By David Chazan in Paris

McDonald's took the revolutionary step yesterday of introducing knives and forks at branches in France as it attempts to revamp its image.

The fast-food chain is offering cutlery at its 1400 French outlets, in a nod to Gallic table etiquette after a trial at 10 branches.

The move, made amid intensifying competition from upmarket rivals, may later be extended to other countries.

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So far, however, the knives and forks are only plastic.

McDonald's also began offering table service in France before rolling it out in Britain and other European countries last year.

Xavier Royaux, the head of marketing at McDonald's France, said: "In recent months we've seen a reorganisation of the burger market and an expansion of product offerings, including the gourmet burger, so as pioneer and leader, it was vital for us to position ourselves."

He added: "Cutlery is a development rather than a break with the past, in the same way that we've brought in table service, now available at more than 80 per cent of our restaurants."

Knives and forks will not, however, be handed out to customers who buy cheeseburgers or Big Macs, but only to those who order premium "Signature" burgers, which cost about twice as much.

These are cooked to order and served with brioche-style buns and options including blue cheese and bacon.

Once the home of the three-course lunch with red wine, France is rapidly succumbing to fast food and ready meals. The country became McDonald's second-largest market after the United States in 2007.

Franck Pinay-Rabaroust, editor of the online gastronomy magazine Atabula, said when the burger chain arrived in France in the 1970s commentators questioned its appeal because the French would not wish to eat with their hands.

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"Now McDonald's sees that it can expand by catering to the French preference for sit-down meals with cutlery," he said. "They know the French still think eating with your hands is not chic."

Initially viewed by gourmets as an affront to Gallic gastronomy, burgers are now on the menu of three-quarters of the country's 145,000 restaurants and sales are estimated at £8.3 billion a year, according to the food marketing group Gira Conseil.

About 80 per cent of restaurants offering burgers say they have replaced the traditional "steak-frites" as the most popular item.

About 70 per cent of burgers are bought at McDonald's, which holds the largest market share but faces increasing competition from restaurants offering "artisanal" or homemade burgers.

Leading chefs such as Eric Fréchon have started making burgers with foie gras and other ingredients aimed at appealing to sophisticated urban foodies.