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Talk the Talk:
English Speech Is Within Your Reach

This week: Ordering Food
by Yvonne Liu

Because of the diversity of its population, you'll find that eating out here translates to a wide range of choices. Contrary to what other countries may stereotype Americans to eat, not everyone dines on hamburgers and hot dogs every day. However, while ethnic foods such as Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and Thai hold much appeal and are popular choices, what is known as "American" cuisine is still served up breakfast, lunch, and dinner. After all, this is the United States.

This week, we will examine ordering food in a typical American-style restaurant, where ordering may be a little different than ethnic ones. For example, American cuisine is catered towards individual portions, whereas most Asian cuisine is dished up "family style." And unlike Asian cuisine, there is a distinct separation of appetizer, entrée, and dessert courses.


James and Amy have decided to try out The Corner Café, a typical American-style restaurant near their college campus. They are waiting for the server to take their dinner order.

James: I'm starving. Everything looks good. Let's share an appetizer.
Amy: Yeah, there's a daily special that caught my eye.
James: Seriously, this beats dorm food any day!
Server: Welcome to The Corner Cafe. Can I get you guys some drinks?
Amy: I'll have a lemonade.
James: Do you serve Arnold Palmers here?
Server: No problem. Do you need a few more minutes to check out the menu? The daily special is a salmon filet served with a side of mashed potatoes.
James: Um, I'll have the New York steak.
Server: How would you like that cooked?
James: Medium.
Server: Soup or salad?
James: Salad.
Server:What kind of dressing would you like? We have Caesar, Italian, French, Thousand Island, Ranch, and a vinaigrette.
James: Vinaigrette.
Server: You have your choice of potato: french fries, mashed, or baked.
James: Baked with everything on the side.
Amy: I'd like the turkey sandwich.
Server: On what kind of bread? Toasted or not?
Amy: Wheat, toasted.
Server: Soup or salad?
Amy: What is the soup of the day?
Server: Today we've got a New England-style clam chowder.
Amy: I'll have the soup.
Server: Would you like a cup or bowl?
Amy: Cup. I also want a side of coleslaw.
James: Can we also get some bread and butter to start?
Server: No problem. I'll bring your bread right away. The soup and salad should also be up in a few.

After Amy and James have finished eating…
Server: Would you guys care for some dessert?
Amy: The apple pie sounds good to me!
Server: Would you like that a la mode?
James: Yes, please!


Starving is an exaggerated form of saying that you are really hungry, as if you are almost to the point of starvation.

An appetizer is usually the first course of a meal. It is literally a dish that gives you a taste of what else is to come and helps work up your appetite.

A daily special is a item that is normally not printed on the menu but is offered by the restaurant either periodically or only on special occasions.

When something catches your eye, it means that it has caught your attention.

An Arnold Palmer is a mixture of iced tea with lemonade, made famous by American golfer Arnold Palmer.

A filet is a piece of meat or fish cut so that it does not have the bones.

Sometimes, a server will ask you how you would like certain meats cooked (usually beef, such as steaks and hamburgers). When meat is cooked rare, often it is only the outside that looks cooked, while the inside is still bloody. Medium-rare means that the meat is cooked a little longer than rare but has less blood and is still very tender. Medium-cooked (or medium-well) meat should have a light pink center. Well-done means the meat is cooked thoroughly until there is no red left in any part.

Most American restaurants will offer a choice of soup or dinner salad with their entrées. This follows the custom of the first course, or appetizer.

A vinaigrette is a dressing made of an oil and vinegar mixture.

When you have your choice of potato, it means you can have the potato cooked in different ways-as french fries, as mashed potatoes with gravy, or as a baked potato.

When you ask for everything on the side, it means you don't want it served on top of your food but on the side of the plate. A baked potato is often served with sour cream, bacon, and chives or just butter already on top.

Toasted bread is bread that has been heated up in the toaster oven.

Most restaurants will also feature a soup of the day, which is a soup that changes daily.

There are two types of clam chowders: New England and Manhattan. New England-style clam chowder originated from the New England states of Northeastern United States and feature a milk-based chowder with clams and potatoes. A Manhattan-style clam chowder is one that originated from Manhattan and is tomato-based soup with clams and hearty vegetables, often a little spicier in taste.

Soups are offered in two sizes-cups or bowls. Cups are smaller portions, whereas a bowl can often be the bulk of a meal.

You can also order french fries, salad, and soup to go with your meal as side orders. This means that you do not want the full meal but rather a smaller portion of it.

Most restaurants will also give out bread and butter for people to eat while waiting for the food they have ordered.

To start refers again to the start of a meal, also known as the appetizer or first course.

When something will be up in a few, it means that it will be served in a few minutes or ready soon.

If a dessert such as cake or pie is served a la mode, it means that it is served with a scoop of ice cream (usually vanilla).


Do you still have unanswered questions about this topic -- or about anything else? Is there something that you would like to see an article about? Do you have advice, ideas, or experiences you would like to share with other international students? Let us know -- send us a message at: CityHall@istudentcity.com


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