Ordering food and drink is a common task, so it makes sense to get the Spanish right. This is especially important in social situations where not understanding the waiter — or not being understood — can be awkward.
Even simple errors can lead to problems: I once had to place my breakfast order three times. I had asked for huevos estrellados, fried eggs, but my mispronouncing of estrellados (I had said something like estallados, exploded ) caused the waiter to bring me huevos revueltos, scrambled eggs, twice. And improperly ordering a two-for-one special at the beach resulted in four drinks, not the two I had wanted.
Mechanic, Iztacalco, Mexico City
Here are some expressions you are likely to hear or need when ordering in restaurants:
¿Qué vas a querer?
In English we avoid using strong-sounding words like want and give with waiters, preferring softer language such as I’ll have and Could I …? However, what sounds overly direct in one language doesn’t necessarily sound that way in another. Words like querer and dar are perfectly ordinary when ordering food in Mexico. Despite what your instincts as an English speaker may tell you, these words don’t convey an attitude of bossiness in Spanish.
- ¿Qué vas a querer? What would you like to order?
- Voy a querer unos chilaquiles verdes. I’ll have the chilaquiles with green (tomatillo) sauce.
- Quiero dos más, iguales. I’d like two more, with the same condiments I ordered for the last ones.
Note that in the first two examples, the periphrastic future construction ir a is used. A direct translation (What are you going to want?) would sound odd in English, but the equivalent in Spanish is perfectly idiomatic. However, the present simple with querer is also possible, as in the final example.
¿Me das …?
Dar, like querer, is a perfectly everyday verb for ordering food in Spanish.
- ¿Me das una hamburguesa con papas y una Coca Light? Could I have a burger and fries and a Diet Coke? Despite its interrogative form, this isn’t a question in either language. No answer is expected.
- Dame otro/a. I’ll have another one.
¿Me traes …?
Traer is another verb that is frequently heard in restaurant transactions.
- ¿Me traes un café americano? I’ll have a coffee.
- Ahorita se los traigo. (Your order is) coming right up. In practice, waiters seem to say this precisely when your order is not coming right up, when you’ve been waiting longer than usual due to some problem in the kitchen.
- ¿Nos traes más servilletas? Could you bring us more napkins? Regalar is also possible here.
¿Te encargo …?
Te encargo is another way to ask for something. I’ve heard it used mostly for things that need to be prepared, such as a coffee.
- ¿Te encargo un té de menta? I’ll have a peppermint tea.
The basic idea of encargarle is: put someone in charge of carrying out your order.