Basic French: French Restaurant Vocabulary

Bonjour !

Restaurants are one of French people’s favorite places.

Some of our customs and habits there can feel confusing, though.

But once you learn a few of our usual scripts and unwritten rules, as I’ll show you today, you’ll order your meal and drinks just like a native!

Et toi ?

When was the last time you went to a restaurant?

Have you ever been to a restaurant in France?

For which other situations would you like to have scripts and sentences?

Bonne journée,

Géraldine

Join the conversation!

  • Le serveur vous apporte “la carte,” et pas “le menu”–unless I have become hopelessly old fashioned. Thank you for your video!

  • J’ai mangé dans un restaurant français en octobre dernier. Mon ami habite a Paris.
    J’ai adorer le riz noir.
    Bonne journee

  • Thank you so much for this helpful video! How would you ask for the salad dressing on the side? <>. What is the best way to ask? Merci beaucoup!

  • Bonjour, Géraldine.

    Est-ce que vous peuvez m’aider avec des phrases (ou un script) pour demander aux serveurs s’il y a des cacaouettes dans le répas? Ma fille est très allergique aux ce nourriture. Merci pour votre aide.

    Cordialement,
    Brie Hanni

    • Bonjour Brie,
      WARNING: I’m not a specialist of allergies.
      You could say : “Est-ce qu’il y a des cacahuètes dans ce plat ?”
      However, this request doesn’t cover other kinds of nuts. I don’t know your daughter’s allergies so you might want to cover other kind of nuts.
      The best would be to check the translation of those nuts and/or ask travellers with similar allergies.

  • Hi I really enjoyed your French restaurant vocab lesson. Very good indeed. I am a Coeliac whicb means eating gluten makes me very unwell. Could you let me know a few important sentences to help me to explain this and ask about gluten free food options when eating out please? Thanks very much, Chris

    • Bonjour Chris,
      You can say “Qu’est-ce que vous avez sans gluten ?” or “Est-ce que ce plat contient du gluten ?”. The best would be (a student of mine does it) to have a card in French with the list of ingredients you can’t eat.
      However, be very careful. Coeliac intolerance and allergy are VERY not well known in France so always keep your eyes open on the answers you’re given if you ask “does this have gluten?”.
      My partner is lactose intolerant and even as native francophones, we often don’t fully trust (and are mostly right) the waiters. Many are not trained to understand allergies and intolerances. It makes for hilarious anecdotes but first, painful evenings.

      • Thank you for your reply.
        When I am in a restaurant I say “Je suis intolerant aux produits laitier (du lait, beurre, fromage, etc.) “, but how I can I politely emphasise that dairy products will make me ill and that this is not just a preference?
        Also, what is the correct phrase to use when I point at something on the menu and want to ask “Is this safe for me to eat”?
        Many thanks for all your videos and all your help.

        • Hi Adam!

          “Je suis intolérant au produits laitiers” ou “Je suis intolérant au lactose” are already very good to express what you mean. They don’t convey a preference (that would be “Je n’aime pas le lactose.”) The ambiguous expression would be “Je ne mange pas de produits laitiers” (= I don’t eat dairy products), but people would still respect that (except if they’re rude, which does happen…)

          You could also say “Je ne peux pas manger de produits laitiers” or “Je ne peux pas manger de lactose” (= I can’t eat dairy products).

          “Is this safe for me to eat?” would be something like “Est-ce que je peux manger ça sans danger ?,” but I think people would be confused at first.

          I think you could go with “Est-ce qu’il y a des produits laitiers là dedans ? Je suis intolérant au lactose.” (= Is there dairy in that? I’m lactose intolerant.”)

          Bonne journée,

          – Arthur, writer for Comme une Française

  • L’autre jour en classe j’ai enseigné un leçon sur le même sujet!
    En fait, je me rappelle l’histoire dans le film Les Vacances de M. Bean quand il mange au Train Bleu…. Si vous n’avez pas le vu, je le recommande! C’est hilariante!

  • J’ai compris que la difference entre les trois, est;
    La carte = une liste de tout les articles
    Le menu = normalement trois plats
    La formule = un choix entre deux plats

    • Bonjour Maurice,

      En gros c’est ça. Mais souvent, le menu du jour = la formule.

      C’est pas très distinct.

  • J’avais toujours appris que “the menu” est “la carte” – pas le menu comme vous l’avez appelé au début?

  • Chère Géraldine
    I have as much chance as an English born speaker of being taken for French in a restaurant in France as you have for being taken as being English in London!
    I have tried to make my “Bonjoura” as French as possible, but I still get ” Hello! Your are English” 🙂 I have a far better accent after half a bottle of wine::)
    Bises

    • Bonjour Brian,

      You’ll never pass for French so don’t pressure yourself too much. 🙂
      However what works is to keep speaking French even if someone answers back in English. They just want to be helpful. But if you want to practice, go on!

  • Géraldine, it would be very helpful if you had a file we could download of the French text that appears on the lower half of your screen. I facilitate a work shop in French and have used your YouTube videos to add variety to the lessons. If I had the text of the video that along with your great videos would present an outstanding work shop. We really appreciate you work and contribution to the French language.

    Thanks,
    Dale Savoie
    Lafayette, Louisiana USA
    [email protected]

  • Bonjour, Geraldine,
    We have always been intrigued by the ability of servers to immediately know that we are Americans– to bring us menus in English, before we’ve even said a word. (-: We’ve been to France many times, stay in homes vs. hotels, shop with locals, have read and learned about cultural nuances and behave accordingly… We are polite and courteous, use common phrases with reasonably good pronunciation, and avoid dressing as tourists (although it often happens in heavily touristed places like Chamonix.) We use “bonjour” and “s’il vous plaît”, the traditional courtesies, liberally, and we will usually say something like “deux personnes” and hold up a thumb and forefinger. So at a Chamonix café, we decided to ask la serveuse. She was amused and quite helpful. (-: She said there are several clues. Along with our light-colour eyes, we had poked our heads inside the establishment and caught the eye of the waitress before taking a table outside.She said that French people normally just take a table outside and let the server find them. Also, little sounds can be giveaways. When deciding on what to drink, for example, Americans (and Brits?) tend to use “uh…”, while French will normally say “eu…” This was all quite fascinating to us! We try to converse in French whenever and wherever possible, but we are certainly not fluent and know that we speak French “comme un enfant.” But I dream of the day when I can speak French naturally, proficiently, and comfortably, and be seen more as a “local.” I am grateful for all you do to move me, and so many fellow francophiles, toward that goal! Merci, Geraldine! (-:

    • I can spot an American from 500 meters away. 🙂

      Nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just tiny cultural clues, as you mentioned.

      Don’t ever try to pass for French or you’re in for a big disappointement. Rather, aim at impressing the French by how French you’re becoming. That makes wonders.

      I see you’re on the right path, Carolyn, keep up the good work!

    • I am Australian, now naturalised French also. The waiters always know that we are not French, but generally do not try and give us English menus. I have asked how they know, and they said, well, of course it’s the “bonjour” -the accent ! And i haven’t said another single word at that point.

      • Don’t worry. Even with the “bon” of “bonjour”, he’s know. Don’t overthink it, it’s normal. You’d know I’m French from my “hello” too. 😉

  • What is the appropriate ‘line’ when you are dining alone and would like a table for one? I recall saying, jokingly, ‘toute seal’ but I’m not sure if that’s appropriate or if the self-deprecating humor comes across….

    • Bonjour Rachel,

      Just ask “Je voudrais réserver une table pour une personne”if you’re booking.
      If you enter the restaurant, you can say when they ask “vous êtes combien ?” : “C’est juste pour moi”.

  • Bonjour Géraldine. I will be in Paris for a few days as a solo woman traveler. I know that mealtimes in France are meant to be shared with family and friends, but I would like to try some interesting restaurants on my own. Will I get a better reception at smaller or ethnic restaurants? Should I look for wine bars with small plates where I can sit at the bar and not take up a whole table? When I call to make a reservation, what’s the best way to say I am dining alone? Merci pour votre conseil.

    • Pat
      I have often eaten alone and have always been treated equally well. I don’t think it’s necessary to restrict the kind of restaurants you go to. Maybe avoiding peak times would help. One thing I was warned about, though, is if you just want a drink in a cafe, look out for a proportion of tables that have been laid for lunch. You won’t be popular if you try to sit there with a simple coffee. Common sense, really.

      • Bonjour Pat,
        Indeed, They might not even let you sit a “lunch” dinner for coffee. that’s very common.
        If you’re here just for coffee, say it. “C’est possible de prendre juste un café ?” We do it all the time, nothing to be ashamed of.

    • Bonjour Barbara,

      There’s absolutely no problem in eating alone. 🙂

      If you make a reservation, just say “Je voudrais réserver une table pour une personne”.

      Have fun in Paris !

  • Bonjour Geraldine
    I find that being a vegetarian in France is often hard- even in Paris.
    A quite posh restaurant on the river Seine, on a large boat moored near Issey was phoned by our (French) friends to ask if they had something for a vegetarian- they said ‘yes’.
    On arrival nothing available – not even an omelette – they had ‘no eggs’. and I got a huge plate with some pretty vegetables- nothing more, for a silly price I think.
    Good way to lose weight!
    Merci encore!
    Px

    • Any cafe should be able to produce an omelette! Ethnic restaurants are often ok. Paris has plenty of Lebanese and Italian restaurants, as well as some Indian places. Veggie restaurants are increasing, but be aware that they do like to use vegetarian protein a lot, especially a wheat-based protein called seitan. I’m not wheat-intolerant but I just can’t like it. I like Geraldine’s advice on removing certain ingredients. If you ask politely waiters and chefs are usually equally courteous in meeting your requests (within reason). They might think it’s peculiar but the wonderful thing about French food culture is a respect for personal preferences.

      • Sure, you’re right Pat. It’s all about:
        1- asking nicely
        2- having reasonable requests
        3- If they don’t accept, keeping in mind that some people won’t be nice. It’s not general, it’s to personal. It just happens.

  • Salut Géraldine! Etant donné que le mot menu peut se référer à une formule, est-ce qu’on peut, en arrivant au resto, dire: “Monsieur, la carte s’il vous plaît.” ou bien on dit toujours ” Monsieur, le menu s’il vous plaît.”?
    Une suggestion: tu pourrais peut-être faire un épisode sur les différents établissements (restos, brasseries, bistrots, cafés, salons de thé etc)
    Merci pour tout! 🙂

    • Bonjour Maria,

      Pas d’inquiétude, selon le contexte, ils comprendront ce que tu veux. 🙂

      En fait, ici, laisse-toi porter par l’expérience d’être au restaurant. Imagine que tu arrives au resto, le serveur te propose une table. Puis il va t’apporter le menu/la carte (en général, pas besoin de demander). Puis tu annonceras ce que tu veux manger. Du coup, une fois remis dans le contexte, c’est plus simple.

      Si tu as déjà le menu posé sur ta table, il va comprendre que tu veux commander le menu du jour.
      Et si tu t’es installé et qu’il ne t’avait pas vu, il va comprendre que tu demandes à voir le menu.

      Voila ! 🙂

      Bonne idée pour l’épisode. Merci pour la suggestion.

  • Spent entire month of February in France so ate in restaurants, cafe, road stops, and bistros. I attempted to communicate in French though my pronunciation sometimes suffered on the more unusual names. The longer I was there the more comfortable I was speaking and surprisingly my vocabulary increased. Basically I was able to put isolated words together and form sentences.

  • Hi, I’m vegetarian and find it very hard to eat out in France. Normally its only pizza or salade offered. Or they are and give me fish or even chicken. That aside I have always found the staff polite and helpful.

  • Salut, Géraldine,
    J’étais au restau français il y a pluieurs mois, en fait, c’était une brasserie, mais leur repas était très bon, et pas cher, je me souviens d’avoir commandé un plat de saumon aux légumes. c’était exqui!

  • In Alsace, when you order the plat du jour, it is understood that this comprises entrée et plat, and sometimes dessert also. When travelling in the Jura we ordered the plat du jour, and were surprised that it was just that, one dish, which eventually arrived. Other patrons were served the entrée. Should we be more specific in the rest of France and request the menu du jour I wonder?

    • Where I liove if your order the plat du jour that is what you get! Many restaurants at midday do “Formules” “Entrée et plat du jour” or Plat du jour et dessert”
      Many have wine or coffee included

    • Where I live if your order the plat du jour that is what you get! Many
      restaurants at midday do “Formules” “Entrée et plat du jour” or Plat du
      jour et dessert”
      Many have wine or coffee included

  • Bonjour Geraldine,
    How do you ask nicely what comes with the dish you’d like to order? I live in Alsace and frequently the plat du jour comes with a blob of spätzle or pâtes, both of which I loathe, and nothing else. Sometimes i am understood and the waitress then offers some sort of potato, and/or petits légumes. But I would like to know the correct and polite way to ask.

  • Bonjour Géraldine
    Une fois à le bon restaurant Le Sud à Lyon, j´ai commandé Baba au Rhum comme dessert. La pâtisserie est arrivée avec une bouteille de rhum! Je pouvait doser moi-même. Quand l´addition arrivait, j´ai demandé si la bouteille etait compris (c´etait un peut chèr) et la serveuse etait très amusée. 🙂

    • Ca me rappelle la Martinique où on pouvait se servir du rhum soi-même pour le ti punch.
      C’est marrant, je pensais que le baba était macéré dans le rhum, pas qu’on pouvait en rajouter. 🙂

  • When in a Chinese restaurant in France, and you ask for les baguettes, would they give you the bread or chopsticks?

    • Bonjour Daveed,

      Des baguettes = chopsticks. Also, no worries, they’d understand from the context!

      In a restaurant, you’d never ask for “baguette”, we ask for “du pain”. 🙂

      So no worries about that.

  • Why do French people only order one egg? it’s because one egg = un oeuf (enough!) this is a joke for children under 3 years of age!

  • I want to be better at making small talk when I walk my dog. I know some things. (Il est gentil? C’est un mâle?) However there are other things people often say and I would like to respond with more than “merci” or a one-word answer to a direct question (name, age, that kind of thing). The people are friendly and the conversation starts along predictable, dog-related lines. I just don’t understand them. Or maybe if their dog is a bit of an aggressive sniffer, say, I’d like to get my dog out of there but politely. “It’s not your dog, it’s just that mine is a little shy,” that kind of thing. Or if my dog is not there, how do I say “can I pet your dog?” If you can do that in a way that is interesting to a general audience too, that would be very helpful.

  • I unfortunately have celiac disease and so am unable to eat even tiny amounts of gluten. I have happily found that this is not to hard to deal with in French restaurants.
    I usually start by apologizing for being a pain (“Désole d’être si difficile, mais…) and continue by explaining that I can’t eat gluten (“…je suis intolèrant à gluten.”) Then I asked for their help in identifying gluten-free menu items (“Pouvez-vous me conseiller sur les choses sans-gluten dans le menu, s’il vous plaît ?”)
    Most servers are very helpful and they often tell me that that they know someone who can’t eat gluten (their uncle, their neighbor, their friend.) It is also now the law that French restaurants have to have a list of all the possible allergens (14 in all) and mark which ones are in each dish. If you ask, they will bring this to you.
    Of course, I always thank them for their help. “Thank you” goes a long way in any language!

    • I met a young woman and her friends at a gluten-free restaurant in Paris. I told her my daughter (who is gluten-free) was coming to visit and she gave me a list of gluten-free restaurants at which she’d eaten. She also was kind enough to give me an explanation in French to give to a waiter about why she couldn’t eat gluten. She had gotten it off the internet. It would be good to have something like that handy, I suppose, although in the 3 months I’ve been in Paris, I haven’t encountered a waiter who would have needed such an explanation. I have found most restaurants in Paris to be pretty understanding about this. There are also completely vegetarian and vegan restaurants and options at many others. But Paris is a big city – the same may not be true elsewhere. As in every situation, the important thing is to approach people respectfully and politely and learn enough French to be able to explain what you need.

    • I hope I’m not too late with this question as it is now 2019. My 17 year old granddaughter has an opportunity to travel to France. She has a severe allergy to eggs. Even food that touches food made with eggs can cause her to have a serious antiphylatic shock problem (she carries an epi-pen). And she is so afraid that there will be a problem in a restaurant, etc., that she does not even want to travel to France. Have French restaurants improved in the last several years in this regard?

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