It’s hard to visit another country without eating in a restaurant. That’s why “Restaurant-Spanish” is high up on my list of things to learn first.
This article will prepare you to feel confident to walk into a restaurant, order food in Spanish, and avoid getting tripped up by common mistakes that English speakers make.
There will undoubtedly be things you don’t understand. That’s okay. Focus on understanding these phrases, rehearsing them in different contexts, and putting them into practice — first, on your own; second, in Mexico, Panama, or Peru.
A tip for memory before we start: Make things personal to you. Research shows that when you make a real effort interact with something you’re trying to learn — by creating your own sentences, connecting words to things that are familiar to you — you stand a much better chance of remembering it. [More on remembering Spanish vocabulary here].
Should you use tú or usted when ordering food in Spanish?
Choosing how to address the server or cashier in Spanish can be confusing. It varies from region to region and restaurant to restaurant.
Here are 4 guidelines to help you choose:
- When in doubt, use usted.
- If your waiter uses tú with you, you can use tú with them
- In more formal restaurants (think: white tablecloths and suits vs. wooden tables and aprons), you’re more likely to use usted.
- In casual restaurants, cafés, and bars, tú tends to be acceptable — especially if your waiter is clearly your age or younger. If you can tell they are older, usted tends to be best.
Puedo tener: the most common gringo mistake when ordering in Spanish
Puedo tener means “can I have”, which sounds nice to English ears. But it’s just not the way people order food in Spanish.
Read on to learn the phrases Spanish speakers are more likely to use to ask for food and drinks in a restaurant setting.
How to Greet the Host/Hostess
What’s the first thing you do in a restaurant? You greet the host or hostess — anfitrión, anfitriona. Then, you say how many people you’re eating with, and ask where you’d like to be seated.
A few Spanish greetings you can use when walking into a restaurant
|Hola, buenas||Hi, good morning/afternoon/evening (catch all phrase)|
|Hola, buenos días||Hi, good morning|
|Hola, buenas tardes||Hi, good afternoon|
|Hola, buenas noches||Hi, good evening (after sunset)|
Asking for your table
|Somos cuatro||There are 4 of us (lit, “we are four”)|
|Una mesa para dos, por favor||A table for two, please|
|¿Podemos sentarnos adentro?||Can we sit inside?|
|¿Podemos sentarnos afuera?||Can we sit outside?|
[Tip]: When dining with native speakers, notice what they say to the waiters, and how the waiters speak to them.
In your phone or a tiny notebook, jot down anything that stands out to you. Learning Spanish is a process of noticing and refining over time.
Ordering Drinks in Spanish
After you’re seated, the waiter (el mesero/la mesera) will come to your table and ask if you’d like something to drink.
Typically, the interaction will go something like this:
|¿(Les puedo ofrecer) algo para tomar?||(Can I offer you) something to drink?|
|¿Gustan algo de tomar?||[Common in Mexico] Would you like something to drink?|
|un/una _______, por favor-> Un café, por favor-> Una margarita, por favor||a/an _____, please|
Ordering Food in Spanish
You know the drill: with your bebidas in hand, you’re ready to order food (or maybe not quite yet).
Here are a few restaurant Spanish phrases will help when the server comes back to take your food order:
|¿Listos para pedir?||Ready to order?|
|Todavía no estamos listos||We’re not ready yet|
|Necesitamos unos minutos más||We need a few more minutes|
|Sí! Estamos listos||Yes! We’re ready|
Spanish Phrases for Ordering Food [Simplest -> Hardest]
Vegan/vegetarian? Check out this article on ordering for those dietary restrictions in Spanish.
|Los ________, por favor|
Ex: Los tacos de camarón, por favor
|The [food item], please|
Ex: The shrimp tacos, please
|Para mí, la ______|
Ex: Para mí, la ensalada niçoise
|For me, the _____|
Ex: For me, the niçoise salad
|Me da(s) ______, (por favor)? |
Ex: Me da/das las empanadas, por favor?
|Can I have the ____, (please)? |
[Lit: “Will you give me ___”, but this is common in Spanish
Ex: Can I have the empanadas (please)?
|Voy a querer __, por favor|
Ex: Voy a querer las verduras a la leña, por favor
|I’ll have ______, please|
[lit., I’m going to want]
Ex: I’ll have the wood fired veggies, please
|Me traes _____, cuando puedas? |
Ex: Me traes otra cerveza, cuando puedas?
|Can I have _____, when you get a chance? |
[lit., will you bring me ___, whenever you can]
Ex: Can I have another beer, when you get a chance?
|Nos traes _____ para compartir?|
Ex: Nos traes una porción de guacamole para compartir?
|Can we have _____ to share?|
[lit: will you bring us ____ to share]
Ex: Can we get some guacamole to share?
Note: depending on the country you’re in, you can hear variations on these expressions. The phrases above will get you started, but it’s not an exhaustive list.
Let’s look at a few examples, using the phrases above:
- ¿Me das los tacos de pescado, por favor?
- Para mí, las enchiladas de mole, por favor
- Voy a querer las verduras a la leña, por favor
- Vamos a querer tres porciones de guacamole para compartir, por favor
Phrases for when the server comes back
At some point, the server will probably come back to see if you need anything else.
Here’s how this interaction might play out:
|¿Todo en orden?||Everything okay?|
|¿Se les ofrece algo más?||Can I get you guys anything else?|
You don’t necessarily need to know how to SAY these two phrases – just to recognize them. Just listen for keywords like “en orden” or “ofrece”. Or you can understand by context that when a waiter comes back, they are checking on you
|Te/Le encargo _______ ? |
Le encargo otra porción de papas?
(“Te/le encargo” is mainly used in Mexico)
|Can I have _____ |
Can I have another serving of fries?
|Disculpe, ¿me trae otro _____ cuando pueda?|
Ex: Disculpe, ¿me trae otro café cuando pueda?
|Excuse me, can I have another _____ when you get a chance?|
Ex: Excuse me, can I have another coffee when you get a chance?
When you’ve finished your meal
When you’re finishing up, the waiter will come by, grab your plates, bring the check, and you’ll pay.
Here’s how an interaction might go:
|Puedo retirar?||Can I take your plate?|
|¿Nos trae la cuenta, por favor?||Can we have the bill, please?|
|[Mexico] ¿Le encargo la cuenta?||Can we have the bill?|
|¿Me podría poner esto para llevar, por favor?||Could you put this (in a box) to go for me, please?|
What’s Next? Practice!
Make these phrases your own! Manipulate them. Add your own words into them.
Talk to yourself, using them in imaginary restaurants.
Build on these phrases with any other related words you know. Look up words & phrases related to foods you yourself would order.
If you have a favorite restaurant in a Spanish speaking country, find their (Spanish) menu online and grab phrases from there. Practice ordering something specific, imagining yourself back at that restaurant.
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