A tasty guide to reading restaurant menus and ordering food in French

Elinor Zucchet

Elinor Zucchet

To all foodies out there: this article is for you! Let’s admit it, one of the most enjoyable aspects of learning a language and experiencing a different culture is through food.

And if you’re learning French, you’re in for a treat. Literally! From world famous French gastronomy to Swiss chocolate, without forgetting the Québécoise poutine, there are plenty of yummy ways to practice your French all over the world.

So, keep reading if you:

  • Want to know how to order food in French.
  • Are interested in finding out how to order tacos in French — and learn about this questionable ‘culinary’ creation.
  • Would like to acquire useful French phrases for restaurants.
  • Want to learn about the different types of restaurants in France.
  • Would like to download a typical French menu. Spoiler alert: it will make you salivate.

French phrases for restaurant dining

First things first, let’s have a look at the most common types of restaurants in France:

  • Restaurant: For repas at a regular mealtime.
  • Bistrot: Small, casual restaurant offering good food for cheaper than a traditional restaurant.
  • Brasserie: Brewery with hearty food.
  • Café: Evening spot for quick bites or a full meal.
  • Snack-bar: A bar typically doesn’t serve food, but a snack-bar does — for example a croque-monsieur with a salad.
  • Bar à vin: Wine comes with cheese, charcuterie and other small bites. Très français.
  • Crêperie: Well, as the name suggests… the place to go to eat crêpes and galettes.

Ready to order? Then the vocab below will come handy!

Couple standing in front of a Crêperie to order food in French.

Restaurant vocabulary in French

English French IPA
Meal Repas ɾəpa
Dish Plat pla
Breakfast Petit-déjeuner pəti-deʒœne
Lunch Déjeuner deʒœne
Dinner Dîner dine
Starter Entrée ɑ̃tɾeə
Entrée Entrée ɑ̃tɾeə
Main Plat principal pla pɾɛ̃sipal
Table Table tablə
Menu Menu məny
Knife Couteau kuto
Fork Fourchette fuɾʃɛtə
Spoon Cuillère kyjɛɾə
Bread Pain pɛ̃
Napkin Serviette sɛɾvjɛtə
Salt Sel sɛl
Pepper Poivre pwavɾə
Waiter Serveur sɛɾvœɾ
Waitress Serveuse sɛɾvøzə
Host/ess Hôte/ hôtesse otɛ/ otɛsə
Chef Chef cuisinier ʃɛf kɥizinje
Water Eau o
Wine Vin vɛ̃
Food Nourriture nurityɾə
Drinks Boissons bwasõ
Glass Verre vɛrə
Plate Assiette asjɛtə
Cup Tasse tasə
Bowl Bol bɔl
Bottle Bouteille butɛjə
Today’s special Plat du jour pla dy ʒuɾ

Dietary restrictions in French

English French IPA
Vegetarian Végétarien veʒetaɾjɛ̃
Gluten free Sans gluten sɑ̃ glytɛ̃
Dairy free Sans produits laitiers sɑ̃ pɾɔdɥi l(e)tje
Vegan Végétalien/vegan veʒetaljɛn/vəgɑ̃
Pescatarian Pescatarien pɛskataɾjɛ̃
Allergic Allergique alɛɾʒikə
Intolerance Intolérance ɛ̃tɔleɾɑ̃sə
Celiac Cœliaque kœljakə

How to ask for a table in French

If you’re getting hungry, it might be time to ask for a table or make a reservation. It could also be helpful to learn numbers in French!

English French IPA
I would like to make a reservation for three people please. Je voudrais faire une réservation pour trois personnes, s'il vous plaît. ʒə vudɾe fɛɾ ynə ɾezɛɾvasjõ puɾtɾwɑ pɛɾsɔnə, sil vu ple.
Hello! A table for two people please! Bonjour ! Une table pour deux personnes, s'il vous plaît ! bõʒuɾ ! ynə tablə puɾ dø pɛɾsɔnə, sil vu ple !
Hello, we are three people. Bonjour, nous sommes trois/c’est pour trois bõʒuɾ, nu sɔmə tɾwas/kɛ puɾtɾwɑ
Do you have any tables available for a group of four? Avez-vous des tables disponibles pour un groupe de quatre personnes ? ave-vude tablə dispɔniblə puɾ œ̃ gɾupə də katɾə pɛɾsɔnə ?
I have a large group of seven people. Do you have tables available for lunch/dinner? Nous sommes sept. Avez-vous des tables disponibles pour le déjeuner/dîner ? nu sɔmə sɛ. ave-vude tablə dispɔniblə puɾ lə deʒœnɛɾ/dine ?
I prefer the inside Je préfère à l'intérieur ʒə pɾefɛɾ a lɛ̃teɾjœɾ
I prefer the outside Je préfère à l'extérieur/en terrasse ʒə pɾefɛɾ a lɛksteɾjœɾ/ɛ̃ tɛrasə
We will need a baby chair Nous aurons besoin d'une chaise bébé nuz‿ ɔɾõ bəswɛ̃ dynə ʃɛzə bebe
Is it possible to have a sea view? Est-il possible d'avoir vue sur la mer ? ɛt‿-il pɔsiblə davwaɾ vɥə syɾ lamεɾ ?
Do you have set menus for groups? Avez-vous des menus fixes pour les groupes ? ave-vude məny figzə puɾle gɾupə ?

How to order at a restaurant in French

Now, things are about to get serious. Get ready for your next sortie au restaurant with the examples below!

Woman ordering coffee in a French cafe.

English French IPA
Could I please see the drinks menu? Pourrais-je voir la carte des boissons ? pure-ʒə vwaɾ la kaɾtəde bwasõ ?
What are the vegetarian options? Quelles sont les options végétariennes ? kɛlə sõlez‿ ɔptjõ veʒetaɾjɛnə ?
I’m allergic to… Je suis allergique à... ʒə sɥiz‿ alɛɾʒik a...
May I please order a bottle of wine? Puis-je commander une bouteille de vin ? pɥi-ʒə kɔmɑ̃de ynə butɛjə də vɛ̃ ?
Which wines do you recommend? Quels vins recommandez-vous ? kɛl vɛ̃ ɾəkɔmɑ̃de-vu ?
What do you recommend? Que me recommandez-vous ? kə mə ɾəkɔmɑ̃de-vu ?
May I please order a cocktail? Puis-je commander un cocktail ? pɥi-ʒə kɔmɑ̃de œ̃ kɔkktaj ?
I’ll have the… Je vais prendre le... ʒə ve pɾɑ̃dɾə lə...
What are the specials of the day? Quel est le plat du jour ? kɛlɛ lə pla dy ʒuɾ ?
A bottle of water for the table, please. Une bouteille d'eau pour la table, s'il vous plaît. ynə butɛjə do puɾ la tablə, sil vu ple.
Could I please have the check/bill? Puis-je avoir l'addition, s'il vous plaît ? pɥi-ʒ avwaɾ ladisjõ, sil vu ple ?
That was delicious! C'était délicieux ! sete delisjø !
Compliments to the chef! Félicitations au chef ! felisitatjõz‿ o ʃɛf !
Is the tip included? Le pourboire est-il inclus ? lə puɾbwaɾɛt‿-il ɛ̃kly ?
Very rare Bleu/saignant blɛy/sɛɲɑ̃
Rare Rosé ɾoze
Medium rare À point a pwɛ̃
Well done Bien cuit bjɛ̃ kɥi
Is it possible to order this dish without cilantro? Est-il possible de commander ce plat sans coriandre ? ɛt‿-il pɔsiblə də kɔmɑ̃de sə pla sɑ̃ kɔɾjɑ̃dɾə ?
Can I replace the dessert with cheese in the menu? Puis-je remplacer le dessert par du fromage dans le menu ? pɥi-ʒə ɾɑ̃plase lə dɛsɛɾ paɾ dy fɾɔmaʒə dɑ̃ lə məny ?
Le dessert est-il maison ? Is the dessert home-made? i tə dɛsɛɾ ɔmə-madə?

Conversation example with translation

  1. Waiter/waitress: Bonjour, vous avez choisi ou vous avez besoin d’un peu plus de temps?
    Customer: Nous avons choisi, merci. Pour moi ce sera le steak frites, à point s’il vous plaît.
  2. Waiter/Waitress: Et comme boisson ?
    Customer: De l’eau plate, merci.

Translation

  1. Waiter/waitress: Hello, are you ready to order, or do you need more time?
    Customer: We are ready, thank you. I will have the steak with French fries, medium rare please.
  2. Waiter/Waitress: And to drink?
    Customer: Still water, thank you.

French phrases for restaurant workers and waiters

Below are a few examples of what your waiter or waitress might say at a French restaurant.

A waiter serving drinks and snacks for customers who ordered food in French.

English French IPA
Would you like to start with still or sparkling water? Voulez-vous commencer par de l’eau plate ou gazeuse ? vule-vu kɔmɑ̃se paɾ də lo plat u gazøzə ?
What would you like to drink? Que voulez-vous boire ? kə vule-vu bwaɾə ?
What would you like to eat? Que voulez-vous manger ? kə vule-vu mɑ̃ʒe ?
Are you ready to order? Vous avez choisi ? vuz‿ ave ʃwazi ?
Would you like to hear the daily specials? Souhaitez-vous connaître les plats du jour ? su(e)te-vu kɔnɛtɾəle pla dy ʒuɾ ?
Would you like to see the dessert menu? Voulez-vous voir la carte des desserts ? vule-vu vwaɾ la kaɾtəde dɛsɛɾ ?
Would you like a high chair? Voulez-vous une chaise haute ? vule-vuz‿ ynə ʃɛzə otə ?
Another drink? Une autre boisson ? yn otɾə bwasõ ?
How is your meal? Comment se passe votre repas ? kɔmə sə pasə vɔtɾə ɾəpa ?
I’m listening Je vous écoute ʒə vuz‿ ekutə
Did you enjoy it? Ça vous a plu ? sa vuz‿ a ply ?
Have you finished? Vous avez terminé ? vuz‿ ave tɛɾmine ?
Would you like the check? Je vous apporte l'addition ? ʒə vuz‿ apɔɾtə ladisjõ ?
Would you like a coffee? Vous voudrez un café ? vu vudɾez‿ œ̃ kafe ?

Conversation example with translation

  1. Waiter/Waitress: Ça vous a plu ?
    Customer: Oui merci, c’était délicieux.
  2. Waiter/Waitress: Voulez-vous voir la carte des desserts ?
    Customer: Non merci, je n’en peux plus. Un café et l’addition, s’il vous plaît.

Translation

  1. Waiter/Waitress: Did you enjoy your meal?
    Customer: Yes, thank you, it was delicious.
  2. Waiter/Waitress: Would you like to see the dessert menu?
    Customer: No thanks, I‘m full. Coffee and the check, please.

Restaurant menu in French

French gastronomy is very diverse, and it’s impossible to establish an exhaustive list. But the food items below should be a good start, as you’re likely to find them in most restaurants. You can broaden your food vocab — and get your vitamin fix — with our articles on vegetables in French and fruits in French.

English French IPA
Fish Poisson pwasõ
Steak Steak stɛak
Vegetables Légumes legmə
Tacos Tacos tako
Pork Porc pɔɾk
Chicken Poulet pule
Potatoes Pommes de terre pɔmə də tɛrə
Salad Salade saladə
Soup Soupe/Velouté/potage supɛ/vəlute/pɔtaʒə
Sauce Sauce sosə
Sandwich Sandwich sɑ̃dwiʃ
Prawns Crevettes kɾəvɛtə
Oysters Huîtres ɥitɾə
Mussels Moules mulə
Squid Calamar/Calmar kalamaɾ/kalmaɾ
Bread Pain pɛ̃
Paella Paella paɛla
Rice Riz ɾi
Noodles Nouilles nwijə
Burger Hamburger ɑ̃byɾʒe
Cheese plate Plateau de fromage plato də fɾɔmaʒə
Olives Olives ɔlivə
Pasta Pâtes pɑtə
Eggs Œufs œf
Rabbit Lapin lapɛ̃
Beef Bœuf bœf
Lamb Agneau aɲo
Snails Escargots ɛskaɾgo
Chicken Poulet pule
Butter Beurre bœrə

Desserts in French

As a French person, I can’t imagine having a meal at a restaurant without dessert. There are a trillion delicious desserts, but below are a few basic words. Yum&…

A tasty French dessert.

English French IPA
Cake Gâteau gɑto
Icecream Crème glacée kɾɛmə glaseə
Sorbet Sorbet sɔɾbe
Gelato Glace glasə
Mousse Mousse musə
Chocolate Chocolat ʃɔkɔla
Panna Cotta Panna Cotta pana kɔta
Creme Brulee Crème brûlée kɾɛmə bɾyleə
Churros Churros ʃyro
Pie Tarte taɾtə
Coffee with small desserts Café gourmand kafe guɾmɑ̃
Cookie Biscuit biskɥi
Flan Flan flɑ̃
Fruit salad Salade de fruits saladə də fɾɥi
Meringue Meringue məɾɛ̃gə
Crêpes Crêpes kɾɛpə
Entremet (fancy cake) Entremet ɑ̃tɾəme

How to order tacos in French

Before you say anything… Yes, we know tacos are Mexican. However, we’re not referring to a taco but to a “tacos”. Are you lost? So was I when I went back to France for a few days and found out about this questionable ‘culinary’ trend. Don’t even get me started on my Texan fiancé’s reaction. Bon, alors c’est quoi ?

A French taco is a grilled tortilla folded around cheese, meat… and French fries. Invented in the mid-2000s in a suburb of Lyon, it has dethroned kebabs and burgers for many young people.

Here are a few phrases you can learn to order your first — porn food — French tacos.

Disclaimer: We’re not saying it’s good, we’re just teaching you how it works.

Choose your meat:

  • Bonjour, je voudrais un French tacos au poulet/bœuf hâché/nugget/cordon bleu/saucisse/merguez), s’il vous plaît.

Choose your filling:

  • Je voudrais aussi du fromage/des champignons/des légumes/un œuf/du bacon/du jambon, etc.

Choose your sauce

  • Avec du ketchup/de la mayo/de la sauce blanche/de la sauce américaine/de la sauce barbecue/de la sauce algérienne/de la sauce andalouse/de la sauce au poivre. Merci !

Yep, you can even mix and match. Oh mon dieu.

How to order a baguette in French

Bread is a staple of French food, and has been the base of alimentation for centuries. In fact, there are lots of idioms around it, for example “Ça ne mange pas de pain”, which means “It doesn’t hurt”.

When in France, you should definitely visit a bakery or two (or a dozen, actually) and enjoy a crunchy baguette, a croissant or a traditional jambon-beurre. If the baguette is still warm, it’s customary to eat the tip of it — le quignon — on your way home.

Here is a little help on knowing what to ask:

  • Bonjour, une baguette pas trop cuite s’il vous plaît.

Translation: Hello, a baguette not overdone, please.

  • Bonjour, un pain bien cuit s’il vous plaît.

Translation: Hello, a pain well done, please.

Note: From the thinnest to the thickest: ficelle, flûte, baguette, pain. It’s a controversial topic depending on the region, and don’t get me started on “pain au chocolat'' and “chocolatine”!

Whatever you choose, please send us a picture of you with your baguette, a striped t-shirt and a beret. Can’t resist!

Test your knowledge

Now that you know how to order food in French, try ordering something off of our Berlitz French menu. There are lots of local specials to choose from.

How to order food in French with our Berlitz French menu.

Restaurant culture in France

A traditional French meal will always include cheese before dessert.

1. Doggy bags

While they are slowly but surely being adopted in Europe, especially in large cities, doggy bags are not really a thing in France. In most European countries, portions are reasonable. It’s possible to finish your dish, or even an entire menu with a starter, main and dessert.

Also, Europeans tend to stay a lot longer than Americans when they eat out, and dishes typically don’t arrive as quickly. So you have time to make room for the next course! Of course, it doesn’t hurt to ask, but keep in mind that it might be a bit “off putting” in some restaurants, especially if they are on the fancy side. Instead, try to ask for a dessert to go, for example.

2. The customer is king… or not

In general, French people are a bit less accommodating than Americans when it comes to customer service. And restaurants are no exceptions. While it’s acceptable to ask for a change due to a dietary restriction, some chefs will refuse to alter their creation. Similarly, restaurants won’t always accept a change or swap in a set menu.

3. Le fromage

For me, THE best thing about my native country is cheese — I apologize if my friends and family are reading this.

While a traditional French meal will always include cheese before dessert, most modern restaurants will give you the choice between cheese and dessert in their set menu. Some don’t even offer cheese, and this used to offend my grandfather!

After all, France has over 1,200 varieties of cheese!

Some dishes are even entirely based on cheese, for example (click for the recipe):

Finally, note that many cheeses (the best, actually) are unpasteurized.

I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. So I won’t keep you much longer. Who better than our favorite rodent chef Ratatouille to conclude this extensive article on food and restaurants in French?

There is just one more thing to say. Bon appétit !

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