How to Order Food in French

The French know cuisine.

Eating can actually be a fabulous way to introduce French culture into your life. That goes double if you’re in a French-speaking area.

And, armed with this complete guide on how to order in French, entering a restaurant can be one of the most exciting (and tasty) ways to practice your language skills!

Read on for French meals, navigating menus in France, how to order food in French, types of restaurants, making reservations and more!


Types of Meals

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”; 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 (For 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 p.m. Make sure you book a reservation ahead of time pour déjeuner (for lunch)!

Le dîner  (Dinner)

Like French lunches, French dinners are hefty affairs. In order, you’ll have a starter, main course, cheese, dessert and coffee.

There’s also a bunch of etiquette you need to keep in mind  pour dîner (for dinner).

Navigating Menus in France

Menu Types and Categories

Typically, you’ll be seated by the restaurant’s maître d’hôtel (maître d’), who will then direct a waiter or waitress to take your order. Remember to maintain a polite tone of voice and always thank your waiter.

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 time they’re handing you the menu.

More often, however, the ordering of food and drinks (minus dessert and coffee) will happen at the same time.

Here are terms to help you read menus in France:

La carte

À la carte From the menu (meal combination of your choice)
Prix fixe 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 (i.e., daily specials)
Les entrées
Le plat principal
Les plats
Main dish
Main courses
Le fromage
Les fromages
Cheese plate
Le dessert
Les desserts
Le digestif After-dinner drink

Note that instead of prix fixe, you may also encounter the terms le menu  or 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.

Drink Options

Before you make your meal order, you might want something to drink first. Once you’ve perused les boissons (the 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 (espresso)
Un cappuccino A cappuccino
Un café crème A white coffee (between a latte and a cappuccino)
Café au lait Coffee with milk
Le thé Tea
Le jus Juice
La bière Beer
Le vin Wine
L’eau Water
Carafe d’eau Jug of water (free pitcher of tap water)
Plate Bottled water (still)
Gazeuse Bottled water (sparkling)

Note that ordering a café in France will get you an espresso, so if you want something different, you’ll need to be more specific.

Further, it’s very rare that a restaurant would not serve tap water, so it’s always worth ordering some if you want a palate cleanser.

As for 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 available options, so don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations.

For more drinks in French, check out this post.

Food Options

So, you have a menu, and your waiter has just taken your drink order. 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 with this phrase: 

Qu’est-ce que vous recommandez ? (What do you recommend?)

Here are some food options you might see on the menu:

Meats in FrenchEnglish
Le bœuf Beef
Le poulet Chicken
Le poisson Fish
L'agneau Lamb
Le porc Pork
Les escargots Snails
Le lapin Rabbit
Le veau Veal
Sides in FrenchEnglish
Le pain Bread
Le beurre Butter
L’œuf Egg
Les frites Fries
Les pâtes Pasta
Les pommes de terre Potatoes
Le riz Rice
La salade Salad
La soupe
Le potage
Le velouté
À l’étouffée Stew (recipe varies)
Les légumes Vegetables
Desserts in FrenchEnglish
Le gâteau Cake
Le biscuit Cookie
La glace Ice cream
La crème caramel Crème caramel (like a flan)
La tarte Pie

For common French dishes, About-France has a quick guide.

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:

Haché Ground/minced meat (usually has a different texture and price than traditional steaks)
Au four Cooked with an oven (i.e., a roasted dish)
Fumé Smoked
Bleu Steak that's been fried in the pan for the briefest of moments; it's very "bloody" and popular among locals
Saignant Very rare (slightly more cooked than bleu)
Rosé Rare
À point Medium rare
Bien cuit Well done

If you’re worried about remembering food names and terms, you can download this very post, including all vocabulary lists! Or, you could always bring along a French phrasebook, such as the “Lonely Planet French Phrasebook & Dictionary.”

How to Order in French

Essential Phrases

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 very close to the beginning and is a relatively quick event.

Once you’ve made your decision and closed the menu, your waiter will likely come over and say one of the following:

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?
Je vous écoute. I'm listening.
Avez-vous choisi ?
Vous avez choisi ?
Have you chosen?
Que désirez-vous manger ?
Que voulez-vous manger ?
What would you like to eat?
Quelle cuisson ? How would you like your meat cooked?

The basic way to order in French is to say: Je voudrais (I would like) + the name of the thing you want.

If you need to attract your waiter’s attention, you can say Excusez-moi ? (Excuse me?).

Here are some other phrases that will help you through the ordering process:

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?

Allergies and Dietary Restrictions

If you have any food allergies or dietary requirements, these phrases will help you let your waiter know:

Je suis diabétique I am diabetic
Je suis végétarien / végétarienne I am vegetarian (masculine/feminine)
Je suis végétalien / végétalienne I am vegan (masculine/feminine)
Je suis allergique à… I am allergic to…

While French food is some of the most loved in the world, it may be 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 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.

During the Meal

If your waiter sees that you’ve finished the main dish, they might ask “Have you finished?” with one of the following:

To that, you could then reply with a simple: Oui, merci. (Yes, thanks.)

If you are dining at a nicer, less casual restaurant, your waiter will likely ask: Ça a été ? / Ça vous a plu ? (Did you enjoy your meal?)

You can respond with one of the following, depending on how much you liked the food:

And finally, your waiter will likely ask: Vous désirez un dessert ou un café ? (Would you like dessert or coffee?)

You can answer with either of these phrases:

Note that if you do decide to get dessert and coffee in France, the coffee typically comes after dessert. So don’t worry that your drink has been forgotten just because it’s not there when dessert is.

And finally, once you’re totally done with your meal, you can say: C’est terminé. (I/We have finished).

At the End of the Meal

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/check).

This can be a challenging situation for many non-French people. Depending on where you’re from, you may be used to your server automatically bringing you the check.

This isn’t the case in France, where at most restaurants you’ll have to flag down the server and ask for your bill.

If you’re watching your server walk back and forth and waiting for them to make eye contact, try a simple s’il vous plaît to get their attention. Once you have it, all you need to say is: L’addition, s’il vous plaît. (The check, please.)

If you’re not in a particularly fancy establishment and it’s taking an eternity for the waiter to return to your table after they’ve dropped off the check, feel free to head 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.

A few other things you should know about finishing your meal include:

  • It’s very rare for a French restaurant to offer a to-go service for food you didn’t finish. Meaning that 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 eateries assume that if you don’t finish everything on your plate, then you don’t want to eat it.
  • Tipping at the end of a meal in France is not the same as tipping in countries like the U.S. 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.

Types of Restaurants in France

Depending on the kind of meal and experience you want to have (anything from fancy to very causal), you can choose from a number of eateries:

  • Auberge / Auberge de campagne — If you’re in rural France, you might find one of these. They’re 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.
  • 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. One thing you can be sure of is that the wine will be amazing!
  • Bistro / Bistrot — 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 and reminisce about great memories.
  • Brasserie — If you imagine eating in France, you might first think of a traditional brasserie, with tables spilling out onto the city streets. These can be visited from late morning 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.
  • Café — This is your everything spot. Full meals, quick bites and a drink can all be had here. Cafés have the same homey feel as bistros and serve tasty treats that are just as good.
  • Crêperie — As the name implies, you can come here when you’re in the mood for delicious galettes and sweet crêpes.
  • Restaurant —  Typically specializing in one type of food (although that’s not always the case), a French restaurant tends to have separate services for lunch and dinner. It usually closes in between 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.

Making Reservations in France

After you’ve selected the right eatery for the occasion, you might need to make a reservation. Nicer establishments in particular tend to prefer that customers reserve their tables, either earlier that day or days to weeks ahead of time.

In larger cities, restaurants are generally more likely to fill up anyway, especially if it’s a weekend. Booking ahead can save you a lengthy waiting time or disappointment.

If you want to see restaurant reviews or potentially make reservations online, you can do so with TheFork.

Many French restaurants will require a phone call to reserve a table, however. For restaurants where this is the case, there’s no need to feel intimidated! Here’s a sample dialogue to prepare you for booking a reservation:

Guest: Bonjour, je voudrais réserver une table, s’il vous plaît. (Hello, I would like to book a table, please.)

Staff: Pour combien ? (For how many?)

Guest: Pour quatre personnes. (For four people.)

Staff: Pour quand ? (For when?)

Guest: Pour ce soir à 20h. (For this evening at 8 p.m.)

Staff: À quel nom, s’il vous plaît ? (What’s the name, please?)

Guest: [Guest’s name].

If you want less back-and-forth, you can simply say everything at once (replacing monsieur with madame if need be):

Bonjour monsieur. Je voudrais faire une réservation pour deux personnes le samedi 7 mai à 20 heures. (Hello sir. I would like to make a reservation for two people on Saturday, May 7 at 8 p.m.)

Learning some basic French numbers will help you with booking restaurant reservations.

And, 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.

When you arrive at the restaurant at your reservation time, approach the maître d’hôtel and let them know you have a table waiting with one of these phrases:

The difference between on a and nous avons in the second sentence is a question of formality. You’ll probably want to go with nous at a restaurant. At a caféon will be just fine!

Alternatively, the maître d’hôtel might ask you:  Vous avez une réservation ? (Do you have a reservation?)

And you can respond with: Oui, au nom de [your name]. (Yes, in the name of [your name].)

Other Ways to Eat in France

Dining Without a Reservation

If you don’t make a reservation ahead of time, it’s still 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, as in: On est deux. / Nous sommes deux. (There are two of us.)

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.

Here’s how to let the restaurant staff know whether you’ll be eating and/or drinking:

On va juste boire quelque chose. We will just have a drink.
On va manger quelque chose. We will eat something.

Here’s how to tell them which meal you’ll be having:

Nous prendrons le petit déjeuner. We will have breakfast.
Nous prendrons le déjeuner. We will have lunch.
Nous prendrons le dîner. We will have dinner.

And here’s how to say where you’d like to sit:

Je préfère l’extérieur. I prefer the outside.
Je préfère l’intérieur. I prefer the inside.

Again, remember that 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.

For additional context, watching French videos can help you understand more about proper dining etiquette and show you more helpful restaurant vocabulary. If that’s something you’re interested in, consider trying FluentU.

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Ordering Takeout

Maybe you don’t want to eat in a restaurant at all!

The world of French takeout is vast. There are dozens of varieties to choose from if you don’t want to dine out but still want to indulge in the wonders of French food.

If you’re searching for places that do carry out, 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 by calling.

If you don’t feel like talking to anyone on the phone but still wish to order food, you may also be able to do so online. Here are some helpful tips: 

  • Select your location: This is usually on a dropdown menu labeled votre ville (your city).
  • 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.
  • Select what you want to eat: Choose your food, then fill in your address and payment details and your order should be there shortly!


If you’re lucky enough to visit France or another 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 in French to eat with confidence—it might just be one of the best things you do when you’re abroad!

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