What’s the most challenging thing about going on holiday in an English speaking country? Twenty years ago you might have said ‘asking for directions’ or ‘booking a room in a hotel’, but nowadays, all that can be online – swipe, click, sorted!

Sure, smartphone technology makes travelling so much easier, though it also limits our contact with locals. That said, there are still some situations in which you do need to communicate – eating out.

You’ll need to find the right restaurant, book a table, navigate the menu and maybe even complain!

Lucky for you, we’ve prepared this super simple guide to make sure you have the perfect restaurant experience.


Do your research

When you’re on holiday in a foreign city, it’s easy to fall into the tourist traps. These are shops, bars and restaurants, which are specially designed to attract visitors. Located near important tourist spots, these establishments usually represent bad value for money.

The key to escaping the tourist traps is research! So, before you leave for your holiday, get online and do your ‘homework’. Go on websites like Tripadvisor or local food blogs and see what the city has to offer.

There you can search by area, budget, type of cuisine to find the perfect restaurant. To avoid any nasty surprises, remember to read some of the customer reviews. It also makes for some fun reading practice!


Make a reservation

There’s nothing worse than getting to your chosen restaurant only to discover that they don’t have a table for you, or even that they’re closed. That’s why it’s always best to make a reservation in advance.

To do this you have various options. Unless the restaurant is very traditional, you should be able to find it on The Fork (or El Tenedor in Spanish). But, as a keen language learner, you want to make the most of the opportunity to actually speak to someone, right?!

So, that leaves you with two other options, call the restaurant or pass by earlier in the day. If it’s not too far out of the way, we suggest going there in person. That way you can check it out for yourself and verify the 5-star reviews!

The simple guide to communicating at a restaurant - Make a reservation | Oxford House Barcelona

Find your table

Evening comes and you’re on your way to the restaurant. If it’s a particularly popular place, it’s best to be on time. Arrive more than 30 minutes late and you may risk losing your table!

The head waiter (also known as maître d’) greets you both and asks if you have a reservation. What do you say?

The simple guide to communicating at a restaurant - Find your table | Oxford House Barcelona

Note that we tend to use the preposition ‘under’ when confirming our name or surname. Next, depending on the restaurant, you’ll either be shown to your table or asked to wait in the bar area while they prepare your table. At this point, they might offer to take your coat and put it in the cloakroom.

As you are shown to your table, remember one thing: the customer is always right. If your table is next to the toilets or near a cold entrance, don’t be scared to ask to change tables.

The simple guide to communicating at a restaurant - Change table | Oxford House Barcelona
The simple guide to communicating at a restaurant - Change table | Oxford House Barcelona

Ask for recommendations

You’re sat at the best table in the restaurant, now you need to think about what to order. Scan the menu and, if there are any words you don’t understand, use your phone to translate them. Another chance to build your vocabulary!

If you’re the kind of person who finds it hard to decide, maybe you can remember some dishes from the reviews you read. Better still, ask the waiter (or waitress) for a recommendation. Here are some ways to ask:

Of course, if you have any allergies or intolerances, this is the time to tell staff. You want your meal to be unforgettable, but not because it caused you to spend the night in hospital!

This diagram should give you all the terms you need to ensure you avoid any problems.

Ask for recommendations - Allergens | Oxford House Barcelona

Place your order

OK, you’ve decided what to have, let’s make sure they understand your order. To avoid confusion, you should specify what you want for each course. Note that in English there are various ways to refer to the different courses.

The very first dishes that are served may be called the ‘starter’, ‘entrée’ or ‘appetizer. Next, you have the ‘first course’, which could be something like a soup, salad or pasta dish. Then, on to the ‘main course’, which is often fish, meat or a vegetarian option. Finally, you have the ‘dessert’ or ‘sweet’, which in the UK is sometimes called ‘pudding’.

Here’s how your order might go:

The simple guide to communication at a restaurant - Place an order | Oxford House Barcelona

Make a complaint

Think back to the last time you had to make a complaint in a restaurant. What was it about?

Here are the top 10 most common restaurant complaints in the US, according to Consumer Reports.

  • Dirty utensils or table
  • Dirty or ill-equipped bathrooms
  • Impolite staff
  • Staff with scruffy appearance or poor hygiene
  • Food or drinks served at incorrect temperature
  • Being served the wrong dish
  • Feeling rushed to finish
  • Staff removing your plate before you have finished
  • Food does not look or taste as described in the menu
  • Slow service

Fingers crossed your meal goes off without a hitch, but it’s important to be about to communicate clearly if a problem arises. Here are some phrases to help, just in case one of these things happens to you:

The simple guide to communicating at a restaurant - Make a complaint | Oxford House Barcelona
The simple guide to communicating at a restaurant  - Write a review | Oxford House Barcelona

Write a review

Let’s hope that you have no need to complain and that your meal is memorable for all the right reasons. If that’s the case (and even if it isn’t), why not write a review and help other future diners?

So, when you’ve finished your meal, reflect on the various aspects of your experience. How was the restaurant decorated? What was your favourite dish? How friendly were the staff? Were you made to feel welcome?

Use these questions to write a review – another great way to practise your English!

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

To eat out (pv): to eat in a restaurant.

Tourist traps (n): place that exploits sightseers.

Keen (adj): enthusiastic.

To check out (pv): to look at or investigate.

Maître d'(n): head waiter or restaurant manager.

Cloakroom (n): a place to leave coats and belongings.

Without a hitch (exp): without trouble.


pv = phrasal verb

n = noun

adj = adjective

exp = expression

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