How to Order Food in French: Everything 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 to ordering food in French, entering a restaurant in France can be one of the most exciting (and tasty) ways to practice your French!


Selecting the Restaurant

The world of French food is vast and across the French speaking world, there are many types of places where you can eat.

Depending on the kind of meal and experience that you want to have, you can choose from any number of eating places, from the fancy to the very casual:

  •  Auberge / auberge de campagne : If you’re in rural France, you might find one of these, which are usually small in size and attached to a local hotel or bed and breakfast. Auberges serve rustic, rural food at relatively low costs, 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.

  • 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.

    Although price ranges do vary a lot, you can expect a slightly more formal experience here than at other types of eating places.

Of course, where you decide to eat also depends on which meal you’re having:

le petit-déjeuner Breakfast
le déjeuner Lunch
le dîner Dinner

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.

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 ?”  (For when?)
“Pour ce soir à 20h.”  (For this evening at 8 p.m.).
“A quel nom, s’il vous plaît ?”  (What’s the name, please?)
“[Your name].”

Finding Your Table

When you get to the restaurant and you have a reservation, approach the maître d’ and let them know that you have a table waiting:

J’ai réservé une table au nom de…  (I have reserved a table in the name of…)

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].)

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.”  (There are two of us.)

If you’re entering into a brasserie which serves both food and drinks, you can let the waiters know where to seat you by specifying either of the following:

On va juste boire quelque chose.  (We will just have a drink.)

On va manger quelque chose.  (We will eat something.)

Ordering Takeout

The world of French takeout is vast, and 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. 

From the dropdown menu, you can select votre ville (your town) and make your selection from there.

Next to this, you can 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. 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.

Here are some helpful words for navigating the menu:

La carte Menu
À la carte From the menu
Prix fixe Set menu
L’entrée Appetizer
Le plat principal Main dish
Le fromage Cheese plate
Le dessert Dessert
Le digestif After-dinner drink
À la carte From the menu (any type of meal combination of your choice)
Prix fixe Fixed price (a set menu which contains a number of different meal combinations at a specific price)
du jour Of the day (this type of dish changes every day)

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:

Le café Coffee
Le thé Tea
La bière Beer
L’eau Water
Le vin Wine

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.

If you’re just ordering water with your meal, there are a few options to know about. Simply asking for a carafe d’eau (jug of water) will get you a 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.

If you want a bottled water, you can select either plate  (still) or gazeuse  (sparkling).

After dinner, it’s very common for French diners to let their food go down with a café. 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 specify it:

Un cappuccino A cappuccino
Un café crème A white coffee (somewhere between a latte and a cappuccino)
Café au lait Coffee with milk

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:

Le fromage Cheese
Le pain Bread
Le poisson Fish
Le bœuf Beef
L'agneau Lamb
Le poulet Chicken
Le porc Pork
Les légumes Vegetables
Les pommes de terre Potatoes
La glace Ice cream
La pomme Apple
Les fraises Strawberries
La banane Banana
Le riz Rice
Les pâtes Pasta
La soupe Soup

Like most other countries, a French menu will normally contain a dish with each type of meat option and one or two fish plates. Knowing how these dishes are cooked can sometimes require a little further investigation.

If you read that something has been cooked au four , then it has been prepared with an oven, and will normally be presented as a roasted dish.

Foods which have been fumé , however, are smoked, which can lend the main dish a much different flavor.

If you want a steak, you might notice that some places serve their meat haché . This simply means that the meat has been minced or ground, and that it will have a slightly different texture (and possibly a cheaper price) from traditional beef steaks.

Eating in France during the fall or winter is a great way to sample a dish cooked à l’étouffée . Presented as a stew, this is a great way to sample local delicacies, as many towns use different recipes for their stews, depending on the region.

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 at large 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:

Je suis diabétique I am diabetic
Je suis végétarien /végétariene I am vegetarian
Je suis végétalien /végétaliene 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, then 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 that 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. Here are some phrases that will help throughout the rest of your meal:

Je voudrais I would like
Je prendrai I will 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?
Quelle cuisson ? How would you like your meat cooked?
Bleu Extra rare
Rosé Rare
À point Medium
Bien cuit Well done
C’est terminé I/We have finished
L’addition, s’il vous plaît The bill, please

It’s worth noting that a lot of French cooking will present meat which is a little less well done than you might be used to elsewhere.

Ordering your steak bleu will get you 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.

Finishing Your Meal

At the end of a meal, the process in French restaurants is a little different from elsewhere in the world.

It’s very rare for a French restaurant to offer a doggy bag service, so 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 the USA. Most restaurants in France will include the service charge on the check, meaning that 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 is not 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. 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, then sampling the local food is a fantastic way to practice your français while keeping your taste buds happy.

Use this guide to eat out in France 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!

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