You’re in France and you don’t want to miss out on the local cuisine? Then you need to learn how to order food in French!
As a French coach, I’m sure you want to have an easy and pleasant experience when you’re at a restaurant.
This article is designed to teach you everything you need to know about eating out in France, including useful vocabulary and tips from a native speaker.
Let’s dive in!
Choose your restaurant
First, you need to choose where you want to eat depending on the kind of food you’re looking for.
Whether it’s for le petit-déjeuner (breakfast), le déjeuner (lunch) or le dîner (dinner), there are plenty of choices. Here are some of the most common ones.
Le café (café): Perfect for coffee, tea, drinks and snacks. This is where you go if you want to enjoy breakfast, take a break between visits or have a small meal.
Pro tip: Don’t wait to be seated! Snatch the first free table you see and a waiter will come to you with the menu (or call them if they don’t).
Le bistrot (bistro): Bistros offer a small menu containing simple and typical home-cooked meals served quickly. They are open only during meal hours (starting from around 11 a.m and 7 p.m).
La brasserie (brasserie): This is where you get your comfort food. Brasseries are similar to bistros, except they are open from morning until dawn non-stop and offer a large variety of traditional French food.
Pro tip: If you’re looking for the typical French food experience, brasseries are your best option!
La crêperie (creperie): Go there to taste the famous French crêpes and galettes.
Try a savory galette (buckwheat pancake) as your main meal, followed by a sweet crêpe for dessert. There are various filling options to choose from (salmon, eggs, cheese, vegetables, potatoes, meat, ice cream, chocolat, fruits, etc.).
Le restaurant (restaurant): This is the place to go if you’re looking for a meal in a more formal setting. The service is usually super attentive and you get to experience the delights of French cuisine over 3 courses (starter, main meal, dessert).
Pro tip: In France, you’ll find plenty of restaurants gastronomiques (gourmet restaurants) with Michelin star chefs.
The prices are more expensive than in a normal restaurant, but the cuisine is of the highest standard, with original dishes and excellent wines. They offer an amazing experience, so if you have the opportunity to try one, go for it!
Make your reservation
There’s nothing worse than going to a restaurant, only to be told there’s no free table!
If you’re planning to go to a real restaurant, make a reservation beforehand to avoid any bad surprises.
The easiest way is to phone the restaurant and say Bonjour, je voudrais réserver une table pour deux personnes (Hello, I’d like to book a table for two people). If needed, just replace deux by the number of people that will be attending.
The waiter will ask you Pour quand ? (For when?). Reply with the date and time you want to make your reservation for. For example, Pour samedi 21h (For Saturday 9 p.m.).
If you want to be seated somewhere specifically, let the waiter know:
- J’aimerais une table sur la terrasse (I’d like a table on the terrace)
- Je voudrais une table près de la fenêtre (I’d like a table near the window)
- Je préfèrerais une table à l’intérieur (I would prefer a table inside)
- Je préfèrerais une table à l’extérieur (I would prefer a table outside)
Finally, you’ll get the question À quel nom? (Under whose name?). Simply respond with your surname.
Once the reservation is written down, the waiter might tell you C’est noté (It’s noted).
Make sure to thank them with Je vous remercie or Merci, and hang up. Congrats, you’ve successfully booked your table!
Get to your table
When you enter the restaurant, a waiter will welcome you.
Let them know you have a table booked by saying J’ai réservé une table au nom de … (I’ve booked a table under the name …).
If you don’t give this info yourself, they’ll ask you Vous avez une réservation ? (Do you have a reservation?). Reply with Oui, au nom de … (Yes, under the name …).
If you didn’t make any reservation, you’ll be asked Vous êtes combien ? (How many are you?) or Pour combien ? (For how many people?).
Simply respond On est trois (There are three of us) or Trois personnes (Three people) for example.
The waiter will then guide you to your booked table or will find you a free table.
If you have no reservation, in some rare cases, you might be asked to wait until there’s a free table available. For example, you’ll be told Il y a quinze minutes d’attente (There’s a fifteen minutes waiting time).
That’s why booking a table is highly recommended! You won’t have to waste time waiting!
Decipher the menu
Once you’re seated, the waiter will give you la carte (the menu).
You’ll typically have 2 options.
You can select un menu or une formule. These two words mean a “set menu” and are used interchangeably depending on your restaurant.
You’ll get to choose from a set menu at a fixed price (starter + main course, main course + dessert, starter + main course + dessert). For each category, you’ll be able to pick between a few dishes.
Un menu or une formule is usually the cheapest option when you want to eat on a budget.
You can also choose your meal à la carte. This means you can select any dishes you want from the menu (starter, main course, dessert or a combination of those).
You’ll have more choice options, but the prices are usually a little higher than those on the set menu.
On a typical French menu, you’ll find these items:
- Les entrées (starters)
- Les plats principaux (main courses)
- Les desserts (desserts)
- Les fromages (cheeses)
- Les boissons (drinks)
La carte des vins (wine list) is usually presented apart.
More useful vocabulary:
- L’apéritif (pre-dinner drink)
- Le digestif (after-dinner drink)
- Le plat du jour (dish of the day) – It’s served at noon and changes every day, following the chef’s inspiration. It’s often present in the set menu as well.
Get familiar with the menu items
Now that you’ve managed to decipher the crucial parts of the menu, it’s time to actually pick your food!
Here’s a list of essential vocabulary to help you make your choice.
Les viandes (meat):
- Le bœuf (beef)
- L’agneau (lamb)
- Le poulet (chicken)
- Le porc (pork)
- Le veau (veal)
- Le canard (duck)
- Le fois gras (fois gras)
Les produits de la mer (seafood):
- Le poisson (fish)
- La crevette (shrimp)
- L’huître (oyster)
- Le saumon (salmon)
Les légumes (vegetables):
- Les pommes de terre (potatoes)
- La tomate (tomato)
- Le concombre (cucumber)
- La courgette (zucchini)
- L’aubergine (eggplant)
- Les champignons (mushrooms)
- Les crudités (raw vegetables)
Les fruits (fruits):
- La fraise (strawberry)
- La pomme (apple)
- La banane (banana)
- La poire (pear)
- L’ananas (pineapple)
Les boissons (drinks):
- L’eau (water)
- Le vin (wine)
- La bière (beer)
- Le thé (tea)
- Le café (coffee)
- Le jus de fruits (fruit juice)
More useful vocabulary:
- Le pain (bread)
- La soupe (soup)
- Le riz (rice)
- Les pâtes (pasta)
- Le sel (salt)
- Le poivre (pepper)
- Le sucre (sugar)
- La sauce (gravy)
- L’huile d’olive (olive oil)
- Les oeufs (eggs)
- Le beurre (butter)
- Le fromage (cheese)
- La glace (ice cream)
- La crème brûlée (crème brûlée)
Order your meal
After you’ve perused the menu, the waiter will come and ask you Vous avez choisi ? (Did you choose?) or Avez-vous fait votre choix ? (Have you made your choice?).
If you’re not ready yet, simply tell them Pas encore (Not yet) or Bientôt (Soon) and they will return a few minutes later.
If you’re ready, tell them Oui (Yes) and proceed with your order.
To attract the staff”s attention at any point during your time at the restaurant, here’s a 3-steps guide:
- Try to lock eyes with the waiter. If they are in a rush, that might prove difficult. But at any good restaurant, the staff should be attentive and look around tables pretty often in case they are needed.
- Say Excusez-moi ? (Excuse me?) to signal them you need something.
- If they are too far away to hear you but can see you, raise your hand a little in their direction. That should do the trick.
The waiter will then come to you, usually saying Je vous écoute (I’m listening to you). Proceed to tell them what you want.
Pro tip: If you’re not sure which dish to choose, you can always ask them for a recommendation by saying Que recommandez-vous ? or Qu’est-ce que vous recommandez ?
To order your food, you can go with:
- Je voudrais … (I’d like …)
- Je vais prendre … (I’m going to take …)
To build your perfect sentence, use the following structure: Je voudrais/Je vais prendre + un/une/des/du + name of your dish (usually as is written on the menu) + s’il vous plaît.
- Je voudrais un magret de canard s’il vous plaît (I’d like the fillet of duck breast please).
- Je vais prendre des escargots s’il vous plaît (I’m going to take some snails please).
To make sure you’re polite enough, don’t forget to say s’il vous plaît (please) at the end of your sentence and any time you ask something from the staff.
If you’re ordering meat, the waiter will ask you Quelle cuisson ? to know how you’d like your meat cooked. You can answer with:
- Bleu (rare)
- Saignant (medium rare)
- À point (medium)
- Bien cuit (well done)
Pro tip: To really enjoy the flavor of the meat, go for Saignant or À point.
More useful vocabulary:
- Je n’ai pas encore choisi (I haven’t chosen yet)
- On a fait notre choix (We made our choice)
- Pour moi, ce sera … (For me, it will be …), then name your dish.
- Quel est le plat du jour? (What is the dish of the day?)
For the desserts, you’ll be able to order them after you finish your main course. The waiter will ask you Vous prendrez un dessert ? (Will you have dessert?) and will bring you the desserts menu for you to make your choice.
Note: In France, it’s still pretty uncommon to ask for a doggy bag and most restaurants didn’t necessarily offer it until very recently. As of July 2021, restaurants are required to offer a doggy bag to their customers, if asked. 
Specify your dietary preferences
You have dietary preferences, but you don’t know if your dish contains ingredients not suited to you? Then mention it to the waiter and they will advise you.
- Je suis végétarien (m) / Je suis végétarienne (f) (I’m vegetarian)
- Je suis végétalien (m) / Je suis végétalienne (f) (I’m vegan)
- Je suis diabétique (I’m diabetic)
If you have any food allergies, you need to check in with the waiter to make sure your dish is a safe option for you.
Say Je suis allergique à … (I’m allergic to …) and state the name of the food you’re allergic to.
Don’t skip this step! Many ingredients can go in a seemingly simple recipe and you wouldn’t want your enjoyable meal to turn into a nightmare!
Order your drinks
To order your drinks, use the same structure as before Je voudrais … or Je vais prendre …
When it comes to drinks, you have plenty of choices!
Before your meal, you can try un apéritif. This is a pre-dinner drink of your choosing, meant to open up your appetite.
With your meal, you might want to drink:
- Du vin (wine)
- Une bière (beer)
- Un soda (soda)
- De l’eau (water)
When you order water, you can ask for une carafe d’eau. This is a free jug of tap water. Most restaurants will serve this, so don”t hesitate to ask.
If you prefer a bottle of water, ask for de l’eau plate (still water) or de l’eau gazeuse (sparkling water).
Unlike the tap water, water bottles are not free. But to be honest, they usually taste much better!
Pro tip: If you don’t specify une carafe d’eau, the waiter will likely bring you a bottle of water you’ll have to pay for. Depending on where you’re eating, the price can be expensive!
I once ate at the top of the Tour Montparnasse and forgot to ask for tap water. When the check came, I discovered the water bottle was 6 €! Which is a little overkill for water if you ask me!
After your meal, you can try un digestif. This is a shot of a drink with a high alcohol percentage, meant to aid your digestion.
Alternatively, you can also order un café (coffee), the favorite drink of French people when they’re done eating. You might also like un cappuccino (cappuccino), un café crème (white coffee), un expresso (expresso) or un café au lait (latte).
Talk about your food
Your dish is here! You tasted it, and now you want to express your opinion. Here are some common sentences.
If your food is good, you might say:
- C’est délicieux (It’s delicious)
- C’est excellent (It’s excellent)
- C’est très bon (It’s very good)
- C’est un délice (It’s a delight)
If there’s any issue, you can also complain about the food:
- Je n’ai pas commandé ça (I didn’t order this)
- Ce n’est pas ce que j’ai commandé (It’s not what I ordered)
- C’est froid (The food is cold)
- C’est trop cuit (It’s overcooked)
- Ce n’est pas assez cuit (It’s undercooked)
- C’est trop salé (It’s too salty)
- C’est trop sucré (It’s too sweet)
- C’est fade (It’s bland)
- Je n’ai pas aimé ce plat (I didn’t like this dish)
You don’t feel like sitting in a restaurant, but still want to enjoy some food? You have several options available.
First, if you want to order on site, look for vente à emporter written on the door or the window to make sure the restaurant offers takeouts.
Second, you can also look for a restaurant on the Web, check their menu and call to order. If you don’t know if takeout is possible, ask Vous faites de la vente à emporter ? (Do you do takeout?).
Place your order, then pick it up yourself or have the restaurant deliver it to you. Note that it’s still rare for restaurants in France to personally offer a hand-delivery service. But that’s where the next option comes in handy!
Third, order through a takeout website or app for maximum convenience.
While your restaurant may not have a personal hand-delivery service, it’s very likely to have a third-party delivery service.
You’ll have to enter your address to see all the restaurants nearby and available to you.
Select what you want to eat, what time you’d like to receive your food and enter your details (address, phone number and payment info). Then chill out until your food arrives!
Pay your check
The waiter won’t bring you the check until you ask for it.
In France, it’s common to remain seated and discuss with your party at the end of the meal before leaving the restaurant.
When you’re ready to pay, tell the waiter:
- Je pourrais avoir l’addition s’il vous plaît ? (Can I have the check please?)
- L’addition, s’il vous plaît (The check, please)
The most common payment methods are en espèces (by cash) and par carte de crédit (by credit card). If you pay by cash, the waiter will bring you back la monnaie (the change).
Unlike in the United States, the service charge is included in your check. This means you don’t have to tip anything if you don’t want to.
However, if you really enjoyed the restaurant and the staff, it’s always a good idea to leave un pourboire (a tip) of 1€, 2€ or more to show your appreciation.
More useful vocabulary:
- Vous avez terminé ? (Are you finished?)
- Ça a été ? (Was everything ok?)
- Je t’invite / Je vous invite (It’s my treat)
- Chacun paye sa part (We’re going Dutch)
The bottom line
Now, you know exactly how to order food in French!
You’re prepared for every major scenario you could face at a restaurant. This means you can go to a French restaurant with confidence and enjoy the experience.
All you have to do is choose where you want to go!
Do you have any more questions about eating out in France?
Share it in the comments section below and I’ll answer it!