If you’re new to the U.S., you might be nervous about placing a successful order at an American restaurant. It’s very easy to fumble over the words, even if English is your first language. So, there’s no doubt that non-English speakers find it challenging.
The American accent, especially the southern dialect, is pretty hard to understand. The nerves of speaking to a stranger don’t make it any easier.
This article will help you master conversing with others in restaurants.
Ordering At a Restaurant
The U.S. has various types of sit-down restaurants. You have your regular diners and your fancy fine restaurants. Then, there are all of your happy in-betweens. This is a rough guideline for ordering at all types of places.
How to Respond to the Host
A host will greet you as soon as you enter the restaurant. This is the person who seats you at your table and introduces you to your waiter.
Beware that the host will be overly courteous. That is part of their job description, and a way to help begin your experience on a positive note.
Once you’ve exchanged pleasantries, they will ask you something to the likes of “a party of?” or “how many in your party?” They are asking you how many members there are in your group. Once they’ve confirmed the number, they will lead you to a table. Sometimes, if the restaurant isn’t busy, you may be allowed to choose your seats.
Once at the seat, the host will introduce you to your waiter. All of your further interactions will be with the waiter.
Talking To the Wait Staff
The waiter is responsible for your experience from this point on. They will likely start the conversation with a greeting. It is considered polite to return this greeting.
After this, you will be asked “can I start you off with anything to drink?” Most restaurants in the U.S. serve alcohol. If you want, you can ask for the alcohol menu. If not, the drink options are usually water, soda, coffee, or tea.
American drinks come with ice by default, and the proportion is usually more ice than drinks. If you don’t want ice, you need to specify that.
Ordering the Food
The waiter will leave you with the menu to decide what you want to eat. Depending on the cuisine of the restaurant, you may be served a bread basket. Often, it is a complementary part of your meal.
Once you decide what you want, you can signal to the waiter that you’re ready to place your order. Whatever you do, do not snap at the waiter. It is considered the height of disrespect. Instead, try to catch their eye or slightly raise your hand. The waiter will most likely be watching your table anyway.
When the waiter arrives, you can tell them what you want. It typically goes in the order of appetizers or
hors d’oeuvre first. The general practice is that each person orders their own meal. After the appetizers, you can order the main course.
If you’re at a fine dining restaurant, the waiter will likely tell you wine options that go with the meal. If you’re not a wine connoisseur, then let the waiter take the lead.
Some Specifications You’ll Need to Make
Many times, you will have to modify your dish according to food allergies. It’s a happy fact that most American restaurants will comply with your requests.
Let the waiter know about any allergies before you place your order. They can suggest dishes that cater to your diet. If it’s just a minor modification, mention it as you’re placing the order.
If you’ve ordered a steak dish, the waiter will ask the question “how do you like your meat?” There are four answers: rare, medium-rare, medium, and well done. Most people argue that medium-rare is the perfect way to eat steak, but it is your meal, and you get to decide.
If you’re at a coffee shop, you may also need to specify the size of your drink. The options are small, medium, or large.
You will be asked for your personalization, so don’t fret if you forget to mention it with your order.
After finishing your main course, you will be approached by the waiter with a tempting offer of ordering dessert. You definitely can’t pass up the chance.
There is usually a separate dessert menu, so ask to see the options. If you’re unsure about what to order, you can ask the waiter for their recommendation.
Typically, one dessert is ordered per person. But who’s stopping you from getting more?
Paying the Bill
When the whole meal is finished, it is time to pay the bill. It is usually the host of the meal, which is the person who invited everyone, who pays. When asking for the bill, say “can we get the check please?”
The check will be placed at the center of the table. It is your responsibility as the host to grab it before anyone else does.
In the U.S., it is expected that you tip your waiter. The total bill amount decides the tipping amount. The norm is that 15 – 20% of your gross bill should be paid as a tip.
Once the check is paid, you can leave the restaurant. Try not to linger if the restaurant is busy.
Ordering at a Fast-Food Restaurant
Fast food is near and dear to every American’s heart. The country has more fast-food restaurants than any in the world.
If you want to know how to order from a fast-food place, read on.
The Ordering Process
Unlike in a sit-down restaurant, you will order your food at the counter in a fast-food restaurant. The bill is also paid at the counter before you eat your meal.
Most likely, there will be a line leading up to the register. Decide what you want while you’re in line. No one likes the person who stands at the register and ponders what they want.
Though you can go back for more food, try and get it all in one go. It will save the cashier and yourself the hassle.
If you have dietary restrictions, tell the cashier while you’re ordering the food. Now is also the time when you specify if you’re dining-in or taking it to-go. Once you place your order, you will be given an order number. You can wait at your table, or to the side of the counter while the order is being prepared.
Don’t Be Daunted By the Menu
American fast food is known for the multitude of choices it offers its customers. You will see a variety of combo meals and budget-savers. Don’t let this intimidate you.
If you’re at a burger joint, there are likely five options; hamburger, cheeseburger, veggie burger, chicken patty burger, or chicken nuggets. A cheeseburger is just a hamburger with cheese on it. If you didn’t know already, the “ham” in hamburger is beef.
Usually, fries and a drink are ordered with your main meal, but you can leave them out if you want.
At most restaurants, they will ask you for the condiments you want as you order. Some places will have condiment stands. You can go here and pick out the sauces you want before your meal arrives. Popular options are ketchup, mustard, and barbeque sauce.
You can feel free to take however much you need, but try not to overdo it.
Picking Up Your Food
Once your order is ready, you will see your number flashing on a digital board, or your name will be called out by an employee. Go up to the counter with your receipt and pick up the order. Remember to say please and thank you. This is considered a standard practice in the U.S.
Yes, ordering food for a non-English speaker is challenging, but try not to worry too much. The customer is king in the U.S., so the wait staff will help you every step of the way. If you want to boost your confidence, try practicing your order at home. Many restaurants have their menus online. You can consult this while you practice. All it takes is a couple of visits to get into the groove of things.
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