Understanding an English menu

There are many different types of places to eat in the UK. Here's some useful vocabulary to describe types of restaurant and their menus.

For more detailed vocabulary about food and cooking methods, see our page on food vocabulary.

Words and phrases for places to eat

A pub (where you can get a "pub lunch".)

A takeaway (where you can buy food to take away and eat at home)

A cafe (where you can eat snacks and light meals)

A tea-room (where you can order a pot of tea and cakes – especially in the afternoon)

A licensed restaurant (a restaurant which can also serve alcoholic drinks like wine or beer)

What you can eat

Pubs can offer traditional lunches like a Ploughman's. (pronounced plow – muns). This is a cheese and salad sandwich with pickles (vegetables cooked in vinegar and sugar).

"Gastropubs" (= gastronomic pubs) serve more elaborate lunches.

There are many different types of takeaway: an Indian takeaway (where you can buy Indian food such as curry), a Chinese takeaway (where you can buy Chinese food) or you can get fish and chips (more traditional British food).

In cafes you can often order a full English breakfast (eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, baked beans etc with tea or coffee). Some cafes offer an all-day English breakfast (where you can eat this at any time in the day.)

In a tea-room you can order "afternoon tea".

Understanding the menu

The "chef's special" or the "daily special" is a special dish for that day. Restaurants also offer a "fixed menu" where you choose from a short list of first course, main course and dessert at a fixed price. Or you can order "a la carte" where you can order each item individually. In some hotels and restaurants you also have a "buffet", where you can go up to a table and take what you want.

Starter / first course

In many restaurants serving British food, this is often a soup (served with bread or toast).

Main course

Many restaurants offer meat, vegetarian and fish dishes. Typical meat dishes are chicken, beef, pork and lamb and these often come "with a side order of" or "accompanied by" vegetables or salad. Meat dishes can be fried, roasted, or grilled.


Sometimes meat dishes are "on a bed of" (placed on) something else like rice or vegetables.

Here are some typical ways of serving potatoes:
mashed (cooked and then pureed with butter and milk)
roast (cooked in oil in the oven – typical with roast meat)
boiled (cooked in water)
sauteed (cooked then quickly fried)
chips / fries ((deep-fried in oil)

Other vegetables can be "dressed" (served with oil / vinegar etc) and you can also choose different types of "dressing" for salads.

Sauces and gravy

Gravy is a sauce made from the juices of the meat when it cooks. It's always served with roast meals. There are also lots of different sauces that accompany food. Here are some common British sauces:

mint sauce with lamb
apple sauce with pork
horseradish sauce with beef (a hot, peppery sauce)

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