When to Eat in France: Sacred Mealtimes


As you’ve been interested in French for a while, you know how important food is to French people.

And not only what we cook and eat. But also plates, tablecloth and… meal times!

Try to have lunch at 4PM and you’ll grab the strictness French mealtimes.

This week on Comme une Française TV, I’ll demystify French mealtimes:
– When we eat what,
– How we call each mealtime,
– Typical French phrases for each of them…

Which are the French unwritten rules about food?

Click to watch « When to eat in France: sacred mealtimes »:

Note: This is free but short. Want to finally speak like your French neighbour? Check out the course « Improve your French comprehension in 30 days »

Et toi ?
Have you come across these meal time rules in France?

Which one is your favourite?
Do you enjoy French meal times, like French people do?

I’m SURE you have funny anecdotes to share. Especially this one that’s making you smile.
Allez, write it down in the comments below and it will benefit the community!



Join the conversation!

  • Wow, awesome blog structure! How lengthy have you been running a blog for?
    you make bloggiong look easy. The entire glance of
    yor websiute is wonderful, ass smartly as the content![X-N-E-W-L-I-N-S-P-I-N-X]I simply couldn’t
    go away your web site before suggesting that I actually enjoyed the standard information an individual supply for your visitors?
    Is gonna be again steadily in order to investigate cross-check new posts.

  • Un Caniballe arrive a la Gare St. Lazare et demande au chauffer de taxi “Porte moi au Bouffe Parisienne!”

  • I am quite proud to have cooked meals for four different Generals as well as several Colonels (all Gendarmes) they have all lived through the Experience, so when President Chirac once said England had the second worst cooking in the World (He reckoned Finland had the worst!) He should have spoken to his Generals who all heaped praise on my cooking!

  • with the no snacking explained I now understand why my french teacher finds it amusing when I eat a banana at 11h. She always says ‘prend une pause de café’ ‘sauf Denise, elle prend la pause de banane’. I have to explain I am diabetic and need to top up my glucose levels in between meals.

    On the subject of food, I am having surgery in a weeks time and I have to only eat certain things. Can you explain pain grillé, I think it is toast but I think you can by a biscuit by that name. so not what we English think of as toast. Also biscottes et biscottes secs.


  • Imagine my surprise when Quebecois friends spoke in their distinctive version of French about “le spé”…so I finally had to ask. It’s the way they pronounce “le souper” which for them means the evening meal, wow, who knew? Their breakfast is “le déjeuner” and the mid-day meal is “le diner.” So confusing.

  • I though I was going to time searching for an open restaurant at 5pm. Lucky I’ve found a Mc Donalds – the only one open between 3pm and 7pm.

    • Bonjour Lori,

      It’s the same as the restaurants.
      Some restaurants in “tourist” area serve all day long.
      Easier: you’ll often find sandwiches all day long in boulangeries.

  • Hi Geraldine,
    We were in Paris 18months ago. We had been to this restaurant previously and decided to return to it again. We were Soooo embarrassed! When the manager unlocked the door and said they didn’t open til 8pm. After apologizing in my pour French, he insisted we come in for dinner at 7.30pm, so we did. I am returning in September and wont make that mistake again. Thank you so much for the informative videos they are very helpful.

    • Bonjour Maree,

      This happens to French people too sometimes, no worries. 😉
      Have a great time in France in September!

  • Bonjour Geraldine. My daughter and I are visiting Paris for 8 days early July, from Vancouver, Canada. first trip to France. Your videos are very helpful. So much to think about. very excited.
    Merci beacoup!

  • When are the French NOT eating? And why don’t French women get fat?? Maybe sometime soon I’ll be able to post in French! J’aime tellement COMME UNE FRANCAISE! Vous etes tres charmant, Geraldine.

  • Quand je suis en voyage, je n’aime pas la longue durée des repas français. J’aime le goûter ou snacks rapides parce que je peux faire des choses plus amusantes – surtout quand je suis seul.

  • I visited France for the first time this past May and stayed with a Parisienne family. We did indeed have bread, butter & jam each morning. I’m not a coffee drinker, so we had tea. It was so yummy! And I had such a lovely 5 days in Paris. Thanks for all your tips!

  • Salut Géraldine! J’ai juste abonnée a votre site et je l’adore, il est trés instructif. Mais il faut dire, il y a une question qui toujours me rend perplexe: Si on va au theatre, a quelle heure doit-on manger? En avant? En retard? Laquelle est la bonne chose a faire?

    • Bonjour Maryn,

      Les restaurants aux abords des théatres servent généralement avant et après la représentation.
      Donc tu fais comme tu le souhaites. 🙂

  • Salut Géraldine,
    Le meilleur moment c´est d´entrer dans une boulangerie français le matin! Cela sent les pains frais et j´ai envie de tout acheter. Mmmmm…

  • Formidable, Geraldine, comme toujours. Quand je suis arrivée en France, où j’ai vécu pendant deux ans, les heures de repas ont été un choc énorme . Il a fallu beaucoup de temps pour m’habituer à déjeuner à 14h00 et dîner à 20h30. Ici, au Canada, le déjeuner est à 11h30 et le dîner peut être aussi tôt que 17h30. Mon amie française a été également perturbé quand elle m’a rendu visite l’année dernière. Il a fallu beaucoup de temps pour s’y habituer pour nous deux!

    • Merci Pam pour cette anecdote. En effet, quelque soit le pays dans lequel on va, il faut toujours un petit temps d’adaptation. 😉

  • J’adore ces vidéos. Je suis prof de français et je les montre à mes élèves. Ils les aiment aussi. L’été prochain, je ferai un voyage avec des élèves dans le sud de la France. As-tu des idées des spécialités de la Côte d’Azur que les ados aimeraient manger?

  • Merci Geraldine! I always look forward to seeing your latest video. You do such a great job and always embrace interesting ideas and facets of life that really help us. I eat five small meals a day and always remember to carry food with me in France (nuts, seeds or dried fruit) in case I need a quick gouter.

  • So, no one has acid reflux and heartburn in France? It would be a very uncomfortable night for me if I ate a meal so late in the day. Now I’m second-guessing staying with friends when I visit. I need to eat when I’m hungry, not at specific times.

    • Je vous encourage! Ma mère, qui normalement a telles problèmes aussi, est allée en France et a mangé beaucoup sans problème.

    • Don’t stress too much about following the rules exactly as they are — if you tell your friends you can’t eat that late, but you join them at the table (and have a yogurt ! Every day should end with yogurt !!), they’ll understand. I had to do the same thing for a month after arriving, I couldn’t break a 20 year old habit of eating dinner at 6 right away just because the French take everything later ! But it always made for an interesting discussion 🙂

      “Americans eat at 6 ? Why so early ? It isn’t impolite to snack on the street ? What do you call the meal at 9 pm ? NO MEAL AT 9 PM ??”

  • Our customs in Argentina are very similar to French’s. Except for the “goûter”. Nobody has really time to stop and enjoy by that time. Only les week ends, and women.

  • Salut Geraldine et tout le monde 🙂
    I LOVE the way French people are very serious about their meal times. No rushed sandwiches eaten on the run in France! They sit down to enjoy their meals, and ALWAYS wish you ‘bon appetit’ when they see you are eating a meal.
    On the flipside; even though I’ve lived in the French Alps for years; I still find it SO FRUSTRATING that French people are so serious about their food, that supermarkets shut during the lunch period; and the only place to find food is in restaurants! I always forget to buy food in time; and coming from the UK I am so used to their being ‘fast food’ available at all times (which isn’t necessarily a good thing, actually!)
    HURRAH FOR FRANCE! thank you for sharing these lovely tips.
    Katie. X

  • Merci Geraldine! When I am alone for the day, I will stop at a wine bar or café for a light meal at an off hour to avoid crowds or a long wait. The seafood stand at the Bastille market offers oysters and a glass of wine to be eaten right there. Restaurants and the specific lunch and dinner hours are not the only options for a single diner.

  • Bonjour Geraldine
    Thank you for the video. I have now got some idea of french life from watching your videos.
    In India, for the evening meal family
    members sit together. Normally it is by 8pm. It is a relaxed and happy time. You can put your hands on the table or not, not the strict rules, as long as you are in comfortable position. Of course there is discipline. Children strat first. It is a very very relaxed time, making jokes, discussing the news. If something is out of order, no one is offended.
    C’est tout. À bientôt

  • My American friends and I always discuss how many rules our French boyfriends/husbands have about food! We’ve definitely been scolded for wanting to eat at the “wrong” hour, snacking, eating salé instead of sucré at 4pm – there are a LOT of rules. They can’t always explain WHY they think eating at 15h is bad, but they just know it is WRONG! But sometimes, we are hungry and we have to eat!

    • While children have a gouter at 4 pm, I have never seen an adult eat anything either at 4 or 10 AM (other than a coffee at 10). And no one is really eating at the apero; a small bowl of pistachios for everyone but the idea is to socialize over a glass of Muscat or rosé. Unfortunately now things are changing and becoming more “Americanized”. I see those chain type restaurants serving food during the off hours and the family time around the table? It’s also while the 8 PM news is on the tv. Hopefully the trend to adopt other (American) ways will stop here!

      • Have to disagree Jacquie, surely a move away from such a restrictive eating environment in favour of greater choice & flexibility can only be a good thing, no? You don’t have to eat like Americans if you don’t want to :0).
        Me, I’m a life-long Mancunian, not been in France v long – for starters, we eat “breakfast”, then “dinner”about midday, then “tea” at about 5pm. “lunch” can be a piece of fruit or a penguin biscuit at about 10.30. And you can choose to have some “supper” before you go to bed if you’re hungry…or if you’re an American ;0).
        Still can’t understand the French obsession with baguettes – I find that you need jaws like an alligator to tackle one, assuming it hasn’t already gone rock hard & completely inedible that it. And they contain zero fibre….I’ll stick to me All-bran &apple for brekky, thanks :0).

        • Hi Matt
          With these views should you be living or even holidaying in France?
          France is a lovely country,proud of her traditions and language.
          It’s a great way of life and ambiance.
          As a Lancastrian I have nothing against Manchester but let’s leave the Mancunian
          way of life inManchester.

          • If I moved to France I would have to keep my eating regime the same. If I don’t have a snack I get hungry, light-headed, and the shakes. If I eat too late in the evening, I get indigestion. I think it’s perfectly alright to eat the way you’re used to eating, even if you’ve moved to France. To suggest that one not even travel to France because they can’t adjust to French eating habits is a little inappropriate!

      • Hi Jacqueline,

        Adults eating at 4 will depend on who it is and the context. To make it more “Adult”, we may say “venir prendre le thé” and guest what, you bake (and eat) some pie.
        You are right, we don’t eat much at the apero but it will depend on where you go. I love a tartine of rillettes, some saucisson, cubes of cheese… Better that nuts. 😉

    • Et oui CatherineRose,

      In fact, all these rules about snacking are there to respect the meal that will be cooked and served later.
      Because if you’re not hungry for dinner, it will go to waste. 🙁

  • mdr ! C’est trop vrai ! Quand j’ai commencé mon job à Paris, le premier jour j’ai essayé de manger devant l’ordinateur pour finir qqc et mes collègues étaient tellement perturbés de voir ça. Ils ont du m’expliquer qu’à 12h30 tout le monde prend le midi à la fois, et qu’il est malpoli de manger seule comme ça 🙂

    • Bonjour Catt,

      Tout à fait ! Manger tout seul devant son ordinateur est inconcevable !
      C’est rater une occasion de discuter et manger tranquillement.

      D’ailleurs, c’est souvent le MEILLEUR moment pour pratiquer son français.

  • I have so many stories about food in France!
    On my travels I have found:
    Bars open for breakfast that take your order for coffee and croissants and then nip out to the bakers to buy them.
    Restaurants that shake their heads at you when you turn up at 1.30 pm – it really IS 12 till 2 – like at 2 they expect everyone to leave.
    Restaurants that only open at lunchtime.
    Delightful creperies that serve gallettes (better than pizzas!) and crepes to die for.
    Eating out on a Sunday evening in small towns is almost impossible.
    Hotel breakfasts can be pretty horrible with prepackaged food.
    If all fails there is always a McDonalds open!
    But nothing beats picking up a baguettte, some cheese and a cold bottle of local wine and stopping at a picnic spot for a mid morning snack (being careful not to drink too much wine to drive!)
    In the UK we have “elevenses” at 11am and lunch at 1pm

    • I know the rule,but it happened to me anyway. Not paying attention to the rime, I walked into a resto in Paris and was told politely that they were closed. Almost ended up in Mc Do. I learned my lesson.

  • Bonjour Geraldine

    Your language is so seductive

    ” would you like some bread and jam? “. No thanks

    “. ” “. “. “. Une tartine ? Yes please, that sounds delicious !

    • ahahah. There are also “Tartines salées” with smoked ham and cheese… Delicious too!

  • Bonjour Geraldine.

    In our region (79) we were told by French friends that l’apéro is expected to last about a hour. And after that time your hosts will expect you to be leaving. But I have found that this is rarely the case. We have got to the hour and finished our drinks and said something like “Merci Beaucoup c’était merveilleux” and get ready to leave and be told no no we were just opening another bottle. Does the 1 hour thing exist? or were we mislead? Thanks

    • Hi Donna,

      I have never heard of a defined time for an apero. But I can say from experience that, like with your neighbours, lots of aperos end up in dinners. 🙂

  • Merci beaucoup Geraldine! Je trouve ces videos tres informative et j’apprends chaque fois quelque chose pratique et amusant (enjoyable)
    A la semaine prochaine :))

    • Merci Geraldine, toujours les choses interessant a apprendre! On est en France depuis quelques années et maintenant on suivre les horaires de manger. Mais ici, en France rurale, le soir c’est le souper!

      • En fait le souper est la soupe que l’on prend en revenant d’un bal, d’une soirée, du théâtre (ou autre), c’est un petit repas où l’on bois seulement un petite soupe juste avant de dormir mais ça ne se pratique plus vraiment à part chez les séniore.

  • Get My Weekly Lessons

    In Your Inbox

    Join the 30,000+ French learners who get my premium spoken French lessons for free every week!

    Share this post!


    Download this lesson as a PDF!

    Please enter your name and email address to get the lesson as a free PDF!