Your Guide to American Fast-Food Vocabulary

Your Guide to American Fast-Food Vocabulary

McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Hardees, In-N-Out, Dunkin Donuts, Steak-N-Shake, Chick-fil-A, 5 Guys, Chipotle.

The list of famous fast-food joints in America runs long. But, for newcomers to the U.S., the American fast-food scene is baffling. That’s because there isn’t a global consensus on what’s called what.

Before you head to your nearest fast-food spot to taste-test something, stop. Without knowing the proper lingo, you are likely to get something different than what you really want.

Take a quick look at our list of what’s called what — fast-food edition.

Part 1 – Getting the Basics Right

There are a few terms that you’ll frequently hear when conversing about fast food. Here’s what they mean:

  • Carryout or takeout – When you plan to not eat at the restaurant. You just place your order, collect the packed food and head on your way. While ordering takeout, you say you’d like your order to go.
  • Eat-in – When you’d like to eat at the restaurant. While placing the order, mention the order is for here.
  • Drive Through – Often spelled as drive-thru, this is when you place and get your order through the special drive-through window. You don’t have to get out of your car. Just take the order and pay the bill from the window, and you can drive away.
  • Combo – Confused about what to order? Want a little of a lot of items on the menu? Combos, short for combination meals, are the best pick. These are pre-curated meals that come with a couple of different items. A side dish, a drink, and a dessert are often included.
  • Soft drink – Any carbonated drink or non-alcoholic beverage is called a soft drink. It is a generic term.
  • Fountain drink – Many fast-food joints have soft drink fountains where you can pick the carbonated drink of your choice from the options available. It is a self-service facility and the drink is called fountain drink.
  • Slushy – Crushed ice + sweet flavoring = slushy. Simple.
  • Sub – Also called a wedge or hoagie, a sub is a long type of bread used in sandwiches. It is called a sub because it resembles the shape of a submarine.
  • Muffin – Somewhere between a cake and sweet bread is a muffin. Best enjoyed with coffee, it is a popular breakfast item in American fast-food joints.
  • Pancake – Flat and thin, round-shaped cakes made with milk, flour, and eggs. These are cooked in a flat pan and served hot. Another popular breakfast item.
  • Hot dog – A sausage served on a long piece of bread. (It has nothing to do with a dog! Ingredients are typically beef, turkey, or pork.)
  • Hamburger – Finely ground beef, made into a flat, round patty, cooked and eaten by being put between slices of bread or a bun.
  • Bacon – Salted or smoked pork taken from the animal’s sides or back. It is often served in thin, narrow pieces.

Part II – It’s Called This in America, Not That

  • Want some sweets to sweeten your mouth after a meal? Ask for candy.
  • Long slices of potato deep-fried to a golden-brown color are called fries, not chips as you’d call them at a fast-food joint in London. Also, fries in America are not always thin-cut. They can be fat or even zigzag. Talk about variety in American fast food!
  • If you order chips in America, expect to get flat, usually round, fried pieces made of potatoes or corn. That’s what you’d call crisps in Britain.
  • Fond of dunking biscuits in your tea or milk? Order cookies. If you order biscuits in America, you’ll be given scones.
  • Yes, if you are just grabbing a quick bite before the actual meal, it isn’t usually called a starter. Americans go by the word appetizer.
  • Once you are done with your meal, don’t forget to order something sweet. But, make sure you don’t request the afters menu, instead ask for the dessert menu.
  • Craving jellies? They are called Jell-O in the States. Bonus Tip: Shots served in Jell-O glasses, which you can eat after taking the shot, are called Jell-O shots.
  • Want to ask out someone for an ice lolly date in America? Use the word Popsicle, and they’ll understand you a lot faster.
  • When trying your hands at cooking some American fast-food items, you’d need corn flour, right? But, ask your grocer to give you a packet of corn starch to get what you need. 
  • When you are baking cakes and want to decorate them with icing sugar, look for powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar in the store’s aisles.
  • Semolina (coarse flour made of durum wheat, used in bread, pasta, or porridge) becomes cream of wheat in this part of the world.
  • Cotton candy in the U.S. is the same as candy floss that you’d get elsewhere in the world.
  • If your colleagues or classmates ask you if you want to grab a snack or some fast food, they are likely to ask you, “Are you hungry?” If you are attuned to the word peckish to describe a desire to snack, don’t get confused. Agreeing to being hungry won’t mean you want to have a hearty meal. For stronger hunger, Americans use the words starving or famished.
  • When you order coffee, you’d be asked, “… with or without?” That’s a question about your sugar preferences. With sugar or without sugar isn’t commonly used.

Additional Tips

Done with your meal at the fast-food joint, diner, or even a posh, upscale restaurant or hotel?

It is time to ask for the check and not the bill. The staff will understand you even if you call for the bill, but it is always better to do it like Americans when in America.

Before you go out and enjoy American fast food, remember, don’t binge eat without consideration.

Gluten, peanuts, and even some types of jams are common allergens, and too much sugar and fat that is present in fast food dishes is also detrimental to health.

Fast food might be affordable in America, but healthcare isn’t. 

Terms like co-payment, premium, claim, co-insurance, deductible, and more will be even more baffling than the fast-food vocabulary. If you fall ill due to unhealthy eating habits, you’d have to empty your wallet at the hospital.

Want to avoid such a situation? Do two things:

One, eat healthily and limit your fast-food consumption. Two, always carry proper medical insurance.

Use an insurance marketplace like Insubuy compare and contrast policy options, and then easily select the most comprehensive one that is right for you.

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