It was a stifling hot day in Reims, France.
All I could think about was gulping down a tall, fresh glass of ice-cold, sweet lemonade.
I walked into the first restaurant I saw and confidently ordered: “Une limonade, s’il vous plaît!”
You can imagine how surprised I was when a disappointing can of Sprite was slapped onto the table in front of me!
It was only after this experience that a French friend explained my error and I realized there really is a lot to know when ordering drinks in France.
To learn some basic French words and phrases, check out the guide to ordering drinks in French below and learn how to avoid ending up with your own unsatisfying can of Sprite!
How to Order Drinks in French: Over 60 Useful Vocabulary Words and Phrases
Basic French Drink Vocabulary
While there are countless types of drinks you can order, we’ll start off with the most basic drink vocabulary. Whether you go to a café, a restaurant or a grocery store, you’ll need to know how to ask for everyday drinks such as water, coffee and milk.
If planning to go abroad, I highly recommend memorizing the following essentials first!
- Avoir soif — to be thirsty
- Boire — to drink
- Une boisson — a drink
- L’eau — water
- Le lait — milk
- Le café — coffee
- Le thé — tea
- Le chocolat chaud — hot chocolate
French hot chocolate is absolutely delicious! It’s sweeter and thicker than anything I’ve experienced elsewhere. There are many places to get a good cup of hot cocoa in France, my personal favorite being Angelina’s traditional African hot chocolate!
- Le jus de fruits — fruit juice
For example, you can say le jus de pomme (apple juice) or le jus d’orange (orange juice).
- Le soda — soda
- Le coca — Coca Cola
- La limonade — lemon soda/Sprite
La limonade is a faux ami (false friend) which is where I went wrong ordering it the first time. If you want a lemonade, you’ll have to ask for un citron pressé, and I must warn you that the lemonade served in France is usually simply a glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice with water and sugar on the side for you to mix as you please.
- Le vin — wine
- La bière — beer
- Le cocktail — cocktail
- Le champagne — champagne
- L’apéritif/l’apéro — apéritif
- Chaud(e) — hot
- Froid(e) — cold
- Avec des glaçons — with ice
It’s important to point out that drinks with ice aren’t the norm in France. If you want ice in anything, you’re going to have to specifically ask for it—and even then, don’t expect more than a couple of cubes!
How to Specify the Amount You Want
Just as we use different terms when asking for drinks in English (a can of soda, a bottle of water, etc.), the French have many different ways of expressing drink types and quantities.
Knowing how to ask for a drink using the correct terms and quantity words will come in handy when ordering food in French, whether it’s on the go or at almost any sit-down restaurant in France.
It’s extremely important to make note of this fact: When using a quantity (such as the ones below), you should never form a contraction with the article that follows. Instead, the article is lost in place of de.
For example, in the following sentence, the article le (as in le coca) disappears because it uses a quantity plus de:
Je voudrais un verre de coca. — I would like a glass of Coca Cola.
Here are some other examples of quantities which follow the same construction:
- Une tasse de — a cup of
Ex: une tasse de thé
- Une bouteille de — a bottle of
Ex: une bouteille de Pepsi
- Une carafe de — a pitcher of
Ex: une carafe d’eau
- Un soupçon de — a hint of
Ex: un soupçon de cognac
- Une goutte de — a drop of
Ex: une goutte de rhum
- Une pinte de — a pint of
Ex: une pinte de bière
- Une canette de — a can of
Ex: une canette de soda
- Une demi-bouteille — half a bottle of
Ex: une demi-bouteille de vin
- Un coup de — a shot
Ex: un coup de whisky
Ordering a Drink in French
Here are some examples of basic phrases you’ll need to know no matter what type of drink you’re ordering:
Je voudrais voir la carte des boissons, s’il vous plaît. — I would like to see the drink menu, please.
Je voudrais du thé, s’il vous plaît. — I would like some tea, please.
This is the most common sentence construction to use when asking for a drink. Note that when ordering in French, you use de to denote that you would like some tea (or whatever it is you’re ordering) rather than every single tea in the world.
You’ll also need to remember that when using de with a French article (in this case, le, la, l’), you must make the appropriate contraction depending on the noun’s gender.
Essentially, you don’t use articles with quantities and you do use them (and contract them with de) when saying “I would like some ___.”
Here are some examples of the contractions you’ll use:
- Je voudrais du lait. (I would like some milk.)
- Je voudrais de l’eau. (I would like some water.)
- Je voudrais de la limonade. (I would like some lemon soda.)
Breaking it down even further, you would say, “Je voudrais un verre de vin” or “Je voudrais du vin” because in the first example you’re using a quantity and in the other, you’re not.
Other examples of things you can say in lieu of quantities include:
Je voudrais prendre du thé, s’il vous plaît. — I would like to have some tea, please.
Je voudrais commander du vin, s’il vous plaît. — I would like to order some wine, please.
As you can see, even when using other verbs such as prendre (to take) or commander (to order), I highly recommend you still use voudrais because it’s truly the most polite and accepted way to order in French.
Ordering the Correct Coffee
Let’s face it — for many of us, coffee is the most important drink of the day!
Here are a few words and phrases for ordering this must-have in one of France’s many quaint cafés.
- Un café — coffee
Let me make it clear that while this does literally mean “coffee” or “a café” where one drinks coffee, asking for un café at a restaurant or bar in France will simply get you an espresso!
- Un espresso — espresso
- Un café au lait — coffee with milk
- Un café crème — coffee with cream
Though its literal translation means “coffee with cream,” servers in France will almost always give you milk, as it’s rare that they even have cream. If you want creamer, you’ll have to specifically ask for it and chances are, you’ll get stuck with milk anyway.
- Un café filtre — filtered/American coffee
- Un cappuccino — cappuccino
- Un café glacé — iced coffee
- Un café de la cafetière à piston — coffee made from a French press
Maybe you would assume that most coffee in France is made using a French press, but that would take far too long at a busy café! As such, it’s almost always done with an espresso machine. However, if you find yourself at a small café and it’s not very busy, feel free to ask for coffee made from a French press—it’s quite beyond compare!
- Un café décaféiné — decaffeinated coffee
- Je voudrais prendre un café. — I would like to have/to go get a coffee.
This is the phrase you can use, for example, when seeing if your friends want to get a coffee with you. Remember, in French, one uses prendre (to take) rather than avoir (to have) when referring to drinks!
How to Buy Alcohol
A night out can be a blast, especially if you have the right vocabulary!
You’ve learned the basics (une bière, du vin, un cocktail) but now it’s time to delve a little deeper. Whether you’re looking to have some fun at one of Paris’s many outrageously fun bars or shopping for the perfect wine to bring home after a lovely trip, the following list is sure to help.
- L’Alcool — alcohol
- Le bar — bar
- Le barman — bartender
- L’addition — check
Note that most of the time, when ordering at bars in France you’ll pay for your drink upfront each time you order one. It’s only at some older, quieter bars that the bartender will actually keep a tab open for you.
- Un coup simple — a single shot
- Un demi-verre — a half glass
- Le cidre — cider
- Le kir — popular French beverage
Le kir is actually crème de cassis (a liqueur made from blackcurrants) and white wine. The drink is named after Félix Kir, the former mayor of Dijon who is said to have often offered this drink at parties. Le kir royal is an even fancier variation featuring crème de cassis and champagne. These drinks are very popular in France and if you order it, you’re sure to sound like a true Frenchie!
- Le vin rouge — red wine
- Le vin blanc — white wine
Even if you don’t know much about wine, chances are you know there’s usually (not always!) a correlation between the price and the quality.
As such, when walking into a wine shop in France or asking for help in selecting wine at a finer restaurant, you may hear the phrase, “Vous voulez mettre combien?” (How much are you looking to spend?) or “Vous désirez une bouteille de vin dans les combiens?” (What is your price range for a bottle of wine?).
In response to the first question, simply state the number you’re willing to spend (for example, “40 euros maximum”). To reply to the second type of question, use this form: “Dans les 40 euros environ” (Around 40 euros).
Here are some more wine words for all you wine enthusiasts out there!
- Le vignoble — vineyard
- La vigne — vine
- Sec — dry
- La cave — wine cellar
- Tchin-tchin! — Cheers!
Say this when clinking glasses. Remember that in French culture, it’s very important to clink glasses before drinking. If you forget, you might be considered quite rude!
- Santé/À ta santé! — To your health!
This is another common phrase in lieu of “cheers.” Here’s a helpful tidbit: Remember to look the other person in the eye when clinking glasses. It’s a very culturally important part of the French ritual if you want to seem polite and knowledgeable.
No matter where or when you go to a Francophone country, you’ll be a bit more prepared with the phrases above!
Happy traveling and tchin-tchin!
Camille Turner is an experienced freelance writer and ESL teacher.
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