Spanish Restaurant Phrases
As the waiter inched closer and closer to me my heart would beat harder and harder. I’ll admit it. I was afraid to order.
I was practicing in my head over and over again how to give my order in Spanish. I kept thinking to myself, “Wait is that how you say it?”. “I don’t want to be rude”. What if he doesn’t understand me?”. After 4 years of high school Spanish, I was in Spain, ready to have an authentic Spanish meal. And I couldn’t remember how to order food.
I had what I call Spanish restaurant induced anxiety. The effects include:
Resorting to, “Let’s just cook at the Airbnb…it’s cheaper, right?”. Pointing at menus instead of using your words. And frustrated waiters who think in their head, “Another Gringo”.
If you suffer from restaurant induced anxiety, there is a cure. You won’t have to memorize 89 long phrases. You don’t have to know every food imaginable. In fact, the cure is simple.
In this post, we’re going to reveal to you the only phrases you need to know when dining in a Spanish speaking country. If you’re heading out on a trip to Spain, Mexico or anywhere else in Latin America, this post is the vital guide to get the authentic eats you’re looking for. Whether it’s the hole in the wall joint on the corner or an upscale fine dining.
Most importantly, use these phrases and you’ll blend right in with the locals. (You might even get a compliment or two for your Spanish).
Let’s get started!
The only 5 phrases you need to order anything you want
(no matter where you are in the Spanish speaking world)
Me pones …
Me das …
Para mi …
This is used in Spain to ask for anything in a restaurant, in a bar, when you want to get some pinxtos in Bilbao. Don’t try to translate it literally, because it means something like ‘will you put in front of me’. But let’s say your brain stops working. And you can’t remember any of the other phrases we’re about to teach you, this phrase will get you what you need.
Waiter: Hola (Hello)
You: ¿Me pones una cerveza por favor? (Can I have a beer please?)
Fun fact: the phrase came from a time when everyone in Spain carried a sack with them to the market. When you needed something you would go up to the stand and say “put it in the bag”. Crazy how things like that stick with a language for so long.
In Spain they often use the verb tomar (to take) typically when referring to food and drinks. When your friends say tomamos un café, it means let’s go have a coffee! Think in your head I’ll take, instead of I’ll have …
Waiter: ¿Qué quieres para tomar? (What do you want to drink?)
You: Tomo una copa por favor (I’ll take a glass of wine, please)
Notice it’s also in the question, ¿Qué quieres para tomar?
If you are in Latin America me das is all you would ever need. It means will you give me? It’s uncomplicated. It’s polite. And you’ll get exactly what you want.
Waiter: ¿Qué quieres para tomar? (What would you like to have)
You: ¿Me das una Corona por favor? (Can you give me a Corona please?)
In Madrid, everyone is more straightforward. That’s why los madrilenos use quiero to order a beer, more tapas. Whatever your stomach seeks, it shall be granted. And don’t worry, it’s not rude to say. In fact, it was Shakespeare who said brevity is the soul of wit. There is no simpler way to tell someone what you want than to say “I want”.
Waiter: ¿Algo para tomar?
You: Quiero un tinto de verano*, por favor. (I want a red wine spritzer, please)
Note: You can also use quería (I would like) for added politeness
*Tinto de verano (literal: red wine of summer) is red wine often mixed with a lemon-lime soda.
After the waiter motions to you to order, you say: Para mi + (what you want). For example:
Waiter: ¿Y usted señor? (And you sir?)
You: Para mi, el ceviche, por favor. (For me, the ceviche, please)
And if you want to order for a friend who doesn’t speak Spanish, it works great. Here watch:
Waiter: ¿Para usted? (For you?)
You: Para mi, los tacos al pastor. Y para ella, los tacos de camarones (For me, the tacos al pastor. And for her, the shrimp tacos)
Get a FREE PDF Cheat Sheet Of All The Restaurant Phrases You Need To Know Plus More Meal Time Essentials!
What if you’re not sure what you want to order
Because you’re looking for some local flavor? We have the perfect phrase:
¿Qué me recomiendas?
Be prepared to answer more questions from the waiter. But this one is the key to finding something brand new you won’t find back home.
And, what if you need a few more minutes
When you haven’t had the time to look over the menu. And you need some extra time you can use these two phrases:
Todavía no estoy listo (I’m not ready yet)
Necesito más tiempo (I need more time)
Waiter: ¿Estás listo para pedir? (Are you ready to order?)
You: No, todavía no estoy listo. (No, I’m not ready yet)
What if you need something after you order?
This next question will get you anything you need.
¿Me traes … ? (Can you bring me … ?)
Here’s how it works:
Me traes + (what you want) = the waiter will go get it for you.
For example, you can say:
¿Me traes la cuenta? (Will you bring me the bill?)
¿Me traes otro tenedor? (Will you bring me another fork?)
¿Me traes más pan? (Will you bring me more bread?)
¿Me traes otra cerveza? (Will you bring me another beer?)
As you may have noticed, the majority of these phrases are questions instead of commands. That’s common. And you won’t look (or feel) like a jerk, either.
How to get the waiter’s attention
This is always an awkward experience for me until I learned these two phrases:
Disculpa (Excuse me)
From my experience, this is more common in Latin America.
Perdón (Pardon me)
This phrase is common in Spain. If you let this one slip in Latin America don’t worry. No one is going to notice. It’s the difference between saying pardon me or excuse me.
Should you use tú or usted when talking to waiters?
I wouldn’t worry about being formal or informal in this setting. If you’re in Spain, 99.99% of the time you will use the tú form. In Latin America, if the waiter is older than you, then, to be safe, use usted. If the waiter is younger than feel free to use tú.
The questions the waiter will ask you
The flow of a conversation with a waiter follows a standard pattern. Here’s what it will look like:
Question 1: ¿Algo para tomar? (Would you like something to eat/drink?).
Your response: Tomo un agua con gas. (I’ll have a seltzer water).
Question 2: ¿Están listos para pedir? (Are you ready to order?)
Me das/me pones/quiero la ensalada con pollo (I’ll have, or I want the chicken salad)
No, necesito más tiempo (No I need more time)
Todavía no estoy listo (I’m not ready yet)
Question 3: ¿Algo mas? (Anything else)
You can respond by saying:
No, gracias (No thank you)
Me pones/me das/quiero/ me traes … (Can you bring me …)
Question 4: ¿Puedo retirar? (Can I take your plate?) or ¿Terminaste? (Are you finished?)
Si, gracias (Yes, thank you)
Todavía no (Not yet)
Question 5: ¿Quieres postre? (Do you want dessert?)
¡Si, claro! (Yes, of course)
No gracias, estoy a reventar/ estoy lleno (No thanks, I’m full)
No gracias, me he puesto morado(a) (No thanks, I’m turning purple = I ate too much)
When it’s time to go
Here are the phrases you’ll use when you want to pay the bill.
¿Me traes la cuenta? (will you bring me the check?)
La cuenta, por favor (the check please)
The waiter will ask:
¿Quieres pagar con tarjeta o efectivo? (Do you want to pay with a card or cash?).
If you say card, the waiter will ask: ¿Débito o credito? (Debit or credit).
Let’s get another round
But how do you say something like:
Can we get another round?
Can I get that on the side?
I really dislike…
To give you a cheat sheet on everything you’ve learned here plus a deeper look into the nuance of ordering food in Spanish, we created a phrase book of the 50+ phrases perfect for sounding like a native speaker while you’re at the restaurant or out drinking.
Check it out below:
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE PDF CHEAT SHEET WITH ALL THESE PHRASES & MORE!