Common vocabulary you will find in most restaurant menus.


Lost and without knowing what to order (pedir) from a restaurant menu in English? Then read on, and hopefully you will be able to get exactly what you want at the end of the entry.

You will find a useful infographic with all the restaurant menu vocabulary at the end of the post.

Business will often involve entertaining and being entertained. Many deals and agreements are reached while having lunch or dining at a restaurant.

In this post we will focus on the menu and related vocabulary and look at differences between UK and US English.

In Spain it is quite common for restaurants to offer a set menu (menú del día, prestablecido) which tends to be cheaper than ordering individual dishes (platos), but has a limited choice (elección limitada) of options for a stated price (precio establecido). If you don’t fancy (apetecer) anything form the set menu, you can order from the à la carte menu (menu a la carta, the expression has a French origin).

The menu sections tend to follow the following structure in a three course meal (comida de tres platos):


First, you will find the starters (UK English, entrantes) or appetizers (US English) on the first page of your restaurant menu. These will probably include snacks (tentempiés) or dishes such as prawn cocktail (cóctel de gambas) or assorted cheese plate (plato the quesos variados). Soups (sopas) and salads (ensaladas) are sometimes chosen as starters.

Starters are sometimes referred to as ‘finger food’ (canapés), but here in Spain we tend to serve these mainly as party food.


The main food in a meal (comida: ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’. ‘El desayuno es la comida más importante del día.’)is called the main course (plato principal) in the UK and entreé in the US. The expression ‘main dish’ (plato principal) is also used in menus in both countries.

If you feel that your main dish’s accompaniment will not be enough to fill you up (saciarte), most restaurant menus usually offer side dishes (guarniniciones, UK & US), also known as sides (USA) or side orders (UK). Chips (UK) or as Americans call them, French fries (patatas fritas, de sartén, no de bolsa), are a popular option.

DESSERTS [dɪˈz3ːrt]

If there’s still room (espacio, not habitación) in your stomach and you have a sweet tooth (ser goloso) then I’m sure you’ll be ordering a dessert (postre – careful with the pronunciation! It’s [dɪˈz3ːrt] [/disért/]) from the resturant menu. In the UK they sometimes refer to these sweet dishes as ‘pudding’.


‘Beverages’ is a more formal way of saying ‘drinks’ (bebidas). The restaurant menu will include both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, also known as ‘soft drinks’ or ‘sodas’ (bebidas no alcohólicas). The waiter (camarero, feminine ‘waitress’) will offer you the ‘wine list’ (carta de vinos), together with the possibility of ordering beer (cerveza. Careful! In the UK if you wish to drink ‘cerveza rubia’, you have to ask for ‘lager’, as beer tends to be the toasted kind). In Spain it’s quite common for restaurants to serve ‘still water’ (agua sin gas), but in many European countries they will bring you ‘sparkling water’ unless you specify what sort (tipo) of water you wish to drink. Although I very much doubt that you will find this in a menu, ‘tap water’ means ‘agua del grifo’.

Finally, in Spain many people give the final touch (poner el broche final) to a good meal with herbal liqueur/liquor (licor de hierbas) or some other ‘spirit’ (bebida alcóholica, such a rum (ron) or gin (ginebra), but not wine or beer).

I hope this post will help you navigate the menu and order the next time you eat at an English speaking restaurant.

Here you have the infographic with the post’s vocabulary so you can find what you need just at a glance (de un vistazo).

Restaurant menu infographic


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You will find lots of useful vocabulary in this blog, such as COLLOCATIONS WITH THE WORD PRODUCT or differences between In the end & At the end.

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