order food in french at Parisian cafe

How to order food in French at a restaurant + French restaurant vocab

With summer and travel around the corner, it’s time to think of the essentials you will need on your next trip to France. And if you’re learning the language, what better place to practice than at the restaurant? Students who know how to order food in French always say how much they enjoyed the experience. It’s also a great way to impress friends and family, and to avoid the occasional cultural faux-pas.

LEARN WHAT THE WAITER WILL ASK YOU FIRST!

Most waiters will always use the same usual phrases. By learning them you will know what to expect and avoid a lot of confusion.

USE THE SCRIPT APPROACH

This is where the ‘script approach’ that I use with my students works best in order to learn how to order food in French. When trying to communicate in a foreign language, most problems actually come from not understanding the other person. And the French tend to speak really fast! By practicing the script provided below, you will be able to hear and understand your waiter – and not only that, but you will also have your answer or additional question ready!

If you would like to take a few private classes with me, or another instructor here at Strommen do not hesitate to contact us to get ready for your trip! Our professional staff will be happy to help. If not, feel free to use the sample script below to practice with a friend.

HOW TO ORDER FOOD IN FRENCH AU RESTAURANT – FRENCH LESSON

LES REPAS

French people take three main meals a day: le petit-déjeuner, le déjeuner, le dîner. This is important to know what and when you will order!

Le petit-déjeuner

Breakfast in France is small, usually a coffee or tea (café au lait used to be the general standard for many French people), accompanied by a danish (une viennoiserie, such as croissant, brioche, or pain au chocolat) or tartines: slices of bread, grilled or not, and topped with butter and/or jam. Sometimes they will also drink an orange juice on the side (un jus d’orange).

Le déjeuner

Lunch will consist of several courses, most typically 2 or 3:

  • Une entrée (appetizer)
  • Un plat principal (main course) – usually a meat or fish with vegetable accompaniment
  • Un dessert ou un fromage (dessert or cheese course)

A lot of restaurants will offer lunch formulas with entrée/plat principal or plat principal/dessert.

Traditionally lunch is followed by un café.

Le dîner

Dinner is a lighter meal in France, and follows the same course order as le déjeuner. However, if festive it can include more courses: entrée, plat principal, salade et fromage (greens and cheese), dessert, café and/or digestif (a digestive). And when friends come over, you always have apéritif or apéro (pre-dinner drinks) to start! This is also something your waiter will ask you at dinner: un apéritif?

AU RESTAURANT

Being the land of fine cuisine and gourmet wine, France offers a wide choice of eateries:

Le restaurant: great for a bigger meal, restaurants are a bit more formal and will usually have cloth napkins, table service, and serve bread as a couvert. They vary from small mom and pop (sometimes called a bistro, see below) to classy 3 Michelin stars. A lot of them will offer a prix fixe menu – a formula combining a limited choice of courses at fixed price – or a plat du jour, something the chef is recommending that day (always a good choice for freshness). Restaurants are usually only open at mealtimes, unlike cafés, so it’s always best to check opening hours before heading out, and if you’re going to a popular place, to reserve a table in advance.

Le bistro(t): more relaxed and with a smaller choice of dishes.

La brasserie: great for comfort food, beer (brasserie means brewery) and traditional food such as moules-frites, steak- or poulet-frites, salade niçoise. Brasseries are sometimes similar to cafés, with large terraces and often open non-stop.

Le café: a French institution, with its terrasse sprawling onto the sidewalks and formally dressed waiters, the French café is the perfect place for a light meal (think croissant in the morning or croque-monsieur for lunch), a cup of coffee or an apéritif. Most cafés are open all day and sometimes late into the evenings. You won’t be rushed there, it’s perfectly acceptable to stay and enjoy your book, your third cup of coffee or your leisurely demi (half pint of beer) while watching pedestrians walk by. There you don’t need a reservation, just grab a table and wait until the waiter comes to take your order.

La crêperie: where you will be served galettes and crêpes, a specialty of Brittany that is popular throughout the country. Crêpes only! But they offer a vast choice of fillings for both savory and dessert options.

Le bar à vin: perfect for wine tasting, usually will offer some bites on the side.

HOW TO ORDER FOOD IN FRENCH – USEFUL TIPS

How to make a reservation:

“Bonjour monsieur/ madame, je voudrais réserver une table pour deux (2) ce soir à 20h.”

How to faire mauvaise impression (make a bad impression) in France:

  • call out to the waiter ‘garçon!’. Although it used to be the norm, nowadays this is considered disrespectful and will earn you bad service and a tight lipped waiter for the rest of your meal. Instead say: ‘Excusez-moi’ or simply call out ‘monsieur’ or ‘madame’.
  • Ask for a ‘doggy bag’. Portions are small enough to eat sur place (on site), and it’s something that is simply not done in France. If you want something to go, opt instead for one of the many take-out options available in bigger cities, such as boulangeries, sandwich stands, pizzerias, falafel or shawarma vendors, etc.
  • Ask for too many substitutions: the French are proud of their food and unless you’re very allergic to something (“je suis allergique à…”) they won’t understand why on earth you would want to rewrite their carefully composed menu.

You will faire bonne impression (make a good impression) when you:

  • ask for la recommandation du chef (the chef’s pick), the plat du jour, or order from the menu du jour: you will get fresher ingredients and make the kitchen staff very happy.
  • Always say ‘bonjour’ before you order. The waiter might speak first and will address your table depending on who is in your party: “Bonjour [madame, mademoiselle, monsieur, mesdames, messieurs, messieurs-dames]
  • Order your courses in order: comme entrée…, comme plat principal…, comme dessert…
  • Don’t leave a tip or if you do, let it be just a few coins. In France service is always included!

More tips:

  • The waiter will ask you what you would like for each course, in order, usually saying ‘comme…’ (as…)
  • When ordering a dish, you only need to mention the main ingredient, usually the meat or fish for a main course, even if the menu lists more ingredients and the accompaniment (for example: le filet de boeuf, le saumon, les tagliatelles).
  • In France it’s very common to ask for une carafe d’eau for your table: a carafe of tap water. If you prefer mineral water, simply ask for une bouteille d’eau minérale (flat) or une bouteille d’eau gazeuse (sparkling).

HOW TO ORDER FOOD IN FRENCH CONVERSATION SCRIPT:

(BOLD TEXT IS WHAT THE WAITER ASKS YOU)

 

Bonjour [madame, mademoiselle, monsieur, mesdames, messieurs, messieurs-dames]

Vous prendrez une boisson pour commencer? (will you have a drink to start?)

Oui, un apéritif:

Un kir

Un porto

Un pastis

Et une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît (and a carafe, please)

Je voudrais une bouteille d’eau minérale / d’eau gazeuse

Vous avez une carte des vins? (do you have a wine menu)

Un rouge / un blanc (a red/white wine)

Une bouteille de rouge / de blanc (a bottle of red/ white)

 

Très bien, et comme entrée? (Very well, and for the appetizer?)

Comme entrée, je voudrais…/ je vais prendre…(for an appetizer, I would like…/I will have…)

Les escargots au beurre

Le foie gras

Le consommé d’asperges

La salade de chèvre chaud

 

Et comme plat principal? (And for the main course?)

Vous avez une recommandation?

Quel est le plat du jour?

Je vais prendre…(I will have)

Le steak-frites

Le saumon

Le filet mignon

Les tagliatelles

La quiche lorraine

 

Vous prendrez un fromage? Un dessert? Un café ou un thé? (will you have cheese? Dessert? Coffee or tea?)

Qu’est-ce que vous avez comme dessert? (What kind of desserts do you have?)

Une crème brûlée

Un éclair au café

Un mille-feuille

Le fondant au chocolat

La tarte aux poires

Un sorbet

Une poire Belle-Hélène

Un expresso

Un thé

Une infusion (herbal tea)

 

Je peux vous proposer un digestif? (can I suggest a digestive?)

Un cognac

Un calvados

Un armagnac

Autre chose? (Something else?)

Non merci, c’est tout (No thank you, that’s all)

Parfait, je vous apporte ça. (Perfect, I’ll bring that over)

 

Excusez-moi! L’addition s’il vous plaît!

Je vais prendre la même chose (I’ll have the same)

Pour moi,… (for me…)

Pour lui,… (for him…)

Pour elle,… (for her…)

FRENCH USEFUL PHRASES FOR VEGETARIANS

1

Je suis végétarien / végétarienne / végan(e)

I am vegetarian / vegan

2

Nous sommes végétariens, que recommandez-vous?

We are vegetarian, what do you recommend?

3

Nous ne mangeons pas de viande ni de poisson mais nous mangeons les oeufs et les produits laitiers. Vous avez une recommandation?

We don’t eat meat or fish but we eat eggs and dairy. Do you have a recommendation ?

4

Est-ce que c’est végétarien?

Is it vegetarian?

5

Vous avez une option végétarienne?

Do you have a vegetarian option?

FRENCH RESTAURANT VOCAB

1

Je voudrais…

I would like…

2

Je vais prendre…

I will have…

3

C’est tout

That’s all

4

La carte, s’il vous plaît

The menu, please

5

Un verre

A glass

6

Une assiette

A plate

7

Un couteau

A knife

8

Une fourchette

A fork

9

Une cuillère

A spoon

10

Une petite cuillère

A tea/dessert spoon

11

Une serviette

A napkin

12

Le menu du jour

Fixed menu

13

Une corbeille de pain

A basket of bread

14

Une carafe d’eau

A carafe of tap water

15

Un moment s’il vous plaît

A moment please

16

Saignant/ à point/ bien cuit

Rare/ medium-rare/ well done

17

Est-ce que c’est servi avec…?

Is it served with…?

18

Vous avez un menu en anglais?

Do you have a menu in English?

19

Je suis désolé, mais c’est froid

I’m sorry, but this is cold

20

Je suis désolé, mais je n’ai pas commandé ça

I’m sorry but I didn’t order this

Did you enjoy our guide on how to order food in French? If you’re traveling around Europe, make sure to check out our post on How to order food in Italian next!

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