Restaurant vocabulary: 4 steps to order food in Spanish

Restaurant vocabulary: 4 steps to order food in Spanish

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez
October 19, 2020

Knowing how to order food in Spanish is tough for a beginning Spanish speaker. Anyone who has travelled to a Spanish-speaking country can confirm. You hear one unfamiliar phrase and freeze up. Worse yet, you switch to English because it’s easier.

The best way to learn Spanish is by speaking, but just like in English there are multiple ways to say the same thing. It’s scary for a beginning Spanish speaker when things go off-script. Our focus on the blog today is to increase your vocabulary. With more restaurant vocabulary, we can get your brain and ears trained to respond quicker to restaurant questions in Spanish. Here are four steps for how to order food in Spanish.

4 steps for how to order food in Spanish

First, remember that ordering food in Spanish is the same as in English. There are four basic stages to nearly every food order on earth.

1. Begin the exchange

2. Ask menu questions

3. Say what you want

4. Answer follow-up questions

Since vocabulary isn’t the same in every country, focus on these steps and you will master food orders in Spanish from any restaurant, in any country.

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1. Begin the exchange

First things first, initiate contact with restaurant service staff so they see you are ready to order. Saying buenos días/buenas tardes for good morning/good afternoon is a polite way to begin. Once the staff notices you, they will take your order in Spanish. Here are a few ways they might ask.

¿Qué desean comer?
¿Les tomo la orden?
¿Qué le puedo traer?
¿Qué quiere? ¿Qué le apetece?
What would you (all) like to eat?
Shall I take your (plural) order?
What can I bring you?
What do you want?
What do you fancy?

2. Ask menu related questions

We all have special dietary needs. In order to ask successfully about a menu, beginning Spanish speakers should focus on yes/no questions only.

¿Esto…tiene…carne?
¿El helado…tiene…nueces?
¿Es bastante para dos personas?
Does this…have…meat?
Does the ice cream…have…nuts?
Is it enough for two people?

Don’t ask open-ended things like “What is this?” or “How big is it?” Big is a relative term. Long explanations will only confuse you. As a beginner, be specific. Ask questions with one-word answers or try phrases used for clarification in Spanish.

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3. Say what you want

Depending on the type of restaurant, you need appropriate language. The top section is formal and works for a sit-down restaurant, especially fine dining. The middle section is polite and works in every setting. The bottom section is direct and informal. This abrupt language is best for ordering at a nightclub or a busy bar where polite, drawn-out wording might hold up the queue.

Me gustaría…el pollo…por favor.
Quisiera…el plato de queso…por favor.
I would like…the chicken…please (formal).
I would like…the cheese plate…please (formal).
¿Me trae…pan con mantequilla…por favor?
Para mi…las chilaquiles sin crema…por favor.
Can you bring me…bread with butter…please?
For me…the chilaquiles without sour cream…please.
Un vermut…por favor.
Esto/a.
Dos de esos.
A vermouth…please.
This (pointing).
Two of those.

Remember that menus are written to entice the reader. Don’t order using the full name of a menu item. Instead of reading “el bistec con salsa bearnesa y pilaf al romero” steak with béarnaise sauce and rosemary infused pilaf, simply say “el bistec”. Easy.

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4. Answer follow-up questions

Don’t be surprised if you get follow up questions. Here are some common things to expect.

¿Algo para tomar?
¿Una bebida?
¿Qué quiere para beber?
¿Qué les traigo de tomar?
Una coca-cola por favor.
Agua por favor.

Beber and tomar in Spanish both mean to drink.
These are all ways of asking what would you like to drink?

A coke please.
Water please.  
¿Algo más?
Sí, una servilleta por favor.
No, gracias.
Anything else?
Yes, a napkin please.
No, thank you.
¿Algo dulce?
¿Postre o café?
Té por favor.
Something sweet?
Dessert or coffee?
Tea please.

As a beginner, don’t worry about the grammatical structure of every question. Listen for keywords and you can answer flawlessly.

Your goal in learning how to order food in Spanish is to have a successful exchange. You want a smooth back-and-forth conversation that results in you getting the food and drinks that you wanted. The more familiar you become with different vocabulary used to say the same thing, the more successful you will be.

Test out your Spanish skills with Lingoda. Try a free 7-day trial and practise ordering food in Spanish with our native speaking Spanish teachers today!