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Back to basics: 10 English words for restaurants

Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, coffee and cake, after work drinks or a just quick bite to eat – there are plenty of reasons to go eat at a restaurant. To make your experience easier (and tastier!), here are ten English words or expressions you’ll hear while dining. Enjoy!

1. Reservation (n)

To make sure there will be a free table at your chosen restaurant, it’s a good idea to make a reservation. The best way to do this is usually to call. When calling the restaurant, say “I’d like to reserve a table for [XXX people] on [date] under [last name]”. (E.g., “I’d like to reserve a table for five on March 1st under Johnson.” By giving your last name, the people you’ve invited will be able to find your table if they get there first.

2. Order (n, v)

You’ve gone to a restaurant to eat and drink, right? Of course! This is your order: the things you choose from the menu. “Order” is a noun (“Your order is ready,”) and also a verb (“Would you like to order?” or “We ordered the chicken,”) so listen out for it!

3. Server (n) To serve (v)

Your server is the person who takes your order, brings your meal and looks after you while you are at the restaurant. In the United Kingdom, and most other English-speaking countries, they are called waiters or wait staff. They will visit your table several times during your meal to take your order, serve your food, refill your glasses, clear away empty plates and glasses and make sure everything is going well.

4. BYO (a)

Short for “bring your own.” Some restaurants let you drink your own wine instead of ordering from their list and “BYO” is how they identify this option. When you bring your own wine, your server will open it, keep it chilled if necessary, and serve it. Later, you will pay a few dollars’ “corkage” for each person who drank or for each bottle.

5. Starter (n)

This is the fun bit – where you begin to choose what to eat. So let’s start at the very beginning: with a starter! These are the small dishes that arrive before your meal. It’s common to share these between the table. What can you expect to eat? Well, depending on the type of restaurant, typical starters might be spring rolls, pita bread and dips, cheese sticks, papadams, calamari, or grilled prawns. To order, say “I’ll start with the [XXX].”

6. Main course (n)

Now it’s time for your main course (sometimes just called the “main”). Usually, everyone will order their own main – however, particularly if you’re eating with good friends or at a Chinese restaurant, your group might choose to share mains. To help you make your choice, the menu is often divided into types of mains such as: chicken, meat, vegetarian, pasta, rice, fish and seafood, and salads.

7. Dessert (n)

There’s always room for something sweet at the end of the meal. Try cake, cheesecake, a fruit tart, ice cream, fruit salad or crepes. Coffee, tea, herbal tea or dessert wines are good drinks choices to have with dessert!

8. Check (n)

When you’ve finished it’s time to ask for the check. To do this, make eye contact with your server and smile or motion for them to come to your table. Ask them “Could we have the check, please?” Your check lists the items you ordered and their prices. In the United States, the tax will be added to your check, although in other English speaking countries it’s included in the menu price.

9. Tip (n), To tip (v)

Now that you have your check, it’s time to pay. If you’re eating out in the United States, a tip of around 25% is expected for your server. This means you will leave the price of your meal plus 25%. In other countries such as Australia, you only tip if you wish to. This is because wait staff are paid higher hourly wages and don’t rely on tips for their income.

10. It’s my treat

If you hear this from your dining companion, be happy! Saying “It’s my treat,” means your friend would like to buy you your meal. Lucky you!

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