Ordering a Meal in English: Tips, Examples, and Practice

Get ready to become a pro at ordering food in English! This lesson covers everything you need to know to confidently navigate the do's and don'ts of eating out, from making specific requests to handling dietary restrictions and complicated situations.

Ordering a Meal in English: Tips, Examples, and Practice

Lesson Table of Contents

1) Ordering Food Do's and Don'ts

2) Vocabulary for Eating Out

     - Menu-Related Vocabulary

     - Ordering Vocabulary

     - Payment Vocabulary

     - Reservation Vocabulary

     - Special Dietary Needs Vocabulary

     - Restaurant Staff Vocabulary

5) Ordering Food at a Restaurant – American English Conversations

6) Interacting with Restaurant Staff: A Role Play Activity

7) Eating out Vocabulary Practice: Interactive Fill-in-the-Blanks Activity

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses

First, let's start with the most useful tips.

Ordering Food Do's and Don'ts

When dining out, it's important to remember a few key etiquette tips. (Etiquette is a set of polite rules for how to behave in different situations.)

Firstly, make a reservation if possible, especially if you're dining at a popular restaurant or during peak hours. This will ensure that you're seated promptly and avoid long wait times.

If you have any dietary restrictions, don't be afraid to make specific requests when ordering your food. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate requests such as gluten-free, vegan, or nut-free meals, but it's important to communicate your needs clearly to your server.

If there's a problem with your meal, such as it being undercooked or overcooked, it's okay to send it back

It's important to be polite and respectful when doing so. 

Explain the issue calmly to your server, and they should be happy to resolve the problem for you.


     Average Tip in the US: 15-20% of the total bill.

     Average Tip in Canada: 15% of the total bill.

You can pay your tip in cash or add it to your card payment.

In the US, it's generally expected to leave a tip for good service at sit-down restaurants, but it's not expected at fast food or counter-service restaurants where you don't have a server.

Next, let's go over the most common words and phrases you should know.

Vocabulary for Eating Out

Menu-Related Vocabulary

Here is a list of vocabulary related to menus and menu items.

Course: A part of a meal. Example: a salad.

Main course: The biggest part of the meal. Example: a steak.

Side dish: A smaller part of the meal served with the main course. Example: steamed vegetables.

Appetizer: A small dish served before the main course. Example: a soup.

Dessert: A sweet course served at the end of a meal. Example: a cake.

Course menu: A set menu with a specific number of parts. Example: a three-course meal with an appetizer, main course, and dessert.

Ordering Vocabulary

Here is a list of vocabulary related to the process of placing an order in a restaurant, such as words for requesting, modifying, or canceling dishes.

Order: To request a dish from the menu. Example: "I'd like to order the steak."

Side: An additional dish served with the main course. Example: "Can I have a side of fries with my burger?"

Appetizer: A small dish served before the main course. Example: "We'll start with the calamari appetizer."

Entree: The main course of a meal. Example: "For my entree, I'll have the chicken parmesan."

Combo: A meal deal that includes a main dish and a side dish. Example: "I'll have the burger combo with fries and a drink."

Substitute: To request a different ingredient or dish in place of the one listed on the menu. Example: "Can I substitute the green beans for the asparagus?"

Modify: To request changes to a dish, such as leaving out an ingredient or changing the cooking method. Example: "Can I have the salad without croutons and with the dressing on the side?"

Today's special/Special of the day: A dish that is only available on a specific day or for a limited time. Example: "Today's special is the seafood pasta."

Specials board: A board listing the daily specials of the restaurant. Example: "Let's see what's on the specials board today."

Payment Vocabulary

Here is a list of vocabulary related to paying for a meal, such as words for requesting the bill, paying with cash or card, or leaving a tip.

Bill/Check: A list of the food and drinks ordered and the total amount owed for them. Example: "Excuse me, could we have the bill/check please?"

Cash: Physical currency, such as paper bills or coins, used as payment for a meal. Example: "I'd like to pay with cash, please."

Card: A credit or debit card used as payment. Example: "Do you accept card payments?"

Tip/Gratuity: An additional amount of money given to the server to show appreciation for good service. Example: "I'm happy with the service, so I'll leave a 15% tip."

Split the bill/check: To divide the total amount owed between two or more people. Example: "We'll split the bill/check equally among the four of us."

Change: The amount of money given back to the customer when they pay with cash and the amount paid is more than the bill amount. Example: "Can I have my change back, please?"

Receipt: A written or electronic record of the payment made, including the date, time, amount, and items purchased. Example: "Can I get a receipt for this?"

Payment method: How the customer chooses to pay for their meal, such as cash, card, or mobile payment. Example: "What payment methods do you accept?"

Mobile payment: Payment made through a mobile payment app, such as Apple Pay or Google Wallet. Example: "Can I use my mobile payment app to pay for this?"

Split payment: Payment made using multiple payment methods to cover the total bill amount. Example: "I'd like to split the payment between my card and cash."

Reservation Vocabulary

Here is a list of vocabulary related to making a reservation, such as words for requesting a table, specifying the number of people, or reserving a private room.

Reservation: Booking a table in advance at a restaurant or a hotel. Example: "I'd like to make a reservation for dinner tonight."

Table: A table at a restaurant with a specific number of seats available. Example: "Can we have a table for four, please?"

Party size: The number of people in a group. Example: "Our party size is six people."

Booth: A small, enclosed table or seating area that provides privacy. Example: "Can we reserve a booth for our dinner?"

Private room: A separate, enclosed room in a restaurant or hotel that can be reserved for a private event or dining experience. Example: "Can we reserve a private room for our party?"

Reservation time: The specific time at which a table is booked. Example: "Our reservation time is 7 pm."

Confirmation: A message or notification received from the restaurant or hotel confirming the reservation. Example: "I haven't received a confirmation for my reservation yet."

Cancelation: Stopping something that was planned. Example: "I need to make a cancellation for my reservation."

Special Dietary Needs Vocabulary

Here is a list of vocabulary related to specific dietary needs or restrictions, such as words for vegetarian or gluten-free options.

Vegetarian: A person who does not eat meat, poultry, or fish.

Vegan: A person who does not consume any animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs.

Gluten-free: Food that does not contain gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.

Dairy-free: Food that does not contain any dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt.

Nut-free: Food that does not contain any nuts or nut products, including peanuts, almonds, and cashews.

Halal: Food that is prepared and served according to Islamic dietary laws.

Kosher: Food that is prepared and served according to Jewish dietary laws.

Allergies: A negative reaction to certain foods, which can cause severe or life-threatening symptoms.

Pescatarian: A person who does not consume meat but does eat fish and seafood. Example: "I'm a pescatarian, do you have any fish dishes on the menu?"

Low-carb: A diet that restricts carbohydrates. Example: "I'm trying to follow a low-carb diet, do you have any dishes that are low in carbohydrates?"

Keto-friendly: Refers to food or drinks that are low in carbohydrates and high in fat, which is suitable for those following a ketogenic diet. Example: "I'm on a no-carb diet, can I have a keto-friendly pizza?"

Restaurant Staff Vocabulary

Here is a list of vocabulary related to different roles and positions in a restaurant, such as words for waiter/waitress, chef, or host/hostess.

Chef: The person responsible for cooking the food.

Host/hostess: The person who greets customers, shows them to their table, and manages the seating arrangements.

Manager: The person in charge of overseeing the restaurant and its staff, managing operations and ensuring customer satisfaction.

Busser: The person responsible for clearing the tables.

Bartender: The person responsible for preparing drinks and serving them to customers at the bar.

Sommelier: The person responsible for selecting and serving wines to customers, and for offering expert advice on pairing wine with food.

Dishwasher: The person responsible for washing dishes used in the restaurant.

Pastry chef: The person responsible for preparing desserts and baked goods.

Waiter: A person who works in a restaurant and is responsible for serving food and drinks to customers. They take orders, bring meals to tables, refill drinks, and may also handle the payment process.

Server: Another term for waiter/waitress.

Next Steps

- Read examples conversations: ordering food at a restaurant

- Interacting with restaurant staff: a role play activity

- Practice eating out vocabulary using an interactive fill-in-the-blank activity

See also:
Answers to Common Restaurant Questions in English
In conclusion, with these tips, examples, and practice, you'll be able to order a meal in English with ease. Bon appétit!

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