Eating Out in France: The Ultimate Guide to Ordering Food Like A Local


Last Updated: August 30, 2022

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Learning how to order food in French is something important especially if you plan on visiting or living in France.

Fret not; we’re here to explain complicated menus, French customs and useful phrases to get you ordering food like a local!

how to order food like a local

Time to learn how to order in French!

Usual Food Vocabulary/Phrases

Wherever you decide to eat or drink, it’s best to brush up on some phrases first to make your experience much more pleasurable, not to mention impress the French locals!  

Here are some basics to get you started:

Est-ce que c’est possible d’avoir une table pour ____ personnes s’il vous plaît?Can I have a table for ____ please ?
Je voudrais réserver une table pour deux personnes:I’d like to reserve a table for two
Excusez-moi Monsieur/Madame:Excuse me Sir/Madam
Avez-vous une suggestion/une spécialité?Do you have a suggestion/a specialty?
Est-ce qu’il y a un plat du jour?Is there a daily special?
On est prêt(e) à commander)We are ready to order (add the ‘e’ for feminine)
Je n’ai pas encore choisiI haven’t chosen yet
Une minute encore, s’il vous plaît:One more minute, please
Pour moi/lui/elleFor me/him/her
Je voudrais/ J’aimerais/ Je prendsI would like/I would love/I will take
C’est TerminéWe’ve finished
C’était délicieux/très bon:It was delicious/very good
L’addition s’il vous plaîtThe bill, please
Un pourboiretip

French Cafés

The term café in France should be taken rather loosely, as they are not strictly for coffee, tea and cake.  Many casual restaurants act as cafés around eating times so they’re the place to go whether you’re after a quick espresso or a croque Monsieur.

You shouldn't wait to be seated, but instead grab a table that takes your fancy before someone else does first!  The seating is often cramped--especially on the Parisian Terraces--having classic ‘bench-like’ set ups of tables in rows. But don’t be put off; they are surprisingly charming and perfect for people watching!

The French have a particular way of doing things, eating out included!  

Eating Out in France

Via WikiCommons

You may find the service rather brusque at a café. The client turnaround is high, so serving staff don’t focus too much on creating a rapport with clients.  With that said, don’t feel obliged to move upon finishing your last mouthful---the Parisians often read a book for a whole morning over a coffee costing only a euro.  

The French service is much less formal than in other places around the world. Staff are allowed to smoke on show outside. And don’t be surprised if you catch them on their phones while standing behind the counter in full view--they certainly won’t be!

Eating Out in France

Via Flickr

Useful Café Vocabulary/Phrases:

C’est pour boire un verre/mangerWe just want to have a drink/eat
Un café allongéBlack Coffee
Un café au laitMilky coffee / latte
Un expresso Espresso
Un théTea
Du sucreSugar
La carteMenu
Du vinWine
Du painBread
Du fromage Cheese
Du jambonHam
De la soupeSoup
Une carafe d’eauTap water

French Restaurants

Unlike cafés which are open from morning to night, restaurants open solely for food.  You should expect to pay a little more and receive something more formal in return.  Getting a reservation is often recommended, and you should always wait to be seated.  The service should be more attentive, with waiters much more open to helping you with translations and any questions you may have.

Unlike café meals - which are usually quite basic - here you can enjoy France’s culinary delights spread across three courses.  You will normally be served bread as a couvert, followed by a starter, main, and dessert.  A cheese course is also usually offered.

With all this food you are usually guaranteed the table for the night, promising you a relaxed experience.  Lunch Set Menus are also often offered--definitely worth checking out If you want to experience some of France’s fantastic food on a budget.  Don’t hesitate over asking for tap water - it’s the thing done in France and quite rare to pay for bottled water.

Eating Out in France

Via Pixabay

It is not common to tip after a meal; the service charge is usually included in your bill, and staff do not expect to receive anything extra. The 10% rule most certainly does not apply.  If you really do enjoy the sublime service and want to show your gratitude, a few euros is more than enough to put a smile on your servers face!

Eating Out in France

Via Flickr

Useful Restaurant Vocabulary/Phrases:

La carte des vinsThe Wine List
À La carteIndividual dishes that are usually more expensive than the Set Menu
prix fixeSet Menu
Un apéritifPre-dinner drink/cocktail
Une coupe de ChampagneA glass of champagne
Des glaçonsIce
L’entréeThe Starter
Le plat principalThe Main Course
Le dessertThe Dessert
Le fromageThe Cheese Course
Le digestifThe Digestive Drink/After-Dinner Drink
le plat du jour(Dish) Of the Day
un morceauA piece
une trancheA slice (of bread, meat, cake)
une rondelleA slice (fruit, veggie)
un verre de vinA glass of wine
une carafe d'eauJug of water / tap water
saignant/à point/bien cuitRare/medium-rare/well done

French Take-Out Food

Take-outs are becoming increasingly popular in France.  Don’t be put off by the quick conversations and unfamiliar terminology---many words are actually the same in English, and if you’re really stuck, there’s always pointing!  

Food is usually cheaper if you opt to take-out, and during the working week you can snap up some great deals.  Everywhere from Boulangeries to Mexican Street Food outlets have jumped on board, so whatever you fancy, there’s no need to stop exploring when you can grab it ’n’ go.

Useful Take-out Vocabulary/Phrases:

À emporterTo take-away
sur placeEat in
piquant / épicéSpicy
EmballéWrapped up
Les couvertsCutlery
Un sacA bag
dix minutes d’attente(ten) minutes wait
Eating Out in France

Via Pexels

Remember, folks: practice makes perfect. Now, is there ever a better excuse to go crazy on French food than that!?

Do you have more tips to add to this? Make sure to leave a comment below.

Grab your copy of our French Phrasebook and learn the phrases you need to navigate any scenarios in French. Plus, get a Menu Reader to help you order any French food you want!

About the author 

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Instagram

  • And the waiter often says, ‘Ça a été ?’ which can confuse a tourist because this does not translate literally but could mean ‘And was everything OK?’

  • Hi Frederic, There has been much discussion on how to order a coffee, we used to use Je voudrais but soon learnt to say ‘je prend’ are both ok or which is the best to use? Thank you

  • Hi Frederic,
    In bakeries, I often order an additional item (I point at the little tempting pasties to add) at the time of billing… It would be nice if you suggest a good French way of saying it.

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