How to order food for a special occasion in English

How to order food for a special occasion in English

by Erin McGann

Updated November 10, 2022

When we order food for special events in English, we want to be sure we’re getting what we asked for. From buffets, to weddings and gifts for our sweethearts, ordering food in English can get complex. There are different words for specific containers for different foods, and while it may seem funny, they only make sense to English-speakers when speaking about specific foods. Oh English, so complicated!

Ordering food for events in English

French, but in English

Many food words in English come from French originally, so don’t be surprised to see accents and spellings you may not be familiar with suddenly appear. Don’t worry, you haven’t stumbled into France by accident! However, if you also speak some French, this may be more confusing than useful, because some of the French loanwords now have different meanings.

Some examples of French words we use in English regularly are:

  • Hors d’oeuvre
  • Buffet
  • Canapé
  • Entrée (you may see this word with and without an accent in English, it means the same thing)
  • Fillet (this one is pronounced with the ‘t’ on the end in the UK, but without it in North America)

When English-speakers say these words, they pronounce them without any French inflection. If someone does add a French inflection to these words, and they aren’t a native French speaker, they are trying to be funny, so you can smile politely. It’s a kind of snobby way of making a joke, however, so keep that in mind!

Hot food, cold food

Let’s imagine you were ordering food for an event from a restaurant, ahead of time. The restaurant would ask you about how many guests, and whether they have any food allergies or special dietary requirements – like if one of your friends was allergic to peanuts, and another could not eat dairy, and you’ve invited five people who are vegetarians, the restaurant would want to know.

Two terms may come up when discussing the menu: hot food and cold food. This is exactly what you might imagine – cold food includes anything from those fussy little circles of toast with smoked salmon carefully piled on top to a plate of sandwiches. Hot food refers to anything warm, so soups, pasta, cooked meat dishes served warm, and so on. 

Buffets in England

A buffet is a meal for a lot of people, set up in big dishes so each person can take a plate and serve themselves. For large events, this is more practical, allowing everyone to pick out a few things they would like to eat, rather than being served a set plate of food by a server. Often a buffet will be described as ‘hot’ or ‘cold’, and if it includes both most people would just not specify. Large dishes of hot food will be set out in metal containers with a heat source underneath, keeping them warm.

Very fancy buffet meals will have a large piece of meat being carved by a staff person. Buffets are common at weddings, large company events, and conferences. They are not always good, as some foods don’t survive being kept warm for long periods of time! 

Containers of food

English has many words to describe a collection of food. Annoyingly, there are many different words, and they cannot be used interchangeably. For instance, chocolates can come in a box, and you may give a ‘box of chocolates’ to your sweetheart, but a box of bread doesn’t make any sense. However, you may ask someone to pass you the ‘bread basket’ at the dinner table, but you would never speak of a basket of chocolates.

A common word to use for most food items would be a plate. A plate of meat, a plate of salad, a plate of pasta – all of these make sense in English. It tends to refer to a single portion of food. However, if we’re talking about a lot of food, like your big order from the restaurant, you can ask for a ‘tray’. A tray of sandwiches, a tray of pastries, a tray of cold meats – these all refer to a lot of food. Though a tray is not a standard measurement, so you’d better ask how much food that would be, you don’t want your guests to be hungry! 

Book your next Lingoda class now, but make sure you eat your sandwich first, trying to read a text out loud with your mouth full is not very effective!

Related articles