Phrases Used in American Restaurants

Posted On: February 19, 2015

From the greetings to the conclusion of your visit to ordinary restaurants in the US, you may hear some words or phrases that are new to you. Let’s look at a few of those statements, phrases, idioms and questions. 

In Fast Food Restaurants  

“For here or to go?” 

If you go inside a fast food restaurant to order food, the cashier taking your order will say, “Hello, for here or to go?” This means do you want to eat your order in the restaurant (for here) or do you want it packed to eat later (to-go). 

Another phrase used in some areas for to-go is “take away”, “For here or take away?”

Would you like to supersize that? If someone at a fast food counter asks you a question like this it means, “Do you want to make it a larger or largest size for a small amount more?” The term supersize I think started at McDonalds, but other restaurants may use slightly different phrases. 

Would you like a cup holder? 
If you go to a fast food restaurant or a coffee shop like Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks and buy several cups of coffee, the attendant taking your order may ask you if you want a cup holder. This device, pictured to the right is used to help you more easily carry multiple cups at a time. 

Punch Cards/Loyalty Cards Punch cards, pictured to the right, are usually paper cards, the size of a business card that fit into a wallet used to track purchases of certain items like cups of coffee, sandwiches, meals, or other menu items as per the restaurant. Once the customer purchases a particular amount of those items (maybe 10), the next one is free. 

Eateries that use these kinds of cards include coffee shops (including inside gas stations), sub or sandwich shops, diners, others. Now a days, many of the larger, chains are moving over to computerized plastic or app based “cards”. 

Punch cards are also known as loyalty cards, club cards, rewards cards, stamp cards, or some gimmicky term identified by the establishment. Non-food establishments like salons (for haircuts), car dealerships (oil changes or other routine maintenance), among others. 

In Sit-Down Restaurants with Waiters/Waitresses 

How many are in your party? 
When you enter the establishment, the host or hostess will ask you this. Answer this with the number of people in your group, so they can sit you at a table with the right amount of chairs. 

Free Refills / Bottomless Drinks
The phrase “free refills” may be on the menu. A free refill is not initially free. For instance, if you order a coffee with free refills, the initial cost may seem a little higher than a restaurant that doesn’t offer free refills, but as you drink your coffee, the server will come around and refill your coffee cup for free (you pay only one fee for as much coffee as you want in one cup).  

At some restaurants, the wait staff will continue to visit your table and refill your cup for you, while at other establishments, like IHOP, Denny’s, Bob Evans and others, they may set a coffee pot on your table, allowing you to refill your cup at your own will. 

Note, this phrase may be used in fast food eateries and diners as well. 

Doggie bag 
In some areas of the US, the idiom “doggie bag” is used. A doggie bag a term for packing your leftovers (unfinished food). I think this term originated from the fact that many of these packets would be taken home and fed to the family dog! 

Are you ready for your check? 
If the waiter asks you if you want your check, he is thinking you are finished with your meal, and ready to pay. 

In some areas of the country (South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah) where I have traveled, the check is referred to as a ‘ticket.’

“On the house” 
If your server says something is “on the house” you can feel as if you have hit the lottery! If something is on the house, it’s free! Sometimes if restaurants serve you the wrong dish by accident or there is some other problem with your order, they may offer you something to replace that and tell you ‘it’s on the house.’ 

Jennifer Kumar prepares your expat and overseas visitors adjust to life in the US in social and professional situations through targeted cross-cultural training programs. Contact us today for more information.

Related Posts: 
Expected mannerisms in US restaurants  

Note: Names of restaurants are used for reference and example purposes only. The establishments do not have any connection to Authentic Journeys nor any business relationship.

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