French cuisine is famous around the world, so any trip to France wouldn’t be complete without hitting a few restaurants. Knowing how to order food in French is bound to come in handy, even on the shortest trips!
We’ve prepared this simple guide of essential French restaurant phrases to help you get seated, understand the menu, order your meal, settle the bill, and even get takeout.
So whether you’ll be ordering in French at a fancy eatery, a big brasserie, or a homey bistro, let’s dive in and learn some French restaurant vocabulary!
Arriving and being seated
First of all, you’ll need to take a seat. In most cases, when you arrive at a French restaurant, you’ll be met by a host or hostess. A simple bonjour will often be enough to get their attention. They may give you a standard greeting, though they’ll likely approach you with one or two basic French restaurant phrases:
- Bonjour monsieur / Bonjour madame / Bonjour messieurs-dames – Good day sir / Good day ma’am / Good day folks
- Vous avez une réservation ? – Do you have a reservation?
- À l’intérieur ou sur la terrasse ? – Indoors or on the terrasse?
- Où vous voulez. – [Go ahead and sit] wherever you want.
- J’arrive ! – I’ll be right there!
The host or server will usually provide you with a menu, but if they don’t, you can ask for it:
- Puis-j’avoir la carte, s’il vous plaît ? – Puis-j’avoir le menu, s’il vous plaît ? – Can I have the menu, please?
Le Menu: Understanding the courses
As we just saw in the last phrase, a menu in French can be called either la carte or le menu. This is the standard list of dishes on offer that you’re probably used to when you think of a menu in English.
However, many French restaurants also offer what they call “le menu,” which is essentially the daily special of a multi-course meal offered at a fixed price (sometimes called a table d’hôte in English, or just a combo deal). When you order le menu in a French restaurant, you’re choosing from this fixed menu, usually comprising an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert, and sometimes a coffee or other drink.
Alternatively, if you just want to order something individually from the menu, you’re ordering à la carte. Maybe you just want one thing, or maybe you still want to order several courses. Let’s see each of the courses you can order in a French restaurant.
It’s common practice to order a drink before even looking at the food options. Un apéritif can be an alcoholic drink or not. Your server will probably ask you about drinks as they distribute the menus:
- Quelque-chose à boire ? – Something to drink?
- Une carafe d’eau ? – A pitcher of water?
- La carte des vins ? – The wine list?
For a full discussion on ordering drinks in French, check out our post on how to ace French happy hour. This pre-dinner round of drinks is really a whole phenomenon on its own, often including snacks, affectionately known as l’apéro.
If you’re American, then you’re probably used to knowing the entrée as the “main dish.” However, unlike the American definition, the French term “entrée” refers to the appetizer.
- Je prends une entrée. – I’ll have an appetizer.
Le plat principal
This is the main dish, translating literally as “the main plate.” Sometimes it’s just shortened to un plat. On the menu, these are usually broken down by category. If you want a smaller dish you can even ask for an appetizer to be served as your main course:
- Je vais prendre une entrée comme plat principal. – I’ll take an appetizer as my main course.
Once everyone has finished their main courses, the server will surely ask who wants dessert. Le dessert is often optional in le menu, but it’s highly recommended! Desserts in French restaurants often change from day to day, so your server may just list what’s on offer. Many French desserts have specific untranslatable names, so just give one a try if you dare!
- Voulez-vous voir la carte des desserts ? – Would you like to see the dessert menu?
- Ce soir nous avons des profiteroles, un crème-brûlé, un Paris-Brest, une île flottante, un fondant au chocolat, ou une mousse au chocolat. – Tonight we have profiteroles, a crème-brûlé, a Paris-Brest, a floating island, a chocolate fondant, or a chocolate mousse.
You will almost always be proposed a coffee at the end of your meal. By default, this is a strong little espresso, but you can certainly ask for a different variety if you prefer.
If you’re really dragging out your stay at a French restaurant, you’ll conclude your meal with a strong alcoholic drink known as a digestif. Some restaurants may even offer a shot of limoncello or ouzo, while others may have a selection of rums, whiskeys, or grappa to choose from.
Ordering your meal in French
Your stomach is surely growling loudly with all this talk of French cuisine, so let’s get to the part you came here for: how to order food in French!
Let’s start with a few basics:
- Je voudrais… – J’aimerais… – I would like…
- Je prends… – Je vais prendre… – I’ll take…
- Pouvez-vous ajouter… – Can you add…
- s’il vous plaît – please
- merci – thank you
If you want to modify your order a bit, here’s some essential vocab:
- avec – with
- sans – without
- en accompagnement – on the side
We all have preferences, and some people have certain dietary restrictions. In French, here are a few of the phrases for your specific needs:
- Je suis végétarien(ne) – I’m vegetarian.
- Je suis végan(e). – Je suis végétalien(ne). – I’m vegan.
- Je suis allérgique au gluten. – I’m allergic to gluten.
- Je suis intolérant au lactose. – I’m lactose-intolerant.
- Je suis allérgique au(x)… – I’m allergic to…
- casher, cachère – kosher
- halal – halal
- sans alcool – alcohol-free
When ordering meat in French, you’ll usually be asked how you would like la cuisson (how much it’s cooked):
- bleu – very rare, just quickly braised on both sides to make it hot
- saisi – just quickly braised on both sides, very common for fish
- saignant – medium-rare, which is often the default cuisson in French cuisine
- à point – medium, so still tender on the inside and outside
- bien cuit – well done, often to the point of charred crunchiness on the outside
Note that a popular raw meat dish is called tartare, in which case you won’t be asked how it’s cooked since it’s simply served at room temperature as seasoned freshly-ground meat.
Talking with your server
So far we’ve seen a lot of the basics for ordering your food, so now let’s cover a few of the common French restaurant phrases you’re likely to hear and need when you’re interacting with your serveur or serveuse (waiter or waitress). Remember to always use the formal you (vous rather than tu) with service staff.
- Vous désirez quelque chose à boire ? – Would you like something to drink?
- Vous avez fait votre choix ? – Have you made your choice?
- Non, un instant s’il vous plaît – No, give me a moment, please.
- Vous prendrez le menu ? – Will you go for the [fixed-price] menu? (remember our discussion of “le menu” from above!)
- Non, je préfère commander à la carte. – No, I prefer to order from the general menu.
- Vous voulez autre chose ? – Do you want anything else?
- Où sont les toilettes ? – Where are the toilets?
Settling the bill
When you’re ready for l’addition (the check), signal your server. Refer to our lesson on counting in French to review the numbers. Here are the essential French restaurant phrases for paying your bill:
- L’addition, s’il vous plaît. – Check, please
- On peut avoir l’addition ? – May we have the check?
- Veuillez payer à l’intérieur, s’il vous plaît. – Please pay inside.
- Par carte ou espèces ? – By card or cash?
- Vous voulez le ticket de caisse ? – Would you like a receipt?
- Tout s’est bien passé ? – Everything went well?
- Merci beaucoup. À la prochaine ! – Thank you very much. See you next time!
- Au revoir ! – Goodbye!
Fast food and takeout
It’s not every time you want to eat a full-course meal. Sometimes you just want to grab a quick meal or even takeout. Don’t worry, there are plenty of French restaurant options for a quick bite, whether it’s a sandwich, a slice of pizza, or a kebab. Here’s your essential French restaurant vocabulary for takeout:
- à emporter – to go
- pour ici – for here
- Je voudrais un repas à emporter. – I would like a takeaway meal.
- Est-ce que vous livrez ? – Do you deliver?
- Avez-vous des serviettes? – Do you have napkins?
- Je peux avoir une fourchette ? – Can I have a fork?
- Vous voulez de la sauce piquante ? – Do you want hot sauce?
- Je n’ai pas besoin d’un sac. – I don’t need a bag.
- C’est pour manger maintenant ? – It’s for eating now?
Conclusion: How to order food in French
Today’s post covered a bunch of useful French restaurant phrases, namely on how to order in French.
We started with a rundown of the different courses you can expect to choose from when ordering food at a French restaurant, with l’entrée, le plat principal, and le dessert being the main food courses, with the drinks courses including un apéritif, un café, and un digestif.
We also saw several specific vocab lists, whether for dietary restrictions, settling the bill, or taking your meal to go. In addition, we provided a handful of other useful French restaurant phrases for interacting with your server.
So, whether you’re indulging in a three-course meal or just grabbing a quick snack, you now know the essential vocab for how to order food in French. Bon appétit!