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What your English teacher never told you - Ordering things

Giugno 2015
I would like, I’d like, may I have, tutte formule di cortesia che si imparano a scuola e che... non servono a nulla! Almeno non per ordinare da mangiare o da bere al ristorante o al pub. Allora cosa si deve dire? Ce lo spiega Rachel Roberts.

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

You know of course that the polite way to ask for something in English is “I would like,” or better still, “I’d like” but, strangely enough, we hardly ever use this expression when we order things in a bar, restaurant or cafe.
Even in the most formal of situations, a restaurant with waiter service, British people almost never say “I’d like.” Although it’s very important to be polite to your waiter or waitress in the UK, the phrase we use most often is “I’ll have,” for example “I’ll have the filet steak with a side salad, please.” This may sound more like an order, but it is the accepted formula. Of course you should never forget to say “please” at the end!


If you need anything during your meal, you should say ‘Can I/we have (some more wine / the bill), please?’ Forget about “could” or “may.” You might have studied them, but they sound old-fashioned and unfriendly.
If you’re queuing up for food in a self-service tea shop or coffee bar, the politest thing to do is to remember that there are other people waiting behind you and that the person serving is very busy. So keep it short and give your order nice and clearly - something like: “Two teas and a slice of carrot cake, please.” A friendly smile will make up for any lack of formal or polite language in your request.
Any more detailed questions you may have should also be kept very concise, such as: “Have you got any Tabasco?” or “Can I have some extra mayonnaise with that?”


Remember that British people hate fuss and so your aim should always be to make things easy for the people around you. Speak loudly and clearly, so the person serving you can hear you above a noisy coffee machine. Then, once you have your order, move out of the way quickly, so someone else can have their turn.


This approach is even more important in a pub, especially when it’s busy, and here things become a little more complicated. First of all, the bar of a pub is the only place where people do not form a queue. But beware, just because you can’t see one, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. There will certainly be an invisible queue and both the people standing in it and the bar staff will usually know whose turn it is.


Of course when it’s very busy it can be difficult for the bar staff to keep track of customers, so you may need to attract their attention. Under no circumstances should you attempt to do this by saying something like “Hello, I’m here.” “I’d like to order a drink,” or even “Who is the last in the queue?” (Even if these sentences are linguistically correct and might work in other circumstances).


At the bar of a pub, there is a strict etiquette of non-verbal communication, and that doesn’t mean vigorous hand gestures, or waving your glass about. What you need to do is to make eye contact with the person serving behind the bar. Once he or she has seen you, you can lift your eyebrows or raise your chin quickly, perhaps with a hopeful smile. This is code for “Hello, I’m here and I’m waiting in line to order my drink.”
When the bartender responds with a nod or smile, that is the code for “I have seen you and noted your position in the queue.”


When your turn comes, the correct way to order a (draught) beer is to say “Pint of bitter/lager, please.” For a half-pint, you should say “Half a bitter/lager.” If you want a particular brand of draught beer or real ale, you should say “Pint of (name)” or “Half of (name), please.”
Only one of your group should give these orders and pay, with at most one friend to help you carry the drinks. The golden rule is always to be quick, clear and then to get out of the way!

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