How to Host the Perfect French Dinner Party

Whenever I’m in France, one of my favorite things to marvel over is the pure and simple pride the French take in the preparation of their meals. Seriously, the loving care and attention to detail that restaurant servers award to even the lowliest Roquefort is enough to make any foodie’s heart positively squeal with glee. It’s for this reason (along with the fact that French sauces alone could solve most of the world’s major ills) that there is simply NOTHING in the world like a French dinner party – seriously, ya’ll, the Spanish may have their tapas, the Americans may have their Whole 30 diets, but the French have got that whole adult, fancy dinner party thing down pat.

So, why should we care? Well, I, for one, feel like dinner parties exist solely on episodes of Mad Men these days – and that’s a serious shame!  Inviting a circle of friends over for delicately-prepared, homemade snacks and drinks is cheaper than eating out, it’s way more intimate, and you don’t have to virtually shout across the room when trying to have a conversation (seriously, what is UP with this latest restaurant trend that says in order to be considered trendy, you must make your restaurant as humanly loud as possible?!). And though it helps, when trying to achieve the perfect French-style dinner party, to live in a rambling French farmhouse in the Breton countryside with your perfect winemaker husband, this certainly isn’t a must. Even lowly urban apartment-dwellers (like me) can host a good dinner party à la française! Here’s how it’s done:

  • Make butter and cream your best friends. People, I’m not talking becoming merely acquainted with butter and cream – I’m talking becoming each other’s inseparable, one-and-only soulmates. This doesn’t mean you need to completely clog your guests’ arteries with saturated fat, but it does mean stepping clear away from that tub of non-fat sour cream you were holding. A little butter and cream never hurt anyone, as the French well know, and embracing the usage of these two ingredients in your cooking will result in some seriously happy guests.
Admit it: you’re starting to feel a little more French already.
  • Pay special attention to the arrangement of the meal you’re serving. Sometimes, amongst the chaos of dinner party prep, it can be tough to find the time and energy to make your food look well-arranged. But, trust me, this attention to detail is so worth it – it’s nice to take pride in your cooking, and also, people really like eating pretty food (this is just science, okay?). My advice: prepare what you can in advance so as to leave more time for the actual arranging.
Come on, you know you’d rather eat this than mushy vegetables!
  • Actually pair wines according to the food they’re accompanying. Just say no to that Bota Box you were lingering over at the grocery store and instead take a little time to figure out what wines actually go with what foods. At the very least, you’ll feel like more of an adult while doing it. Use this handy-dandy Pinterest chart and you’ll be on your way to faux-sommelier status in no time! (Side note: find a good way to work in the phrase ‘faux-sommelier’ at some point during the party.)
  • Use this time to delve deeply into subjects you might normally find taboo. Generally speaking, there are fewer things the French despise more than small talk at the dinner table. If you haven’t delved into all things philosophy, literature, religion, and death by the end of the meal, you’ve basically wasted the evening. Seriously though: isn’t all that stuff way more fun to talk about than your job, anyway?
  • Serve all the bread. All of it. Don’t question this. Just do it.
Turns out, the path to French chicness involves lots and lots of carbs.

About the Author: Justine Harrington is the Admissions Director for SPI Study Abroad. She’s currently on a one-woman crusade to tell everyone who’ll listen about the true transformative powers of bilingualism, intercultural education, and meaningful global travel. Find her on her yoga mat, leafing through her Lonely Planet guide to Iceland, or on Twitter at @Justine_Travels.

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Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

A Life-changing Experience!

Get ready to experience and SPI Abroad program yourself. Learn more about our programs or request more information today.

Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

On-Site Supervision Team Abroad

We hire bilingual high school teachers, university professors, and caring local staff who, as a team, serve as international “moms and dads” throughout the program. Directors actively participate in all aspects of the immersion experience: helping with housing adjustments, checking in on classes, and making sure students are taking advantage of the wonderful excursion and activity opportunities. All SPI staff go through extensive reference checks.

Training & Experience

Directors are selected based on their experience working with teenagers in an international setting, their ability to communicate fluently in the language of study, and their academic & professional background. All on-site staff go through an intensive training process.

Daily Supervision

Students are expected to be respectful of their directors’ guidelines and abide by the SPI standards of conduct at all times. SPI directors and program staff are available 24 hours a day. Directors check in with students on a daily basis in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings; they also frequently monitor all aspects of each student’s progress. Homestays and residence directors are contacted to learn how students are adjusting, and to handle any concerns. Daily curfews are enforced.

Student Behavior Expectations

Since 1996, we have proudly attracted an academically-minded student body focused on improving their language skills and growing from cultural experiences. At SPI, we take our role as teachers seriously — we recognize that we are responsible for guiding students through one of their most life-changing experiences. We expect students not only to abide by our standards of conduct at all times, but also to serve as ambassadors of their local communities, schools, and cities.

No Alcohol Policy

SPI maintains a strict policy against the use of alcohol. Directors check in with students in the evenings; however, parents are expected to review our standards of conduct with their children and set clear family expectations prior to the start of the program with regards to their behavior abroad.

Afternoon Elective Activities

Our meaningful afternoon elective activities make local culture, art, architecture, museums, sports, and attractions come to life! Each program offers a variety of engaging activities designed to combine serious fun with truly inspiring “once in a lifetime” experiences. Electives are not included in the program price, and we suggest students budget $100 per week for participation in these incredible learning experiences.

Common Afternoon Electives

CULTURAL: Cooking, Dance, Art & Architecture, Museum & Theater Visits, Local Sporting & Cultural Events

SPORTS: Surfing, Volleyball, Soccer, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Hikes & Walks

ENRICHMENT: Photography, College Prep (Essay Writing, Admissions Prep), Photography, Guest Speakers

Sample Travel Excursions

SPAIN: Bilbao, Pamplona, Santander, San Sebastian, Guernika, Biarritz (France), Comillas, Picos de Europa

FRANCE: Bordeaux, Bayonne, Anglet, San Sebastian (Spain), St. Jean de Luz, Pyrenees Mountains

COSTA RICA: Liberia, Cloud Forest, Puntarenas, Rincon de la Vieja, Tamarindo Beach

ITALY: Florence, Orvieto, San Gimignano, San Vincezo, Castiglione della Pescaia

Our Screening & Selection Process

Students live with roommates in a local homestay or student residence that is experienced in hosting foreign students. SPI has worked with most participating homestays and student residences for a number of years, and they understand students are there to learn the language and experience the culture. SPI diligently screens each homestay and student residence facility with the following in mind: safety, location, cleanliness, and previous experience hosting students.


Most homestays have hosted students for many years and take their jobs and duties as cultural ambassadors very seriously. Our foreign schools also work with each family on a year-round basis to ensure a positive experience is had by each student. It is critical to understand that most homestays come from humble means and different dynamics.

Location of Housing

All housing options are located within a 10-30 minute commute from the school. Students will walk or take the local bus, which is a safe and normal way for students their age to get around in our host cities. The majority of our housing options are located in the same areas where students will be close to each other.

Evening Curfews

Student curfews are set based on what a culturally appropriate weekday and weekend curfew would be for teenagers in the country of study. This is normally between 10 PM – 11 PM on weekdays and a little later on the weekends depending on location and group dynamic. As an important safety measure, program staff diligently monitor student curfews. Specific curfews are listed on each program page for your reference. 

Typical Housing Dynamics

Students are well supported in all housing options and are provided with: meals, a living and study space, laundry service or facilities, linens and towels. It is fundamental that students have an open mind to trying new foods and living in an environment different than “home” to benefit from this transformative experience!

Although SPI homestays come in all shapes and sizes, the majority are older couples or single/widowed women in their 50s – 60s who have extra room in their home and are eager to host students. We have found this dynamic provides the best support, the most interaction, and the most culturally rich experience. Some homestays do have children, but students should keep in mind that homestays with children are busier and often offer less interaction — much like a busy American family.

Language Course Overview

The language courses focus on developing communication skills by simulating real-life situations through interactive class activities that include writing, oral expression, film, music, food, and literature.

> 2 Hours – Grammatical Concepts

> 1-2 Hours – Conversation, Culture, Literature, Film, etc.

> Small class sizes with levels 1 through AP/IB

College Credit Opportunity

SPI uses foreign universities and accredited language institutes for coursework abroad. These institutions provide high school students, upon successful completion of their courses, with an official transcript that they may use to petition college credit from their future university or college. Official transcripts are first sent to SPI in September, and then we will mail an official copy of the transcript in a sealed envelope to each participant. You will mail the official transcript packet directly to your U.S. university once you are enrolled.

Credit Hours vs. Credit Granted

Most SPI language immersion programs give 30-80 contact hours, or classroom hours, enabling for a potential of up to 1-6 semester college credit hours by your university. Contact hours are treated differently at every school. Some schools will grant specific class credit for the hours (e.g., Spanish), although most give a general foreign language or elective credit. Normally, 15 Contact/Class Hours = 1 College Credit Hour.

IMPORTANT:  Due to the nature of college credit granting by each individual U.S. university, it is impossible for SPI to guarantee credit for any student.