How to order food in a French restaurant

How to order food in a French restaurant

by Audrey Sivadier

Updated February 14, 2023

The French love sharing a meal and beforehand, they will have an apéritif, even in a restaurant. Afterward comes the selection of menus or à la carte dishes where they will have to specify the cooking of the meat, how they’d like their vegetables, eat, enjoy and then finally pay… That’s a lot of action that requires some knowledge of vocabulary. In this article, we will see how to order food in French.

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French vocabulary for eating in a restaurant

The “apéro”

Whether for lunch or dinner, it’s the first thing the waiter (le serveur/la serveuse) will ask you when they arrive at your table:

  • Est-ce que vous prendrez un apéritif ? (Will you be having an apéritif?)

This leaves you the choice to politely refuse (non merci – “no, thank you”) or to accept (oui, s’il vous plaît – “yes, please”) and make your choice from the apéritif menu.

The French appreciate Kir (white wine with blackcurrant liqueur), Ricard (anise and licorice-flavored apéritif) or simply a chilled rosé in summer.

The à la carte / menu in French

When the waiter brings you your apéritif, he usually brings you the menu at the same time. While you quietly sip your drink, you can choose what you want to eat.

A meal consists of une entrée, un plat principal (or plat de résistance) and un dessert (a starter, a main course and a dessert.)

You have the choice between two practices: you can make your selection from several menu options (starter+main course+dessert or starter+main course or main course+dessert) or you can compose your meal directly from the à la carte dishes (which will be more expensive).

You can also order the menu du jour  (the special), but it does not appear on the menu brought to you. It is usually displayed on a wall in the restaurant, and there are not necessarily many details. This will probably lead you to ask the waiter questions.

The cooking of meat in French – how to ask for what you want

This is THE question to be prepared for in advance!

There are five degrees of cooking intensity in French:

1) bleu (very rare): very red in the middle and lukewarm

2) saignant (rare): red in the middle

3) à point (medium rare): pink in the middle 

4) cuit (cooked): slightly pinkish in the middle

5) bien cuit (well done): brown color in the middle

The waiter will ask you this, especially if you choose beef. For example, duck breast is always served rare.

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Ordering food: dialogue in French

The waiter, who is observing you discreetly, has seen that you have chosen or almost finished your apéritif, and so he comes towards you:

 French dialogueEnglish dialogue
Waiter (W)Vous avez choisi ? Have you chosen?
Customer (C)Je voudrais un menu à 20 €, s’il vous plaît.I would like a 20€ menu, please.
(W)Très bien. Quelle entrée voulez-vous ?Very good. Which starter would you like?
(C)C’est quoi, la salade niçoise ?What’s the salade niçoise?
(W)C’est une spécialité de la région, elle est à base d’œufs, de tomates et d’anchois.It’s a specialty of the region, it’s made with eggs, tomatoes and anchovies.
(C)D’accord, alors une salade niçoise.All right, then a salade niçoise.
(W)Et comme plat ?And as a dish?
(C)Une bavette avec des frites.A bavette with chips.
(W)La cuisson de la viande ?How do you like the cooking of the meat?
(C)À point. Et en dessert, je vais prendre la crème brûlée.Medium rare. And for dessert, I’ll have the crème brûlée.
(W)Et comme boisson ?And as a drink? 
(C)Une bouteille de Rosé d’Anjou, s’il vous plaît.A bottle of Rosé d’Anjou, please.
(W)Très bien, je vous apporte ça. All right, I’ll bring you that. 

Please note that for wine, you do not have to take a whole bottle (or you can if you want to!). Some restaurants offer half bottles or even quarter bottles. There is also wine in carafes, but this is generally of lower quality.

Water in the carafe is always free, as is bread!

In summary, to order, you can use the following expressions:

–   Je voudrais… / J’aimerais… – I would like

–   Je vais prendre… – I will take

–   Oui, j’ai choisi – Yes, I have chosen

–   Non, je n’ai pas encore choisi – No, I haven’t chosen yet

–   Encore une minute, s’il vous plaît – One more minute, please

–   C’est quoi le/la… – What is…? (To ask about a specific dish)

L’addition (the bill) in French

You are now full, you have eaten your starter, main course and dessert. At the end of the meal, the waiter will make sure that you have finished before removing your plate. He or she will say something like this:

–   « Vous avez terminé ? » / « C’est terminé ? » / « Ça a été ? ». – ”Are you finished?” / ”Are you done?” / ”How did it go?”.

You can take the opportunity to make a few compliments :

–      + « C’était bon » – “It was good”

–      ++ « C’était très bon » – ” It was very good”

–      +++ « C’était délicieux » – “It was delicious”

–      ++++ « Mes compliments au chef ! » – “Compliments to the chef!”

Now is the time to ask for a coffee and the bill. All you have to do is say:

« Un café et l’addition, s’il vous plaît ! ».

Do you have to tip in French restaurants?

Legally, nothing obliges you to, the service is always included in the bill. Afterward, if you enjoyed the service and the meal, you can leave a few euros, about 5-10% of the total bill.

The art of ordering food in French

So do you feel more armed to order some food at a French restaurant? If this blog has whetted your appetite, why not try practising your French at home with your mouth full? And don’t forget to talk about food throughout the meal, it’s what the French love to do!

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Audrey has been a French teacher for more than ten years now, and a cheese-lover all her life. She comes from the west of France, and after living 2 years in Spain and 4 years in Oxford in England, she has just settled in the heart of France, in Auvergne, a land of cheese, rugby, Michelin tires and ancient volcanoes. Audrey definitely prefers the first one. She speaks French, Spanish and English, and just started German, nothing better to understand her students who tremble at the French grammar! When she is not teaching, she tries to find time to cook or sing in a choir. She loves to invite people to her house to feed them and trap them with musical blind tests designed and adapted to her guests! Find out more about her on her website and LinkedIn.

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