There's a natural tendency to want to copy the grace and aesthetics so common among Parisians (or at least so our collective imagination tells us) but the reality is that the rules aren't so neatly defined. There isn’t one solitary style that encapsulates Parisian fashion, nor is there one common interior design sensibility that characterizes Parisian homes. Similarly, the way Parisians entertain in their homes escapes one unifying standard. But there are a few common elements, even if the experience varies in form.
To help clarify, three Parisians gave their guiding principles on hosting dinner parties:
1. Never Set an End Time
First things first: They don’t put a cap on the evening before it begins. Usha Bora, the designer and owner of the Franco-Indian lifestyle brand Jamini, says that the longer the dinner lasts, the more Parisian it is. “I often invite people to arrive at 8:30 p.m. and we regularly go on until 1:30 or 2 in the morning.” The evening hinges on good food and wine, to be sure, but what creates a rhythm between courses is a healthy helping of conversation. “A big non-negotiable is a lot of talk around the food—how you cooked this or that dish, where to get really good this or that ingredient, what incredible thing you tasted on vacation in this or that place,” says cookbook author and Chocolate & Zucchini blogger Clotilde Dusoulier. “No need for additional entertainment or structured activity of any kind.” (Alas, charades should be reserved for another occasion.)
2. Start With an Apéro
Then, it’s about striking the right balance between the meal, the presentation, and the atmosphere. There's one must-do: Start with an apéro, often in a room separate from where guests will dine. “In autumn and winter, I offer my guests champagne or non-sparkling wine to start, which I serve with foie gras, fresh rustic bread, and fleur de sel," says interior designer Emilie Bonaventure. "In the warmer months, I switch to aperitivo—fresh Bellinis or a martini.”
The nibbles that go with those pre-dinner drinks don’t need to be elaborate—even nuts and crackers would do—but all three women agree those snacks are key to properly kicking off the evening. Bora uses it as an opportunity to share foods picked up from her favorite gourmet grocer or from the places she visits during her travels. “Alongside the wine, we mostly serve different kinds of gourmet saucisson [sausage] or garden-fresh radishes, sometimes tapenade or sun-dried tomato paste from Julhès, sometimes Italian, or even Spanish ham, Indian mini-samosas, different kinds of pâté from the Pays Basque or Provence—it all depends on the season.”
3. Keep the Table Setting Simple
Whether you follow with an appetizer or let the apéro serve that purpose is completely up to individual taste. But what isn’t up for negotiation is the presentation of the table. Dusoulier, Bora, and Bonaventure all insist that it should be kept simple—never over-decorated—and should reveal something about your personality. The rule of French styling applies here: If, before you leave the house, you remove one piece of jewelry, here you should remove one item from the table before guests arrive.
“I keep the table decoration to a minimum but each element is something that we love and have collected over the years so it has a story: a plain linen tablecloth and double-sided patterned napkins I’ve sewed myself; knives we bought from an artisan in the village of Laguiole; hammered metal forks we found in Kyoto,” says Dusoulier. “All of these we use daily. I’m a minimalist and wouldn’t want to have a separate set that’s too good for us!” Bonaventure doesn’t believe in trying to impress her closest friends who come around for dinner, but she always has a Muriel Grateau tablecloth, vintage tableware, and candlesticks. “Candlelight makes women even more beautiful."
4. Don't Kill Yourself Making Everything From Scratch
As for the rest of the meal: Expect to make the main course from scratch, but if pressed for time, Dusoulier says you have a free pass to serve store-bought sides from a good local provider or assembled from quality products. “Bonus points if there’s a story behind those dishes or ingredients—it’s a lemon tart by the former head pastry chef at La Maison du Chocolat or a snail rillette from the snail farm we visited in the Perche.” Because ultimately, what would the Parisian gathering be without the stories?