Planning to visit France soon? Or perhaps you're trying to impress your date when you take them to a French restaurant.
Whatever your reason, you'll learn everything you need to know on how to order food in French. But before we dig in, we'll dive into a quick primer on French cuisine history.
Originally, the French cuisine was heavily influenced from Italian cuisine. It wasn't until the 17th century that a few prominent chefs from France decided to distinguish its style away from other influences. Food is a large part of the French culture, with wine and cheese just as important.
Most popular cuisines from France
The different food types will vary based on what regions it originates from, including its wine like Bordeaux. Here are few of the most common types of cuisine from France:
1. Dessert and pastry
- Crème brûlée
2. Main meal
- Steak frites (steak and fries)
- Baguette (not a full meal, but accompanies it)
- Pot au feu
- Dom Pérignon Champagne
As we mentioned, regional cuisine is how the French judge the type and quality of food and wine they'll be consuming. You'll also need to familiarize yourself with these regions to better navigate your way around a French menu.
- Burgundy: Known for their wine and nut oils
- Toulouse: Home of the finest sausage
- Champagne: You guessed it, champagne
- Bordeaux: Wine
Now that we've gone through some of the most popular wines, meals, and desserts, let's go over how you can navigate yourself at a French restaurant.
Basic phrases and questions to know
Before you jump into ordering food, you'll need to learn some important restaurant terms in French.
- Excusez-moi Monsieur/Madame - excuse me sir/madam
- La carte - menu
- L’entrée - appetizer
- Toilettes or WC - restroom/bathroom Où sont les toilettes, s'il vous plaît? - Where's the restroom, please?
- Horaires d'ouverture/ferméture: Opening/closing times
- Prix - price
- Le dessert - dessert
- La cuenta - Bill/cheque
- Una carafe d’eau
Before you order
Now that we have a list of the most important restaurant words, it's time to make your entrance. Usually when you're attending a popular French restaurant, you'll need to make a reservation beforehand. Most often, you'll be doing this over the phone where you can say:
- Je voudrais réserver une table pour une/deux/trois personnes - Could I make a table reservation for one/two/three person/people?
Once you're in the restaurant, you'll need to let the waiter know about your reservation:
- J’ai réservé une table au nom de ... - I have a reserved table under the name of...
But what if you just want a drink? You may want to let your usher know so they can find you an appropriate seat at the restaurant:
- On va juste boire quelque chose - We'd just like to have drinks
Okay, so time to order but you need a menu first:
- La carte, s'il vous plaît? - The menu, please?
Understanding the French menu
By the time your waiter or waitress has brought you to your table, most restaurants with good service should have already brought you a menu. If for any reason they haven't, you could say: "Excusez-moi?" to grab their attention.
You could navigate the menu on your own, or rely on the recommendations of the waiter/waitress.
- Avez-vous une suggestion/une spécialité? - Do you have a suggestion/a specialty?
Or you could take the even easier route by asking for an English menu. We don't recommend this option but always a nice option to have as back-up:
- Avez-vous un ménu en anglais? - Do you have a menu in English?
Either way, you'll need to know these terminologies in French to know what sectino of the menu you're looking at:
- Apéritifs: - drinks before meal
- Entrées - starters
- Le plat principal - main dish
- Vins rouge - red wine
- Vins blanc - white wine
- Eau minérale - mineral water
- Bière - beer
- Café - espresso
- Eau pétillante - sparkling mineral water
- Digestifs: after-dinner drink
If you're planning to eat red meat like steak, the following terms will come in handy:
- Rosé - rare
- À point - medium
- Bien cuit - well done
For those of you looking for something specific like vegetarian dishes or children-specific menus:
- Plats d'enfant - children's dishes
- Plats végétariens - vegetarian dishes
How to order at a French restaurant
Have an eye on something you want to eat or drink? It's time to make your order. If you're at a well-serviced restaurant, you'll have someone who comes to your table, and sometimes you may not be ready. You can let them know that you need a bit more time:
- Une minute encore, s’il vous plaît - One more minute, please
It's likely at this point, your waiter or waitress isn't at your table ready to take your order. You'll have to grab their attention again by saying: Excusez-moi?
From there, you can let them know that you're ready.
- On est prêt(e) à commander - We are ready to order
In which case, they'll ask you: 'Que désirez-vous?' or 'Qu'aimerais-tu commander?'
- Je prendrai... or Je voudrais... - I'll have... or I'd like...
Make sure you add s'il vous plaît - please at the end to be polite.In a situation where you receive an item that you didn't order, you'll need to communicate this.
- Je n'ai pas commandé çà. J'ai pris... - I didn't order this. I had...
While this may not go in the category of ordering, you may want waiters to take your empty plates away to leave more table space. When you wave someone over to come to your table, you can say:
- C’est terminé — I/We have finished
Closing your bill
Hope you enjoyed your meal! Did it taste any different (or more authentic) now that you ordered your meals in French? It's time to wrap up the cheque and pay the bill. Luckily, this is often the easiest part of the restaurant experience, because paying money is a universal language once you're done eating or drinking.
In case it's not clear, you can always grab the attention of a waiter/waitress and say:
- L'addition, s'il vous plaît? - Check, please?
Most if not all French restaurants will expect a tip of 15% minimum, so it's important to be generous. When you are with a group of 6 or more people, you could also have tip included in your cheque and this could be anywhere from 15-20%. Better to be safe than get a disappointed face, and tip more than expected!
Ordering take out in French
What if you couldn't finish your meal? Or perhaps you want to take some food to go for a friend, family member, or for you to eat later. You can simply ask:
- Est-ce possible de prendre des plats à emporter? - Is it possible to order take out?
Keep in mind though that in France, take out is fairly rare, especially at a high quality restuarant. We recommend that you try and order in moderate amounts, expecting to finish your plate instead of relying on the ability to take it to go.We hope this was helpful. Now you should have no problem when ordering food at a French restaurant, anywhere you go in the world!