Dinner and a Show: The Ultimate ESL Restaurant Role Play Activity

Do your students know how to order a cup of coffee and a sandwich in English?

How about how to ask where the restrooms are?

When you’re first learning a new language, you spend quite a bit of time learning grammar, vocabulary and structure, and as useful as all those elements are, let’s face it: It can be kind of frustrating for students when they learn and learn but still can’t function in English-speaking society.

After all, your students might be able to tell you the irregular past tense of a whole list of verbs, but what they really want and need are practical terms, expressions and sentences, elements that help them see how far they’ve come.

That’s where this ESL restaurant role play activity comes in. Not only is it really fun and a bit out-of-the-box, there’s a very practical side to learning restaurant and dining vocabulary.

ESL Restaurant Role Play: 4 Days of Deliciously Fun English Lessons

You’re going to need to do quite a bit of planning in advance to make sure this activity is a success, but if you get all your ducks in a row, an ESL restaurant role play activity can easily be the source of learning and amusement over the course of four classes.

It’s always valuable to provide some visual context prior to role play exercise. Be sure to explore the FluentU library to find some appropriate videos to model these behaviors and conversations.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

You can get started today by requesting a free trial of the program.

Day 1: Vocabulary Discussion and Assignment of Roles

Teacher Prep

On the first day of your restaurant role play, you have to arm your students with all of the tools they’ll need to be successful.

First and foremost, that means giving them the adequate vocabulary that they’ll need:

Based on these resources, come up with a manageable list of terms for your class. Consider your students’ skill levels and, of course, terms they may already be familiar with when coming up with your list.

As for how to teach these terms, you have a few options. We have a ton of sample vocabulary lessons that you can get your inspiration from, but in this context, here’s just one example of how you can go about it.


Start with an icebreaker. Find a picture of a person in a restaurant and ask your students to describe what they see. This will give you an opportunity to assess their acquired vocabulary and also to introduce the game that will be taking place over the course of the next few lessons.

The Meat of the Lesson

Next, introduce the vocabulary using techniques like eliciting words by showing your students pictures or brainstorming as a class.

Once your students have their complete vocabulary list, it’s time for a game to get them thinking and speaking. Here are some of our favorite vocabulary games that you can choose from to help them practice their new vocabulary. You can also encourage students to create flashcards so that they can practice their vocabulary over the next few days.

Assigning Roles

Near the end of class, when you have about 10-15 minutes left, it’s time to dole out the roles. Depending on the size of your class, you’ll want to split students into pairs, groups of two or groups of three. Each group will have one waiter and one, two or three diners. Be sure to take into account your shyer students when creating the groups.

Once you have assembled the groups, give your students a homework assignment: Have them begin to write about the last dining experience they can remember, or give them a creative writing assignment about either the best or worst restaurant experience they can imagine. The goal of the assignment is to get them thinking, so there’s no need to be too structured in the form of the assignment.

Day 2: Interactive Creation of Décor

Teacher Prep

The next day is going to be a fun day, provided you’ve done all your prep in advance. On the second day of the week, you and your students will create the décor and menus you’ll be needing on day 3.

The key to making sure that this day is a success is ensuring that you have all the materials your students will need. Some examples include:

  • Dropcloths or sheets to serve as tablecloths
  • Paper and cardstock for creating menus
  • An array of pencils, pens, markers and even magazines for collages
  • Authentic materials like trays, glasses, plates and cutlery

The Meat of the Lesson

The possibilities are endless, provided you give your students the right tools. Let their imaginations be their guides, but encourage each group to create all of the props they’ll need for their role play game, including tables, table settings, plates of food (that’s where collages can come in handy!) and even costumes. Encourage them to name their restaurants and come up with characters to play.

While students are preparing their props, your role is to encourage them to speak English. Wander the room, keeping an ear out for the correct use of vocabulary and structure, particularly when students are using vocabulary they’ve learned. If they need extra words, be sure to give them to them.

Revision and Conclusion of Class

After your students have cleaned up their projects and put aside their materials for the next day, reserve about 5-10 class minutes to ask each student what the name of their restaurant is and who their characters are. The next day is game day, so encourage students to prepare a simple costume and to revise their vocabulary as homework.

Day 3: Establishment of Situation and Role Play

Teacher Prep

Prepare several pieces of paper with strange restaurant situations written on them. Prepare at least two per group. Here are a few ideas:

  • The electricity has gone out
  • The chef has run out of salt
  • There’s a spider in the soup

These will come in handy!

The Meat of the Lesson

Time to play!

Each group can begin by setting up a corner of the room for their role play. Depending on how many groups you have, one or several groups won’t start out by playing, but rather by observing.

While the groups that are playing are preparing, gather the groups that are starting as observers in a corner of the room. Explain to them that you’ve prepared a series of situations for the other groups to deal with, and either give each student a piece of paper or allow them to choose one.

Start the game as quickly as possible, so that everyone has time to play. Allow groups to play for 3-5 minutes before encouraging an observer to throw a wrench in the works with a strange situation. The groups have to react to the situation in their role play—without dropping character!

As the teacher, be sure that you’re monitoring students for correct vocabulary usage. There’s no need to over-correct during role play, but be sure to take notes on frequent or glaring mistakes you can address later.

Give each group about 15-20 minutes of play.


Ask students for their impression of the game. Keep the conclusion light and fun—tomorrow is when the hard work returns!

Day 4: Follow-up

Teacher Prep

Review your notes and decide which mistakes you’re going to discuss as a class. This can be anything from incorrect structures to lacking vocabulary. Be sure to discuss mistakes that are within the realm of your students’ knowledge.

If your students have never learned the conditional, this might not be the time to discuss it, but if they were continuously using the wrong expression or misusing a tense that they do know, you can bring it up.


Ask students to tell you their favorite part of the game from the day before.

The Meat of the Lesson

Review the mistakes that you prepared in advance. Allow students to attempt to correct the mistakes themselves before you give them the entire right answer.

Once you have reviewed the mistakes, it’s time for a writing exercise. Depending on your students’ level, you can ask them to write about any number of things:

  • A summary of the role play
  • An essay about their favorite and least favorite parts of the role play
  • A reaction to one of the other groups’ role play
  • An analysis of their reaction to their strange situation

Allow students the rest of the class period to finish and decide, at your discretion, whether students can finish the assignment at home or not.

Optional Day 5: Vocab Pop Quiz!

If you play your cards right, day 5 will fall on a Friday, so it’s up to you if you want to move on to another lesson or take advantage of the end of the week (and the fun game you let your students play!) for a pop quiz to review the vocabulary and expressions you’ve been working on.

For some students, the writing exercise will be enough, but it never hurts to practice a bit more!

After all is said and done, you could also opt to watch a movie or some television show clips related to food and restaurants, like “Ratatouille,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” or a Food Network special.

The key is to keep things fun!

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