You wouldn't think it, but restaurants can be confusing. For those who don't often dine out – and even plenty of those who do – a lot of the terms used for different menu types and dining experiences can be hard to work out.

When you don't know what to expect from a particular establishment, it can put you off dining there at all, especially if you don't want to risk feeling uncomfortable and out of place. Here are translations of some common restaurant and menu types so you can lose the fear of trying something new, and know exactly what you'll be getting before you arrive.

A la carte

This is a French term that just means "according to the menu". It might sound fancy and mysterious, but it's the most common dining experience you'll find. You'll be given menus, and you simply choose what you want from starters, main courses and desserts.

A la carte restaurants can be just about any type, from extremely casual to high-end fine dining, so make sure you find out what type of establishment you're going to. This is a great choice for people who want control over what they're eating.

Tasting menu

More often than not, restaurants that offer a tasting menu are more extravagant, fine dining affairs. That's not to say they won't have a casual atmosphere, though, so try to find out if there's a dress code.

With a tasting menu, you'll be given several courses – sometimes ten or more small dishes – and usually, there's no choice in what you get. However, some restaurants offer more than one tasting menu. The dishes might also be paired with wines that complement their flavours.

Tasting menus are for adventurous diners who don't mind putting themselves in the hands of the chef, and not for those who want to pick for themselves. In return, you'll probably try new things and have an unforgettable experience.

Prix fixe

French for "fixed price", a prix fixe restaurant will have a limited choice of starters, mains and desserts. You choose one of each and pay the same no matter what you have.

Restaurants with a prix fixe menu vary from basic, casual establishments to some of the most expensive in the world, but you can have a good idea of what to expect based on the price. The great thing about this type of dining is, as long you account for drinks, you know in advance what dinner will cost you.


You probably already know what to expect from a buffet restaurant, but some people get caught out when they don't realise.

There will be limited or no table service; instead, you grab a plate, go up to a selection of hot or cold foods, and help yourself. Sometimes there will be a limited number of trips to the buffet bar, or a set time you're allowed to stay. In other buffets, you can keep eating until you're stuffed.

Buffets are perfect for anyone who likes to try a range of different things, and they're usually fairly casual.