English Restaurant Vocabulary

Andrew Lawton, founder of Drew's ESL Fluency Lessons, has created specialized ESL resources for every area of life that require conversational language skills. One of the most common uses for English is when ordering food at a restaurant. Learning Drew's restaurant vocabulary terms will prepare you to understand English menus and use the proper language when describing and ordering food and drinks in a restaurant environment.

Appetizer
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This is food, served in small portions, that you have the option to order before you get your main dish. Examples of appetizers served at many American restaurants are: shrimp cocktail, fried calamari and Buffalo wings.

“Let’s get the chicken wings as an appetizer.”

Main Course
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This is the main plate which usually consists of a meat, vegetable and a starch. Prices of a main course vary from about $7.00 to $35.00 at a fancy restaurant.

“On my birth day I go to my favorite restaurant and I get the T-bone steak for my main course.”

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Entrée
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This is a way to refer to the main course. It’s usually only called an entree at the fancier restaurants.

“I ordered the salmon as my entrée.”

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Dish
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Sometimes the main course will be called a “dish”. The waiter may say:

“This dish is served with steamed vegetables.”

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These next three expressions are words that you would use to explain to your waiter how you would like your meat cooked and prepared:

Rare
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If you ask for your food cooked rare the meat will be red in the middle. Most restaurants won’t serve meat truly rare because of the chance that a guest could get sick, but if you like your meat served red this is how you should order it.

“I like my steak rare. I think it tastes better that way.”

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Medium Rare
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This is a common way meat is served in a restaurant. Ordering your meat medium rare will get you meat that is just a little bit red in the center, but no to well done.

“I like my steak medium rare. I like it to be a little red in the middle, but not so red that it is juicy.”

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Well Done
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Meat ordered well done will be cooked so there is no red. The meat will come out a little tough, but there isn’t much chance that you will get sick.

“Keep my steak on the grill. I like it well done.”

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Blackened
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If you order your meat blackened the chef will cook the meat at high heat in a lot of pepper and other spices. The meat, whether it is chicken or fish will have a black color when it is served. Ask your waiter if the dish is spicy!

“I asked for the blackened catfish. The fried catfish is good, but it is not as healthy.”

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Fried
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Meat served fried is dipped in bread crumbs and cooked in oil. Fried chicken and chicken fried steak are popular fried meals along with just about any type of seafood fried.

“The fried shrimp are delicious.”

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Sautéed
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Usually means cooked in butter and some kind of sauce. Many restaurants will sautee food in a wine sauce.

“The chicken sautéed in white wine sauce is fantastic.”

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Grilled
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Cooked on a grill over a fire. Anything from salmon to steak to vegetables are available grilled. This is a very common way to have your entrée cooked at an American restaurant.

“This dish is served with grilled vegetables.”

Other common terms used in the typical American restaurant:

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Service
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This is a term used to talk about the good or bad job the waiter/waitress is doing with your table. If you think the waiters are quick and friendly at a particular restaurant you would say that the service is good.

“Let’s get out of here. The service is terrible. We still haven’t gotten our drinks yet.”

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Tip/Gratuity
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These are terms that mean money paid to the waiter in addition to what you pay for the food and drinks. In the United States most people leave 15% to 20% if the service was good.

“I am going to leave $20 for the tip.”

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Bill/Check
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These terms mean the printed out copy of the total amount due with a price for each individual item purchased.

“Once the waiter brings the check let’s get out of here.”

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Soft Drinks
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Soft drinks are carbonated beverages like Coke or Sprite. These drinks are also called soda or pop. Almost all restaurants in the United States will let you have as much soda as you can drink during your stay at the restaurant.

“Coke and sprite are my favorite soft drinks.”

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The Works
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If a waiter asks if you want “the works” he wants to know if you want all of the options that come with the meal on it. If you order a hamburger and you have the option of getting ketchup, pickles, tomatoes, and lettuce on it you could say, “I would like a hamburger with the works.” The waiter would know that you want all possible options on the hamburger.

“I’ll take the hamburger with the works.”

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Side Items/Sides
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These are food items like vegetables and potatoes that come with the main course that you order. Many restaurants will let you decide which “sides” you want to accompany the meal you have ordered.

“With that dish you can choose two side items to go with it.”

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House Red or White
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If you are ordering a glass of wine or a drink with liquor and you would like a cheaper brand you ask for the house wine or liquor. This will be the restaurant’s basic wine or liquor and it is usually the cheapest. An example of ordering a house wine would be, “I’d like a glass of your house red.” Margaritas (an alcoholic drink that mixed tequila and lime juice) are very popular in the United States. If you order one the waiter many times will ask what kind of tequila you would like. If you don’t want anything fancy (expensive) you would say you just want the house tequila.

“I’ll have the house red.”

Common expressions used to order at a restaurant in the United States:
  • Could I get the grilled Salmon please?
  • I’d like the hamburger well done please.
  • I’ll have the shrimp creole with rice and beans please.
  • Bring me the chicken fried steak with green beans. (informal way of ordering)
  • Give me the baked chicken in garlic sauce. (also informal)

Other common expressions:

Table for two?
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This expression could be asked by the host or hostess to see how many seats you will need at your table. If the hostess sees four people she may ask, “Table for four?”

On the house
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This expression means that the restaurant will pay for whatever they say is “on the house”. If the waiter brings you your dinner and it is cold the waiter may say that your dinner is “on the house.” He means that the restaurant will pay for that plate due to their error.

“I’m sorry I brought the wrong drink. It will be on the house.”

On the side
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This expression is used to tell your waiter that you would like an item, for instance mushrooms or pickles, but not on top of your main course. I could order a taco and ask for cheese “on the side” if I liked cheese, but not in the taco.

“I’ll take the hamburger with the onions on the side.”

Lunch Specials
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Many restaurants offer discounted prices for lunch to try to get the people who work in the area to come for lunch. These are items on the menu, usually in a separate section, that are cheaper and smaller than a normal entrée at that restaurant.

“Let’s go to that new restaurant downtown. They have good lunch specials.”

Today’s specials are…
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Many American restaurants will have a dish or dishes that are not usually on the menu. These dishes usually change everyday and the waiter will tell you the price.

“_Today’s specials are_ fried catfish and tortilla soup.”

Do you have room for…
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A waiter may ask you this question to see if you still have an appetite for dessert or another menu item.

“Do you have any room for dessert? We have keylime pie and chocolate ice cream.”

Chain Restaurant
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In the United States there are many restaurants that are in almost every town and city. These restaurants that have a presence in many different places are called “chain restaurants”. Mc Donald’s is a great example of one of these kinds of restaurants. You can go basically all over the world and find a Mc Donald’s and it will be the same food and service at all locations. Other examples of chain restaurants in America are: Olive Garden, Fridays, and Luby’s.

“Mc Donald’s is probably the largest chain restaurant in the world.”



Exercises for Restaurant Words

  • Script for Restaurant Conversation Activity
  • Conversation Activity for Restaurant Vocabulary
  • Restaurant Vocabulary Listening Activity
  • Restaurant Vocabulary Fill in the Blanks
  • Restaurant Vocabulary Word Order
  • Restaurant Vocabulary Fill in the Blanks
  • Matching for Restaurant Vocabulary