Going to a restaurant in France is an important activity. As a traveller and learner of spoken French, you need to be able to get by in these situations.
Not all restaurants are created equal, however, and some places you may end up dining at in France (like anywhere else) will not be up to your expectations.
In this article, we look at a conversation between waiter and customer in a restaurant in French. As you'll see in the dialogue, this restaurant is one of those places you may want to avoid.
In our story's context, the customer wants to have a late lunch and order one of the set price menus many restaurants offer. He's in for some surprises.
Ready ? Here we go :
Bonjour monsieur, avez-vous fait votre choix ?
Bonjour. Oui, je vais prendre le menu à 15€ s'il vous plait.
Très bien, que souhaitez-vous en entrée ?
Je vais prendre la soupe d'asperges.
Si je peux me permettre, je vous conseillerais plutôt la salade russe.
Ah ? très bien, va pour la salade.
En plat de résistance, je prendrai le gratin de fruits de mer s'il vous plait.
Je suis vraiment désolé, nous n'avons plus de fruits de mer ...
Ah ... dans ce cas, je vais prendre la sole meunière.
Euh... je suis navré mais nous il n'y a pas de poisson aujourd'hui.
Bon alors, dites-moi ce que vous avez, ça ira plus vite...
Puis-je vous suggérer la pizza aux champignons.
Moi qui étais venu pour manger du poisson... Bon, amenez moi donc une pizza. Je suis pressé de toutes façons.
Et en dessert, qu'est-ce-que ce sera ?
La tarte tatin est-telle disponible ?
Le flan ?
Non plus ... Mais nous avons de la salade de fruits si vous le souhaitez.
Soit ... Et un verre de vin blanc. S'il vous en reste !
Bien monsieur. Euh voici l'addition.
Comment ? Mais je viens tout juste de commander !
Oui je sais mais nous fermons la caisse... Si vous vouliez bien régler tout de suite ...
Ça c'est trop fort ! Drôle de service !
Here's the full audio for the dialogue :
Here's the English version :
Good afternoon sir, are you ready to order ?
Good afternoon. Yes, I'll take the 15€ menu please.
Very well. What would you like for starters ?
I'll have the asparagus soup.
If I may, I would suggest the Russian salad instead.
Really ? Fine, go for the salad.
For the main course, I'll have the seafood gratin please.
I'm really sorry, we don't have any seafood.
Oh ... In that case, I'll have the sole meunière.
Um ... I'm truly sorry but there's no fish today.
OK well, why don't you just tell me what you do have, we'll save time ...
May I suggest the mushroom pizza ...
And to think I came here to eat fish ... OK, just bring me a pizza. I'm in a hurry anyway.
And what would you like for dessert ?
Is the tarte tatin available ?
No sir ...
And the flan ?
We out of it as well ... But we do have fruit salad if you wish.
Fine ... And a glass of white wine. If you have some left !
Very well sir. Um, here's your check.
What ? But I just finished ordering !
I know but we're closing out the cash register... If you don't mind paying right away...
Now that's amazing ! What kind of service is this !
Conversation between waiter and customer in a restaurant in French : ordering a menu
At the beginning of our French dialogue between waiter and customer, the waiter greets the customer and asks :
"Avez-vous fait votre choix ?"
This literally means "have you made your choice ?" but is a way to ask "are you ready to order ?"
An alternative question you'll often hear is :
"Etes-vous prêt(e) à commander ?"
The customer answers "je vais prendre le menu à 15€"
He uses the phrase "je vais prendre" (take) to indicate his choice, a very common use at a restaurant or bar :
"Je vais prendre un sandwich"
"elle va prendre un martini"
Here he's taking "le menu à 15€", a set price menu which typically includes :
"entrée, plat, dessert" : a starter, a main course (or two), dessert. And often, coffee.
The restaurant waiter acknowledges the customer's selection saying "très bien", meaning "very well", "sure", "OK".
Conversation between waiter and customer in a restaurant in French : choosing a starter
The waiter then asks "que souhaitez-vous en entrée ?"
In French, the word "entrée" means "starter", a different meaning than in U.S English - where it usually designates a main course.
As he addresses the customer, the waiter uses the construct "que souhaitez-vous en ..." (what would you like for...), commonly used when asking for someone's choice for a meal :
"Que souhaitez-vous en plat principal ?" (what would you like for main course ?)
"Que souhaitez-vous en dessert ?" (for dessert)
"Que souhaitez-vous en apéritif / digestif ?"
The customer replies employing the phrase "je vais prendre" once again, to order a soup from the menu options.
The waiter then has an unexpected reaction :
"Si je peux me permettre, je vous conseillerais plutôt la salade russe"
The phrase "si je peux me permettre" is a formal way in French to say "if I may say so" or "if you allow me", an appropriate phrase to use for a waiter addressing a customer in a restaurant.
You typically say "si je peux me permettre" when talking to someone you don't know in order to suggest something, or say something that may be perceived as inappropriate or too personal :
"Si je peux me permettre, vous avez fait tomber quelque chose" (if I may, you've dropped something)
"Si je peux me permettre, cette robe vous va très bien" (if I may say so, this dress suits you very well)
"Vous devriez changer de rouge à lèvre, si je peux me permettre." (you should use a different lipstick, if I may say so)
The restaurant waiter then says to the customer :
"je vous conseillerais plutôt la salade"
He could have said "je vous conseille plutôt", but that would have come across as pushy, almost an injunction, an order. The conditional tense makes his statement more of a suggestion :
"Je vous conseille de vous taire" (I advise you to shut up - threatening)
"Je vous conseille de ne pas le faire" or "je vous déconseille de le faire" (I advise you not to do it)
The word "plutôt" indicates the customer should get the salad instead of the soup - not in addition to it.
The customer responds "Ah ? très bien". At this stage, he still trusts the waiter and wants to follow his suggestion.
Here, "ah ?" reflects a bit of astonishment, but the following "très bien" may indicates the customer thinks the waiter is giving him an unofficial insider tip about the best courses to order.
Or it may just be that the customer is easy going and doesn't mind ordering something else, whatever the reason may be for the waiter's suggestion.
That's what "va pour la salade" (fine, I'll go with the salad) may indicate.
The expression "Va pour ..." is often used when deciding for an option, or settling for something one did not initially want :
"Allez, va pour une balade à vélo" (fine, let's go for the bike ride)
"Va pour la veste noire." (fine, I'll go with the black jacket)
Conversation between waiter and customer in a restaurant in French : choosing a main course
The customer then selects a main course, "plat de résistance", a seafood gratin. Notice he again uses "en" to indicate his choice ("for main course") as discussed earlier :
"en plat de résistance ..."
He also says "je prendrai" to order the course, which is equivalent to "je vais prendre".
The waiter apologizes as the restaurant has no sea food left :
"Je suis vraiment désolé, nous n'avons plus de fruits de mer"
Like in English, "je suis vraiment désolé" (I'm really sorry) is a way of apologizing, followed by the reason, with or without "mais" in between :
"Je suis désolé, nous n'avons pas ce modèle" (I'm sorry, we don't carry this model)
"Je suis désolée mais je n'ai pas le temps" (I'm sorry but I don't have time)
The waiter says "nous n'avons plus de" to indicate the restaurant has run out of the item the customer requested :
"Nous n'avons plus de pain"
"Nous n'avons plus de vin"
The customer says "ah ..." again, but this time, it expresses more frustration and annoyance, vs. understanding previously. It's like saying, "oh so you don't have sea food... damn what could I order now ..."
This sort of "ah..." is typically followed by a short pause, indicating a problem :
The customer goes on saying "dans ce cas, je vais prendre ...", meaning "in that case ...". This shows that, in light of the problem, he's looked for and found an alternative, which is to order a fish course.
The waiter says "euh... je suis navré mais ...", showing (or faking) embarrassement. "Etre navré(e)" is similar to "être désolé(e)" but is one notch stronger.
"Je suis vraiment navré, je ne peux pas vous aider" (I'm really really sorry)
"Je suis navré que tu le prennes contre toi" (I'm really sorry you're taking it personally)
"Nous sommes navrés mais l'hôtel est complet" (the hotel is full)
Note he says "il n'y a pas de poisson aujourd'hui", even though fish is listed as an option on the 15€ menu. A little scam typical of certain restaurants.
Conversation between waiter and customer in a restaurant in French : settling for what's available
The customer starts to get impatient and says to the restaurant waiter :
"Bon alors, dites-moi ce que vous avez, ça ira plus vite..."
In this case, "bon alors ..." indicates impatience and frustration :
"Bon alors tu te te dépêches ?" (So ! will you hurry ?)
"Bon alors ça fait combien !" (OK so, how much is it going to be !)
"Bon alors on fait quoi !" (OK so what should we do !)
He says "dites moi ce que vous avez", meaning "just tell me what you have available". For example, if you go to a store to buy fresh fish, you may ask the store keeper :
"Qu'est-ce-que vous avez aujourd'hui ?" (what do you have in stock today ?)
He adds "ça ira plus vite !" which also denotes his impatience and frustration. He's basically saying, it'll be quicker to list the things that you have than to go through everything, since you have so few things available. He's blaming the waiter and the restaurant for its bad service.
The waiter is undaunted, and suggests the pizza. He uses the phrase :
"Puis-je vous suggérer ..." (may I suggest)
which is a formal phrase to make a suggestion. Again, a semi formal level of language is appropriate in the context of a French conversation between waiter and customer in a restaurant.
"Puis-je suggérer un petit Beaujolais ?" (may I suggest a little Beaujolais)
"Puis-je vous suggérer d'essayer la taille au-dessus" (may I suggest you try on a larger size)
The customer answers "moi qui étais venu manger du poisson ..."
The phrase "moi qui ..." is a colloquial expression that roughly translates to "and to think that ..."
He's saying "to think that I came here to eat fish !", implicitly "I'll end up eating pizza, which is far from what I wanted !"
Some other examples :
"Quel horrible appartement ! Moi qui voulais une belle maison,.. " (what a horrible appartment ! and t think I wanted a nice house ...)
"Elle travaille dans un restau ... Elle qui voulait être actrice !" (she works in a restaurant ... To think she wanted to be an actress !)
He adds "bon, amenez-moi donc une pizza". Here, "bon" indicates the customer is giving up, surrendering. It's like saying "OK well..." (with a sigh).
"Amenez-moi une pizza", what's more without saying "s'il vous plait" is a less polite way of ordering. It's a bit like saying "well just bring me that pizza and let's get it over with". He adds that he's a hurry anyway - suggesting he would have left otherwise.
Conversation between waiter and customer in a restaurant in French : ordering dessert
The waiter then asks what the customer wants for dessert, again using "en dessert", followed by :
"qu'est-ce-que ce sera" (literally "what will it be ?")
This is another very common expression used in the catering and bar business to take an order from a customer, often for follow-up items :
"Et en boisson, qu'est-ce-que ce sera ?" (and for drinks, what will it be ?)
"Deux coupes de champagne s'il vous plait".
Again, this is a quite formal way of asking a customer what he/she wants to order, and is part of the French catering tradition.
Before selecting a dessert, the customer knows by now he needs to check for availability ("est-elle disponible ?") The waiter answers negatively for two items, using "non plus" for the second one.
In this case, "non plus" means "le flan n'est pas disponible non plus", the flan isn't available either. Example :
"Vous avez faim ?" "non, pas vraiment" (are you hungry ? no, not really)
"Vous avez soif ?" "non plus, merci". (are you thirsty ? not thirsty either, thanks)
The waiter then tries to make up for the lack of choice by suggesting the fruit salad :
"nous avons de la salade de fruits si vous le souhaitez"
Notice that in "si vous le souhaitez", "le" is masculine and so does not refer to the salad, instead it refers to the act of having fruit salad : "we have fruit salad if you want to have some".
The customer replies "soit ...". This is an ancient French expression that's still commonly used, meaning "fine, so be it". You use it when settling for whatever is being offered even though that's not what you really want.
It's similar to saying "va pour pour la salade de fruits..."
"La seule place qui reste, c'est sur un vol avec escale" "soit, je le prends ..." (The only seat left is on a flight with a stopover -> fine, so be it ...)
"Je n'ai qu'un billet de 500€ pour payer..." "soit..." (I only have a 500€ bill for paying -> fine, so be it ...)
Customer then order a glass of white wine and adds "s'il vous en reste !", meaning "if you have any left".
He's being sarcastic as he can't really imagine a French restaurant running out of white wine at lunch time.
"En rester" (have any left) is a very common phrase in spoken French :
"Il vous reste de la choucroute ? Il vous en reste ?" (do you have any choucroute left ?)
"Il te reste de l'aspirine ? (do you have any aspirin left ?)
"Il leur reste de l'argent ?" (do they have any money left ?)
Notice "il" is impersonal.
The waiter replies "bien monsieur", another common way of answering a customer in the catering business : "very well sir". It's an alternative to "très bien."
Conversation between waiter and customer in a restaurant in French : final offense
The waiter hands the bill to the customer, saying "euh, voici l'addition". Here again, "euh" marks the waiter's embarrassement, as everyone knows that in a restaurant, the check is only given to a customer at the end of the meal.
The customer is suprised and outraged, and protests :
"Comment ! Mais je viens tout juste de commander !"
Here, "comment !" (literally "how!") translates to "what !", although the exact translation for "what !" is "quoi !"
Saying "Quoi !" however, is considered somewhat rude in French, it's either too informal or a sign the person is losing their temper. "Comment !", on the other hand, is a polite way of expressing surprise and indignation.
For more ways of expression anger and excitement in spoken French, check out 17 great ways to express anger in spoken French.
The customer adds "mais je viens tout juste de commander " The expression "venir (tout) juste de + verb" expresses the fact that the action just finished happening - in this case, he just finished ordering.
The customer is saying he should not be handed the restaurant check before finishing his meal, let alone right after completing his order.
Some more examples :
"Elle vient tout juste de sortir" (she just went out)
"Le bébé vient tout juste de naitre" (the baby was just born)
"On vient juste de le voir" (we just saw him)
Note you can omit "juste" or "tout juste" and just say "je viens de commander". The meaning is the same (I just ordered) but adding "juste" indicates an even recently completed action.
The leading "mais" also adds to the customer's expression of indignation, e.g. :
"Mais vous êtes fou !" (but you're crazy !)
Waiter says "oui je sais mais nous fermons la caisse..." He knows that's not acceptable but as always, remains undaunted, stating the restaurant is closing out the cash register.
Not exactly a valid reason, yet the kind of thing you may hear in France. Other such things include beginning to clean up and store away dining chairs before the last customer is gone, closing the shutters etc. Time for everyone to go home ...
The waiter asks "si vous vouliez bien régler tout de suite ..." The expression "si vous vous vouliez bien" or "si vous vous voulez bien" (present tense vs. conditional) is another formal way of asking something.
Here the waiter is saying "if you'd be kind enough to pay right away". Notice the use of "régler" which is more elegant than "payer".
One characteristic I notice about French service, particularly in Paris, is that quite often, service providers (e.g. restaurant, pub and store owners) have a way of requesting unacceptable things from customers using very polite and formal language, as is the case here.
For our very patient customer, this is "la goutte d'eau qui fait déborder le vase" (the straw that breaks the camel's back). He says :
"ça c'est trop fort !"
This commonly used spoken French phrase is used to express indignation and outrage in a polite, unoffensive way. It means "why, that's too much !" Another frequently used equivalent is "ça c'est un peu fort !"
It can also used to mean "that's some nerve !" For example, if someone cuts in the line right in front of you, you may say out loud : "ah ben ça c'est un peu fort !"
The conversation in the restaurant ends with the customer saying to the waiter "drôle de service !", literally "funny service !" , actually meaning "some service you have here !"
In the same way you may say :
"Drôle de qualité !" (some quality ! referring to a bad product)
"Drôle de conducteur ! (some driver ! referring to a bad or a strange driver)
"Drôle de voiture !" (some car ! a bad/strange looking/behaving car)
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