in Europe eat this way)
  • Completely chew all of your food and swallow it before eating or drinking more
  • Break rolls and bread with your hands, not your knife
  • Use a fork to hold your bread when you soak up any sauces
  • Your table napkin should be kept placed neatly on your lap
  • When done eating place your spoons on your side plate or saucer, don’t leave them in your bowl
  • Place your utensils or forks side by side on the middle of the plate
  • If you leave the table put your table napkin to the left side of the plate, never on top
  • Pass to the right when passing food or dining utensils
  • Pass gravy boats, jugs, teapots and anything else that has a handle with the handle towards the recipient
  • Always initiate the passing of butter, rolls, or condiments even if you’re not having any

Don’ts

  • Chew with an open mouth
  • Don’t talk when you have food in your mouth
  • No sipping coffee from any sort of spoon
  • Never mix or mash food on your plate
  • Don’t blow on any hot food or drinks to cool it down
  • Don’t tuck your table napkin inside the collar of your shirt
  • Refrain from using your napkin as a handkerchief
  • Never wipe off cutlery or your glasses with a napkin, if the dishes are dirty, quietly ask the waiter for new dishes
  • Don’t cut up any more than three bites for yourself at one time
  • Don’t scrape your plate
  • Never extend your arms across the table
  • Don’t rock back in the chair
  • Don’t smoke during the meal. Smoking takes place after dessert is finished

When seated down to eat, always wait for your host to start eating first or wait for them to indicate that it’s ok for everyone to indulge themselves. Keep your posture straight when seated and do as your mother always told you, keep your elbows off the table.

If you go out to eat at a nice restaurant or a formal function ask the waiter to take your coat, don’t put your coat on the backside of your chair.

Spain

Basic Table Manners

Spanish people consider their food to be made with regional pride and take delight in watching people enjoy their concoction. If you don’t like something don’t say anything about it. If you really don’t want to try something that was prepared for you, the best thing you could do is say you’ve already eaten.

There are plenty of different places to choose from when dining out in Spain. Depending on what you’re looking for you can head on over to some of these places to find exactly what you’re looking for.

  • “Tasca” (Tapas Bar) Keep in mind you’ll usually eat standing up next to the counter
  • “Asador” (Steak House)
  • “Marisquerias” (Seafood Restaurant)
  • “Tabernas” (Tavern / Family Restaurant)
  • “Jamónería” (Ham House)

Oftentimes when you’re dining out in Spain there will be no host to bring you over to the table which you’ll be seated at. If you need a table, simply catch a waiter’s attention and request a table. You can motion at a table while holding up the number of fingers you need for your party.

If you go to the bar it’s not uncommon for people to throw their trash on the floor. In fact, the more wrinkled napkins and litter you see on the floor the better the bar most likely is. This rule only applies to bars so look around on the floor first and if you see a lot of trash thrown about the place feel free to join right in.

Since there are not a lot of waiters available it can be difficult to get their attention at times. They’ll most likely leave you alone the whole time during your meal (that’s what a good waiter does in Spain) unless you specifically request that you need something from them. If you need to pay for your bill, try to quickly make eye contact with them and write in the air as if you were signing for your check-in mid-air.

Eating Hours

Spaniards typically serve food at restaurants at specific times. If you fail to go to a dining establishment during these specified hours you might find that your favorite restaurant is closed for the time being. General eating hours in Spain are as followed.

Breakfast from 7 am – 10 am
Lunch from 2 pm – 4 pm
Dinner from 9 pm – 11 pm

Eating lunch before 2 pm or trying to eat dinner anytime before 9 pm is thought of to be strange and you might receive a few funny looks.

Eating

Be prepared to eat a lot of foods that come from less commonly eaten animal parts. In Spain, you could find yourself eating foods like stewed bull’s tail (“Cola de Toro”), pork cheek (“Carillada”), bull’s testicle (“Criadillas”) or probably something else you don’t even want to know what it is. The best thing to do is try it for yourself and see if you like it, what you don’t know won’t hurt you.

When you’re eating at someone else’s place you should bring a small gift if you can. Men usually bring an alcoholic drink and women will typically bring a salad or a dessert. Always allow the most senior person of your party to go into the room first. Don’t assume that any seat is available to sit at as seating arrangements are usually predetermined. If you’re dining at someone’s house it’s considered rude to start eating before they indicate it’s time to start eating.

If you need butter for your bread, you’re better off using olive oil, as that’s what’s customarily used to moisten bread in Spain. If you do get something served to you that looks like butter it’s most likely margarine that you’re receiving.

When it comes to paying for the meal the person who did the inviting is considered the person who will pay for the meal. If you’re a man you’re expected to pay for a woman when you dine out together.

Eating and drinking together in Spain is done at a much slower pace than other parts of the world. Eating together is considered more for socializing than anything else.

Conclusion

Remember, although a lot of the etiquettes remain the same when dining out in different European countries, many intricacies and details must be paid attention to.

No matter what country you find yourself in it will be imperative to try to keep up with the cultural etiquette, not just when dining out but also when attending social events and interacting with the locals.

A good rule to follow if you’re eating at someone’s house is to watch what the people around you are doing. If everyone at the table is passing to the left or the right, follow suit.

There could be a lot of cutlery in front of your plate when you first start eating and if you’re not sure what to do just observe the people around you, this is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind no matter what country you find yourself in.

If you find a friend or two in the country you’re visiting, most locals in the country will be more than happy to show you around and teach you their customs.

A lot of times people in different countries love finding someone to practice speaking English with and they’ll be more than happy to spark up a conversation out of nowhere. This is a great way to learn more about their culture and country and it’s a good idea to befriend the locals.

Matthew Ryan

I'm Matthew Ryan, one of the guys behind MannersAdvisor.com I am passionate about the world of good manners, etiquette and proper behavior to have on any special occasion. Here I decided to share my passion with you!

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