Nothing should keep you from having a good meal, not even a language barrier. However, there are times when you will encounter challenges when ordering from a restaurant, specifically challenges with the menu.
This usually happens to people who travel to foreign lands or places with a different language. Although it is a worthwhile endeavor to take the time and learn the language of your travel destination, it may not always be possible due to time constraints. The language barrier can definitely be felt starting from the airport, to check-in desks at small hotels, and of course, in restaurants.
According to Sharon Schweitzer, international etiquette expert and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, it can be really intimidating to read and order from a menu if you do not speak the same language. It can also pose a problem when you have food allergies or you want to avoid certain types of food, but you cannot read or understand the description of food items on the menu.
“For example, diners with a nut allergy would not want to inadvertently order a dish with cashews or peanuts,” says Schweitzer. “Or a diner may have a diet that doesn’t include pork, beef, or dairy products, so knowing which dishes have these ingredients is crucial.”
How to Order a Meal When Eating Abroad
But, not understanding the menu does not mean that you cannot order from it. You just need to have some extra shot of confidence and follow these tips so that you can still order and experience great food, even with the language barrier.
- Before you go, know what you want to eat
If you know that the place you are heading to speaks a language that you are not familiar with, do some online research and look at the restaurants that you plan to go to. Check the restaurants’ websites and see their menus, as this is already common practice of most eateries and restaurants these days. When you see something that you think you would like, take a look at the description and try to research it. This small effort will make your experience easier and get you ready and confident before boarding a plane and leaving your comfort zone.
- Always have your phone with you
Thanks to the amazing power of technology, you can use your phone to help you out in times of need. Just make sure that you have a Wi-Fi connection and you have downloaded a translation app like Google Translate, iTranslate, or WayGo. You can use your phone to communicate more efficiently with the server or use it to decipher unfamiliar words that you see on the menu.
It may sound elementary, but you can also use your phone to tell the server what type of food you want to try. For instance, you can save photos of types of food that you are interested in and then show them to your server so that he can better understand.
- Ask if there is an English version of their menu
Cities that are frequently visited by tourists and non-native speakers usually create alternate menus to cater to them. Schweitzer said that restaurants in some capital cities, such as Paris, Madrid, and Berlin may have an English translation of their menu. So, do not hesitate to ask the server whether there is one available and request if you can see the English version instead.
- Ask help from your hotel
Usually, when we travel and check in to a hotel, we also ask the concierge for their recommendations for the best restaurants in town. But, they can do more than just recommend. Schweitzer also mentioned that many concierges in hotels usually maintain a collection of restaurant menus that are translated into English.
If they do not have any, they can also call the restaurant of your choice and check whether they have an English menu available. If there is none, then you can probably ask the concierge for any specific food recommendations, instead of just the restaurant.
- Be adventurous and take a chance
When you have exerted all efforts and yet all else fail, there is nothing wrong with being audacious with your food choices, provided that you do not have any allergies. If you cannot understand the menu, you can base your order on the images or pictures of the restaurant’s food, if there are any.
You can also ask the server to bring you their restaurant’s specialty, or anything that is highly recommended and frequently ordered by tourists. Who knows, you may be ordering the highlight of your travel and the best dish that you have ever tasted.