How to Order Food in French: The French Restaurant Vocabulary You Need to Know
The French know cuisine.
Just eating can be a fabulous way to start introducing French culture into your life. That goes double (or triple) if you’re staying in a French-speaking area.
And armed with this complete guide on how to order food in French, entering a restaurant in France can be one of the most exciting (and tasty) ways to practice your language skills!
- Type of Meal
- Selecting the Restaurant
- Making a Reservation in French
- Finding Your Table
- Ordering Takeout
- Navigating a French Menu
- Quenching Your Thirst
- Understanding the Menu Options
- Ordering Your Meal in French
- Finishing Your Meal
Type of Meal
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of French food terminology, let’s talk about the three types of meals in France. Like most countries around the world, the French have breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Le petit-déjeuner : Breakfast
Unlike in many other countries, French breakfast is relatively light compared to other meals throughout the day. In fact, the French word for “breakfast” can be literally translated as “little lunch.”
Their breakfast usually consists of a pastry or toast and juice or hot drink (e.g., coffee). (Notice my use of the word “or”: like I said earlier, breakfast in France is basically just grabbing a bite or two of something before you start your day.)
If you’re having breakfast in France in a place other than your home, and you want to let the waiters know you want breakfast, say Pour le petit-déjeuner (literally: “to eat breakfast”).
Le déjeuner : Lunch
Lunch, on the other hand, is a pretty big deal in France. Expect four-course (!) meals and lunch trips with big groups of people (to help you with all that food, of course).
If you’re thinking of skimping on your French lunch, be aware that taking only a one- or two-course meal is generally considered bad form.
Also, French lunches typically take place between mid-afternoon and 2 pm. Make sure you book a reservation ahead of time pour déjeuner (to eat lunch)!
Le dîner : Dinner
Like French lunches, French dinners are hefty affairs. In order, you’ll have a (1) starter; (2) main course; (3) cheese; (4) dessert; and (5) coffee. There’s also a bunch of etiquette you need to keep in mind pour dîner (to eat dinner).
Selecting the Restaurant
Across the French speaking world, there are many types of places where you can eat.
Depending on the kind of meal and experience you want to have, you can choose from any number of eating places, from the fancy to the very casual.
|Type of Establishment||Description|
Auberge de campagne
|If you’re in rural France, you might find one of these, which are usually small and attached to a local hotel or bed and breakfast. Auberges serve rustic, rural food at relatively low prices, and generally prepare their meals from local ingredients.|
|Brasserie||When you conjure up an image of eating in France, you might first think of a traditional brasserie, with tables spilling out onto the city streets. One of the best known types of French eating establishments, the brasserie can be visited from late morning right up until late at night, and will most likely serve every type of meal. If you’re looking for good beer and/or hearty food, this is your place.|
|Restaurant||Typically specializing in one type of food (although that’s not always the case), the restaurant tends to have separate services for lunch and dinner. It usually closes in between the two types of meals so staff can clean and prepare for the next influx of guests. This is where you go when you want un grand repas français (a big French meal) at a regular mealtime. Although price ranges do vary a lot, you can expect a slightly more formal experience here than at other types of eating places.|
|These smaller, typically more casual restaurants often serve high-quality food that's less expensive than that of a traditional restaurant. It's the sort of place where you can ask a friend to hang out with you and reminisce about great memories.|
|Café||This is your everything spot. Full meals, quick bites and a drink can all be had right here. Cafés have the homey feel of bistros and serve tasty treats that are just as good. Oh, and don’t forget the fabulous people-watching!|
|Crêperie||As the name implies, come here when you’re in the mood for delicious savory galettes and sweet crêpes.|
|Bar||If you see a sign with le bar on it, you should be able to grab a drink without eating anything.|
|Bar à vin||Wine bars run the gamut from serving an array of food to serving only small bites and charcuterie. But one thing you can be sure of is that the wine will be delicious. (Then again, when is it not? We’re talking about France after all.)|
Making a Reservation in French
After you’ve selected the right eatery for the occasion, you might need to make a reservation. In larger cities, restaurants are generally more likely to fill up, especially if it’s a weekend. Booking ahead can save you a lengthy waiting time or disappointment.
If you prefer making reservations in advance, check out reviews and even make reservations online with lafourchette. For restaurants where calling is required, there’s no need to feel intimidated.
Here’s a sample dialogue to prepare you for booking a reservation:
Bonjour, je voudrais réserver une table, s’il vous plaît.
Hello, I would like to book a table, please.
Pour combien ?
For how many?
Pour quatre personnes.
For four people.
Pour quand ?
Pour ce soir à 20h.
For this evening at 8 p.m.
À quel nom, s’il vous plaît ?
What’s the name, please?
If you want to be a bit more concise, you can simply say:
Bonjour monsieur/madame. Je voudrais faire une réservation pour deux personnes le samedi 7 mai à 20 heures.
Hello sir/madam. I would like to make a reservation for two people Saturday, May 7 at 8 pm.
*Note that while you can say the time using either a 12- or 24-hour clock and you’ll likely be understood, the 24-hour clock is the more formal way to express the time in a restaurant setting.
Finding Your Table
When You Have a Reservation
When you get to the restaurant and you have a reservation, approach the maître d’ and let them know you have a table waiting:
|J’ai réservé une table au nom de…||I have reserved a table in the name of...|
| On a une réservation pour Walters à 20 heures.
Nous avons une réservation pour Walters à 20 heures.
|We have a reservation for Walters at 8pm.|
The difference between on and nous is a question of formality. You’ll probably want to go with nous at a restaurant. At a café, on will be just fine!
Alternatively, they might ask you:
Vous avez une réservation ? (Do you have a reservation?)
And you can respond:
Oui, au nom de [your name] (Yes, in the name of [your name].)
When You Don’t Have a Reservation
If you don’t make a reservation ahead of time, it’s very possible to eat out in France and find yourself a table on the spot.
In this case, you’d need to announce how many are in your party, and wait to be seated:
On est deux.
/ Nous sommes deux.
There are two of us.
Again, whether you should use on or nous depends on the formality of the situation. Pay attention to your surroundings and you’ll always get this right.
Also, where you’ll be seated depends on one of three things: whether you’re going to eat and/or drink, which type of meal you’re having or whether you prefer sitting outside or inside.
|When you're eating / drinking||When you're having breakfast / lunch / dinner||When you have a specific location in mind|
| On va juste boire quelque chose.
We will just have a drink.
| Nous prendrons le petit déjeuner.
We will have breakfast.
| Je préfère l’extérieur.
I prefer the outside.
| On va manger quelque chose.
We will eat something.
| Nous prendrons le déjeuner.
We will have lunch.
| Je préfère l’intérieur.
I prefer the inside.
| Nous prendrons le dîner.
We will have dinner.
The world of French takeout is vast. There are dozens of varieties to choose from if you don’t want to dine out.
If you’re searching for places that do takeout, look for these words on the door:
Vente à emporter (buy to take out)
Alternatively, you can pick up a menu from the restaurant and order delivery from home.
If you don’t feel like talking to anyone on the phone but still wish to order food, there are many takeout websites through which you can order your food as follows.
- From the dropdown menu, select votre ville (your town).
- Then, select when you would like to receive your food. J’ai faim (I’m hungry) indicates that you would like to eat now, while aujourd’hui (today) will let you select a time frame later in the day.
- After this, just select what you want to eat, fill in your address and payment details and your order should be there shortly!
Navigating a French Menu
French restaurants work in much the same way as restaurants around the world. While meals in France can be lengthy affairs, ordering itself usually happens towards the beginning of the meal and is a relatively quick event.
Typically, you’re seated by the maître d’, who will then direct a waiter or waitress to take your order. All you have to do is maintain a polite tone of voice and always thank your waiter.
Attract your waiter’s attention by saying Excusez-moi ? (Excuse me?), and remember to say S’il vous plaît (please) after you’ve made your order.
If you’re in a nicer restaurant, your waiter may ask you if you’d like an apéritif (pre-meal drink, usually alcoholic) around the same time he’s handing you the menu.
More often, all the ordering of food and drinks (not including dessert and coffee) will happen at the same time.
Here are some helpful words to boost your French restaurant vocabulary:
|Menu Terms||English Translation|
| La carte
|À la carte||From the menu (any type of meal combination of your choice)|
| Prix fixe
You may also encounter the terms le menu and la formule , which are set menus where you may or may not have a choice between the number of total dishes you consume and what you have for each course.
|Fixed price (a set menu which contains a number of different meal combinations at a specific price)|
|Une dégustation||Tasting menu|
|Du jour||Of the day (this type of dish changes every day)|
| Le plat principal
| Le fromage
| Le dessert
|Le digestif||After-dinner drink|
Quenching Your Thirst
Before you make your meal order, you might want something to drink first. Once you’ve perused les boissons (drinks), this phrase will come in handy:
Je voudrais boire quelque chose pour commencer.
I would like to drink something to start with.
Here are some words you might see in the “drinks” section of the menu:
|Drinks in French||English Translation|
Ordering a café in France will bring you an espresso, so if you want something with a little milk or something extra, you'll need to be more specific.
|Un cappuccino||A cappuccino|
|Un café crème||A white coffee (somewhere between a latte and a cappuccino)|
|Café au lait||Coffee with milk|
|Carafe d’eau||Jug of water (pitcher of water taken from the tap at no extra cost)
It’s very rare for a restaurant not to serve tap water, so it’s always worth ordering some if you want a palate cleanser with another drink.
|Plate||Bottled water (still)|
|Gazeuse||Bottled water (sparkling)|
French restaurants tend to have wines either from around their region or from elsewhere within France, so dining out is a great way to sample what the country has to offer by way of a tipple.
Your waiter will normally be well educated on the types of wine available, so don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations.
Understanding the Menu Options
So you have a menu, and your waiter has just taken your drink orders. Now it’s time to get reading and select what you’ll feast on.
While choosing between French dishes might seem impossibly hard, you can always ask your waiter for a recommendation:
Qu’est-ce que vous recommandez ?
What do you recommend?
Here are some food options you might see on the menu:
|Main Course||English Translation|
|Les pommes de terre||Potatoes|
| La soupe
|À l’étouffée||Stew (the specific recipe may depend on the region)|
|La glace||Ice cream|
|La crème caramel||Like a flan|
Like most other countries, a French menu will normally contain a dish with each type of meat option and one or two fish plates.
It’s worth noting that a lot of French cooking will present meat a little less well done than you might be used to elsewhere. Here are some ways meat is cooked in France:
|Ways to Cook Meat in France||English Translation / Description|
|Haché||Ground or minced meat (usually has a different texture or price from traditional steaks)|
|Au four||Cooked with an oven (i.e., a roasted dish)|
|Bleu||Steak that's been fried in the pan for the briefest of moments. Steak cooked like this is very bloody and popular among the locals.|
|Saignant||Very rare (slightly more cooked than bleu)|
|À point||Medium rare|
|Bien cuit||Well done|
If you’re worried about remembering foods, you can always bring along a French phrasebook, such as the “Lonely Planet French Phrasebook and Dictionary.”
Lonely Planet is filled with phrasebooks and regional travel guides that will help you know what to expect when ordering food and eating abroad.
Food Allergies and Dietary Restrictions
If you have any food allergies or dietary requirements, here are some phrases so you can let your waiter know:
|Food Restrictions||English Translation|
|Je suis diabétique||I am diabetic|
| Je suis végétarien
Je suis végétarienne
|I am vegetarian|
| Je suis végétalien
Je suis végétalienne
|I am vegan|
|Je suis allergique à…||I am allergic to…|
While French food is some of the best loved in the world, it could be more difficult to find vegetarian or vegan options at certain places. If you can’t see any dishes on the main menu that don’t contain any meat, it’s likely you could have some of the starters adapted to meet your needs.
Many places will either allow you to select a number of smaller dishes to be brought out with your party’s main meals, or will serve you a starter in a bigger size, charging a little more so you can eat it as a main dish.
Ordering Your Meal in French
Now that you’ve successfully ordered drinks and selected from the menu, it’s time to order that food.
Once you’ve made your decision and closed the menu, your waiter will likely come over and say one of the following:
|French Waiter's Question||English Translation|
| Avez-vous choisi ?
Vous avez choisi ?
|Have you chosen?|
|Je vous écoute.||I'm listening.|
|Qu’est-ce que vous voulez comme boisson ?||What would you like to drink?|
|Qu’est-ce que vous buvez ?||What will you have to drink?|
|Quelle cuisson ?||How would you like your meat cooked?|
Alternatively, if you’re the one initiating the order, here are some phrases that will help throughout the rest of your meal:
|Ordering in French||English Translation|
|Je voudrais||I would like|
|Je prendrai||I will take|
|Je vais prendre…||I'm going to take...|
|Je n'ai pas choisi||I haven’t chosen|
|Une minute encore, s’il vous plaît||One more minute, please|
|Qu’est-ce que vous recommandez ?||What would you recommend?|
|Quelle est la spécialité du jour ?||What is today's special?|
Finishing Your Meal
Once you’re done with your meal, you can say cest terminé (I/We have finished).
Here are other conversations you’ll likely have with your waiter at this stage:
|Context||Waiter's Question||Your Response|
|You're only done with the main dish.|| Terminé ?
Vous avez terminé ?
Avez-vous terminé ?
Have you finished?
| Oui, merci
|You're asked if you enjoyed your food (usually at nicer restaurants)|| Ça a été ?
Ça vous a plu ?
Did you enjoy your meal?
| Oui, c’était bon
(Yes, it was good) — This is my go-to phrase most of the time. It's brief, simple and to the point!
Oui, c’était vraiment délicieux
(Yes, it was really delicious) — If you were really amazed by your meal, you can use this more enthusiastic response.
|You're asked about dessert and/or coffee|| Vous désirez un dessert ou un café ?
Would you like dessert or coffee?
| Oui, je voudrais la carte des desserts, s’il vous plaît
(Yes, I would like the dessert menu, please) — If you would like a little something sweet or caffeinated to finish the meal and the server hasn’t already brought the dessert menu, say this.
Rien pour moi
(Nothing for me) — Say this if you decide not to get either dessert or coffee.
If you do decide to get dessert and coffee, remember that in France coffee typically comes at the end of the meal after dessert. So don’t worry that your coffee has been forgotten just because it’s not there when dessert is.
Paying Your Bill
Now that your meal is over and you’re ready to take a moonlit stroll along the Seine, it’s time to get l’addition (the bill).
This is a challenging situation for many non-French people. That’s because, depending on where you’re from, you may be used to your server automatically bringing you the bill. This isn’t the case in France, where at most restaurants you’ll have to flag down the server and ask for it.
If you’re watching your server walk back and forth and waiting for him to make eye contact, try a simple s’il vous plaît to get his attention. Once you have it, all you need to say is L’addition, s’il vous plaît (The bill, please) and you’ll be set.
If it takes an eternity for him to return to your table after he’s dropped off the check and you’re not in a particularly fancy establishment, feel free to just walk up to the bar or register and pay there. It’s common practice in France, especially in cafés where servers often have a very large number of tables to wait on.
Other Things You Need to Know About Finishing Your Meal
- It’s very rare for a French restaurant to offer a doggy bag service. If you don’t finish your meal, you probably won’t be able to take it home with you. While some places might oblige you, many French places assume that if you don’t finish everything on your place, then you didn’t want to eat it.
- Tipping at the end of a meal in France is not the same as tipping in countries like the USA. Most restaurants in France will include the service charge on the check, meaning your total bill is all you need to pay. If you would like to leave something as a gesture of goodwill, however, it’s generally accepted to leave €1 for every €20 that you spend. This isn’t obligatory, but can be done if you really appreciated your service and waiter.
Watching authentic French videos can help you understand a little bit more about the proper etiquette and add to your French restaurant vocabulary. If that’s something you’re interested in, consider trying FluentU, which uses native-level videos along with interactive captions to help you learn the most vocabulary and culture from each video.
If you’re lucky enough to visit France or a French-speaking country, sampling the local food is a fantastic way to practice your français while keeping your taste buds happy.
Use this guide on how to order food in French to eat with confidence—it might just be one of the best things you do when you’re abroad. There’s a whole other world of food out there to be tasted, so get out there and start ordering!