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How to Read a French Menu

Menus, courses, special terms

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French menu
Robert George Young / Getty
Reading the menu in a French restaurant can be a little tricky, and not just due to language difficulties. There may be important differences between restaurants in France and in your own country, including what food is offered and how it is prepared. Here are some terms and tips to help you find your way around a French menu. Bon appétit !

Types of menus
  • Le menu and la formule refer to the fixed-price menu, which includes two or more courses (with limited choices for each) and is usually the cheapest (and in some restaurants, the only) way to eat. The choices may be written on the ardoise (see below) or on a special page in the carte. (Outside of France, this is often called the "prix fixe menu"; the original term is French, but the French just call it the menu.)
     
  • The sheet of paper or booklet that the waiter hands you (what English speakers call the "menu") is la carte - anything you order from it is à la carte
     
  • La carte des vins is the wine menu
     
  • Une dégustation is a tasting menu, with small servings of multiple dishes (déguster means "to taste")
     
Courses
A French meal may include numerous courses, in this order:
  1. un apéritif - cocktail, pre-dinner drink
     
  2. un amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule - snack (just one or two bites)
     
  3. une entrée - appetizer/starter (false cognate alert: entree can mean "main course" in English)
     
  4. le plat principal - main course
     
  5. le fromage - cheese
     
  6. le dessert - dessert
     
  7. le café - coffee
     
  8. un digestif - after-dinner drink
     
Special terms
  • Le plat du jour is the daily special (literally, "dish of the day") which is usually part of le menu.
     
  • Ardoise (f) means "slate"; it refers to the specials board (as in the photo)
     
  • Gratuit and offert both mean "free"
     
  • The waiter will often add the word petit ("little") to his offer: Un petit dessert ? Un petit café ?
     
  • When you're full, do not say "je suis plein" (which means something else) - say Je n'en peux plus or J'ai bien/trop mangé
     
  • See French restaurant vocabulary for additional terms the waiter might use and what you should say, with sound files

Page 1: Menus, courses, special terms

Page 2: Food preparation, tastes, portions, ingredients, appearance

Page 3: Typical French and regional dishes, unusual foods
Related Video
French Dialogues: Eating Out
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