The Essential Guide to Ordering at a Restaurant: UK vs. USA

Do you ask for the bill or the check? How much should you tip? Are they chips or fries? Dining out is a great way to practice your English skills when you’re studying at one of our schools in the UK or USA, but for many learners it can be a nervous experience because of the confusion around the differences between the two countries when it comes to ordering food at a restaurant. By using our essential guide, you’ll never embarrass yourself by ordering fish and fries!


Check the bill

Let’s begin at the end: paying. In the UK, you ask for the bill; in the USA, it’s the check. If you mix them up, you’ll still be understood clearly, but it will help with your cultural immersion and your confidence if you remember the correct term and practice getting it right. You can also drop in a few slang words too, just to really impress the locals.


restaurant bill
Knowing the right terminology will make you seem like a native speaker



This can often be an area of uncertainty. The custom of tipping – giving money on top of the bill/check to your waiting staff for their service – exists in both the UK and the USA, but it’s much more common and significant in America. Generally, in the UK a 10% tip is considered appropriate for good service in a restaurant, and some people don’t tip at all. In the USA, however, tips are considered necessary (waiting staff are often paid very low wages), and can be anything from 15-25% of the check. Starting English classes as soon as you arrive in the country will help you understand the nuances of local customs such as tipping.


tipping in a restaurant
You don't want to insult someone by tipping them too little 


You say potato, I say potato

As the famous song goes, some words are identical yet can be pronounced differently (well, no one really says poe-tah-toe that way, but it works for the song!). Then there are some foods that have a totally different word: courgettes in the UK become zucchinis in the USA; aubergines become eggplant; coriander becomes cilantro. You’ll just have to learn these differences. But then there are chips. In the UK, chips are what you get with your fish – thick cut slices of deep fried potato. Fries, however, are skinny, and the only place you’re likely to see them on the menu in the UK is in a burger restaurant. But ask for chips in the USA and you’ll get the popular potato snack that comes in a sealed foil bag. Just to complicate things further, these are known as crisps in the UK. Got all that? Good.


restaurant ingredients
Many food items have different terms in the USA than the do in the UK


The bigger, the better

For many people, food is the embodiment of the American Dream: everything just seems bigger, better, and tastier. One of the most obvious differences when dining out in the UK and the USA is the portion sizes – they’re a lot more generous in the USA. That goes for drinks too. At most places, you pay for your soft drink or coffee and get unlimited refills, for free. And if you ask for water in the USA, it’s also free of charge, but in the UK, you’ll need to specify you want tap water, otherwise you’ll be brought and charged for a bottle of mineral water.


Have you had any unusual experiences when dining out in the UK or USA?



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