Top Tips for European Dining and Etiquette Tips for Travellers

If your job requires that you travel, it’s an exciting prospect visiting new places while you’re working. However, when travelling overseas remember that you are representing your country and it’s important to make a good impression.

If a European holiday is on your itinerary, you’ll want to know something about the customs of the countries you visit.

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In France Good Manners Are Essential

When dining in a French restaurant, you should observe French etiquette, because the French thrive on good manners. Always keep your elbows off the table, but keep your hands visible. In medieval times, dining was more than about proper etiquette; it was about trust. People kept their hands on the table to show others they weren’t carrying a dagger. The custom, keeping your hands on the table, not carrying a dagger, has carried over to modern times.

Dining continental-style means placing your fork over the knife on your plate when you take a break from eating during the dinner, or the server will think you’ve finished and you won’t have a chance to savour all that excellent French cuisine. Bread isn’t served before the meal but comes with the main course or the cheese course.

Bread is typically put on the table and not on a separate plate, so don’t think the server is being forgetful, it’s a French custom. You should choose menu items as listed on the menu and don’t substitute anything. Your French dining partners consider substituting dishes to be rude.

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Rules in German Restaurants

Dining in Germany is continental-style, and Germans rarely use their knives unless it’s a necessity. Food that’s considered to be finger food elsewhere is cut with a fork in German restaurants. Mineral water is the only type served in most German restaurants. If the server doesn’t bring sparkling water, pay the one or two euros for a bottle, and you won’t be viewed as a stingy customer.

German diners even have rules about napkins. When the meal is finished, fold the napkin, even if it’s paper, and put it on the left side of your plate. If you leave any food on your plate, the servers think there’s something wrong with it, so clean your plate. If you’re too full, take a stroll to walk off your dinner.

Leisurely Italian Restaurants

Dining in Italy is an experience to be savoured over several hours. Arrive at the restaurant on time, but expect to wait for your Italian guests. Italians enjoy dining and may take three or four hours for dinner. As in France and Germany, continental dining is a custom in Italy, so you should even eat your pizza with a fork. You can enjoy the company of your Italian friends, and people watch while you relax over each course, and your server won’t be ready to rush you out the door.

Menu items in Italian restaurants elsewhere aren’t authentic so don’t expect to find spaghetti and meatballs on the menu. Pasta al Ragu is typically served as a first course and meatballs are served as a second course. The only drinks that are acceptable during dinner are water or wine. Liquors and cocktails are for before or after dinner.

Drinking Coffee in European Restaurants


Coffee is traditionally served after meals in Europe, rather than during the meal. Expect to get strange stares asking for anything other than water or wine during the meal.

Europeans take their coffee seriously and nowhere more so than in Italy.   Brewing skills are often passed down through family members in their cafes and you’ll see dedicated Barista’s in front of their espresso coffee machines, working hard to bring you authentic Italian coffee.

Remember to acknowledge them with a kind smile and a sigh of appreciation.

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Worldwide traveller and co-founder of New Zealand's leading adventure travel blogging couple at Four Jandals. Have been wearing out my jandals (kiwi slang for flip-flops) around the world since 2009.