Want to learn how to order food at a French restaurant — in French?
Or need to pick up some extra vocabulary and expressions to help you get your point across with a waiter? This should help you.
The French are renowned for their cuisine, so it goes without saying that this topic is covered by most French courses and vital for any beginner French learner to learn.
Table of Contents:
- French food habits and “gourmand”
- At the French restaurant
- French meal vocabulary
- Popular French cuisine
- French food and ingredient vocabulary
- How to order at a restaurant in French
- French restaurant vocabulary
- French restaurant dialogues
- Grammar tips
- Showing courtesy
- French Partitive
- Expressing quantity and quality in French
🥐 French people’s food habits and the meaning of “gourmand”
French people are what we call “gourmands”.
This word that has no direct translation in many languages, yet for the French it’s a beautiful pecularity of their language that they’re proud of!
To be a “gourmand” means that you can eat something that you like just for the pleasure of it, and not because you’re hungry. A close word would be greedy (or gluttonous), but it’s much more a kind compliment you can make to someone.
The French eat three times a day.
For “petit-déjeuner”, for “déjeuner” and for “dîner”. But for most gourmands, there will be a “goûter” around 4 p.m.
Restaurants are a staple of French culture - even more so in bigger cities such as Paris, Bordeaux or Lyon, which have been labeled as some of world’s gastronomy capitals.
🥐 What to expect from a traditional meal at a French restaurant
At noon, you will often have a “plat du jour” aside from what’s on the menu.
It’s a daily dish prepared according to the chef’s inspiration. It’s usually offered as “formules”: “entrée + plat” or “plat + dessert” or the three of them if the customer feels especially hungry.
If someone asks you if you want “la carte”, you can say yes.
“La carte” is another word or menu.
They will kindly wait for you to choose what you want. Don’t be afraid to ask the waiter for any suggestions.
The “mets - vins” (dishes and wines) is another French staple so don’t miss out on the opportunity to try a lovely wine paired specifically for the dish you’ll eat.
French meal vocabulary
|breakfast||le petit-déjeuner (m)|
|lunch||le déjeuner (m)|
|dinner||le dîner (m)|
|dish of the day/daily special||le plat du jour (m)|
|formula of the day||la formule du jour (f)|
|menu||la carte/le menu (f)|
|main course||le plat principal (m)|
|dessert||le dessert (m)|
🥐 Popular French cuisine
Of course, French people don’t eat at the restaurant every day.
They would eat at home most of the time and pride themselves on being very fine cooks.
Home food is diverse and flavorful. It varies from region to region and every family will have a different recipe for the same dish. This is what makes French food heritage so rich. It’s immediately apparent at restaurants when chefs outdo themselves to reinvent traditional and historical dishes.
It would take an encyclopedia to establish an accurate portrait of French cuisine.
But there is still some food that you’re likely to encounter in every home.
You will find some of the food and dishes here are widely eaten throughout the country. The French like to accompany their meat with vegetables such as ratatouille - delicately grilled potatoes (pommes de terre sautées).
The favorite meat of the French is “canard” - duck meat!
Duck is often found in restaurants, especially when it comes to south-western cuisine. The French also love “les cuisses de grenouille” - frog legs! This is not a myth.
But unfortunately you will hardly find any in France. They are a delight!
“Les fruits de mer” - seafood - is also one of the most popular foods in France. And, of course, “le foie gras” is a must.
Crème brûlée is a very common dessert. Well prepared, it can be delicious.
It’s extremely common to hear French people talk endlessly about food and eating in general. To talk about your preferences, use the verb “aimer” (to love) with or without a negation:
J’aime les crevettes
Je n’aime pas les champignons
French food and ingredient vocabulary
|potato||pommes de terre (m)|
|fruit juice||jus de fruits (m)|
|olive oil||huile d’olive (f)|
🥐 How to order at a restaurant in French without looking like an obnoxious tourist
The menu typically consists of four parts:
- les entrées
- les plats principaux
- les desserts
- les boissons
You might find additions to these sometimes - typically at upscale restaurants:
- les amuse-bouche
- la carte des fromages
- la carte des vins et des digestifs
To order, it’s mostly a matter of courtesy: simple sayings everybody uses to make the experience enjoyable for both parties.
The polite plural use is, of course, appreciated.
Don’t be surprised if a waiter comes and asks you if you want an apéritif. The apéritif is more than just a tradition in France; it is truly a way of life.
It’s all about having a small drink before the meal, to make the wait more enjoyable and start the conversation with your food partner of that day.
To ask for the bill, those courtesy sayings are once again appreciated. You don’t have to leave a tip, but it is, of course, more than welcome as a way of saying that you greatly enjoyed the food and the overall experience.
Additional French restaurant vocabulary
|the waiter||le serveur|
|the menu||La carte/le menu|
|the cutlery||les couverts|
|the table||la table|
|the tip||le pourboire|
|the credit card||la carte de crédit|
|the change||la monnaie|
Useful French phrases for a restaurant
Je ne sais pas quoi prendre. Que me suggérez-vous ?
Je suis végétarien. Que me proposez-vous ?
En plat principal, je prendrai une bavette avec une ratatouille provençale.
Pour le dessert, une crème brûlée, s’il vous plaît.
Pouvez-vous nous apporter une bouteille d’eau s’il vous plaît ?
Servez-vous un plat du jour ?
Quelle est la suggestion du chef ?
Où sont les toilettes, s’il vous plaît ?
Je voudrais l’addition, s’il vous plaît.
Je paye par carte/je paye en monnaie.
🥐 Grammar tips
Showing courtesy in French
To express yourself politely is terribly important in France. But it is really a simple matter: the formal plural use of the verbs “vouloir” (to want) or “prendre” (to take) in the conditional present tense.
Here are a few examples:
Je veux du pain (indicatif présent, rude)
Je prendrais du pain
The partitive article is an article one would use the express an abstract quantity: It’s used instead of indefinite articles “un, une, des”.
The partitive article: “de la, de l’, du”.
Je voudrais de l’eau, s’il vous plaît.
Pourriez-vous apporter du pain?
Je prendrai du fromage avant le dessert.
Je voudrais de la bière pour l’apéritif.
🥐 How to express quantity or quality of food in French
Here are a few more useful adjectives for describing food in French.
|not enough||pas assez|
Obviously, there’s a lot more I could add but these are some of the most important.
Next time you’re at a French restaurant, try ordering in French (they might speak English anyway but challenge yourself!).
Hopefully the vocabulary and dialogues above are helpful.
If not, there are plenty of great French resources that cover food and restaurant topics in more detail.
Did I miss something important?
Comment below and let me know.