While it’s great to expand your cultural palate, ordering food and drinks from other countries can be a minefield. After all, you don’t want to be one of those fools who shoots traditional sake like a frat boy on the tequila slammers.
Of course, when it comes to ordering food in another language, things can get even more complicated. You might end up ordering a food you hate. Or, an innocent slip of the tongue could land you in hot water with the waitstaff!
So, if you’re headed to a Spanish-speaking country and want to try out your Spanish, don’t so much as look at a menu until you’ve read our gringo’s guide to ordering food in Spanish.
Greetings and Getting a Table
Although all these phrases will come in useful in Spanish-speaking environments, a friendly ‘¡Hola!’ is the easiest greeting when entering a restaurant or bar. You should then request, ‘Una mesa para dos/tres etc. por favor’ so that they can find a suitable table for your group.
Depending on the time of day and how busy and/or popular the restaurant is, the server might ask you whether you plan to eat or only have a drink. Usually they’ll ask something along the lines of, ‘¿Para comer o solo para tomar algo?’
They’ll ask this because they may have certain seats reserved for those who plan to eat. If you only want a quick drink then you might have to sit at the bar or outside. Also, in some restaurants, they may direct you to different seating depending on whether you want to eat tapas or the menú del día (set lunchtime menu).
As such, it pays to decide whether you want to eat or not and how hungry you all are before entering a restaurant.
Once you’re all seated, your server will first ask you what you’d all like to drink, with something like, ‘¿Qué van a tomar?’
To make things easier for yourself when you order in Spanish, you can pretty much forget typical English phrases like, ‘Can I get…’ or ‘I’d like…’. Instead, just look the server in the eye and order what you’d like, e.g. ‘Un vaso de vino tinto’ (a glass of red wine) or ‘una cerveza‘ (a beer).
Unless it’s breakfast time or you’re enjoying ‘la merienda’ (afternoon snack), it’s not customary to order coffee with food in Spanish-speaking countries. So, to avoid looking like a gringo, save your coffee order for the end of your meal and opt for a soft drink or alcoholic beverage instead.
And, whatever you do, do not order sangria in Spain! If you want a refreshing drink, opt for a ‘clara’ (beer with lemon soda) or a ‘tinto de verano’ (red wine with lemon soda).
Deciding on What to Eat
Even if the menu has English translations, sometimes these aren’t very accurate or clear. For this reason, it’s a good idea to use your smartphone to decipher what unknown dishes are before ordering in Spanish. This is especially the case if you’re vegetarian, vegan or have food allergies.
Although, it’s wise to double check with the server about ingredients by asking, ‘¿Que lleva…la salsa/este plato/esta ensalada?’ if you want to be sure of what a food contains.
You might also notice that some dishes have several different prices according to different portion sizes. Check how big these are by asking your server something like, ‘¿Cómo es de grande la porción?’. In most cases, your server will encourage you to order smaller portions to begin with, so that you can order more later if you so choose.
When you’ve all decided what to order, place your menus down so that your server knows you’re ready. They’ll then approach your table and ask something like, ‘¿Qué quieren Ustedes?’
The simplest way to order food in Spanish is to say ‘Para mí’ (for me) and then state what you want to eat rather than worrying about verbs and how to conjugate them. Although, if you’re ordering a starter and a main, say, ‘Para empezar… y para el segundo plato…’ so the server knows when to bring certain dishes to your group’s table.
If you’re trying to stick to a diet plan, you might want to order a dish ‘sin salsa’ (without sauce) or ‘con la salsa aparte’ (sauce on the side). The same goes for making meat dishes vegetarian, where you can order, ‘la ensalada, pero sin atún por favor’ (the salad without tuna please).
Hailing the Server and Extra Requests
Since terms for wait staff can vary across the Spanish-speaking world, the most sure-fire way to avoid offending anyone is to stick your hand up and say, ‘¡Perdone!’ (excuse me) when you want to get your server’s attention.
If you want to order extra items, such as more bread, the polite way is to say, ‘¿Nos trae más pan por favor?’. The same goes for ordering more drinks or asking for sauce, salt and other items.
Finishing Up and Getting the Check
If you thought learning how to order in Spanish was difficult, try getting the attention of your server when you want the check!
As such, it’s best to take your opportunity to ask for the check by saying, ‘¿Nos trae la cuenta por favor?’ when your server clears away your plates. While they clear, they’ll also ask you something like, ‘¿Quieren algo de postre o café?’ (does anyone want dessert or coffee?).
Often, the server will reel off a list of dessert options so you need to pay attention if you do want dessert. If not, ask for the check and pay when you’re ready to go.
Your Guide to Ordering Food in Spanish
With this easy guide to ordering food in Spanish, you’ll be a bilingual menu master before you can say ‘¡Buen provecho!’
All it takes is a few key phrases and a bit of cerveza-fueled confidence and you’ll be tucking into the best dishes the Spanish-speaking world has to offer.
And it’s useful to know how to order food in Spanish since Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico and Spain are must-visit destinations for foodies!