Ordering stuff without sounding like a chump

Imitating the locals is the key to success

Our trusted friends, the textbooks, teach us beautifully formal ways to order things in Spanish that people rarely (if ever) use in real life.

Most of the time, you’ll be taught to order food in restaurants by saying things like (yo) quisiera (“I would like…”) or para mi (lit. “for me…”).

Asking for stuff in this way sounds incredibly forced and stiff, especially if you’re ordering several items in the space of a few seconds.

For context, imagine the equivalent in your own language. When entering a small, locally-owned café round the corner from your house, how likely is it that you’d order a bite to eat in the following way?

volume_muteWhat can I get ya?
I would like a hamburger please.volume_mute
volume_muteSure. Any sides?
I would like some fries please.volume_mute
volume_muteYou got it. And to drink?
I would like a coke please.volume_mute

Grammatically correct it may be, but natural-sounding it ain’t. If you overheard a foreigner asking for their food like this, you wouldn’t be blown away by their genius in the English language.

The beauty of the basics

When it comes to having these interactions in Spanish, you should also look to ditch this flowery nonsense and strip your requests back to the bare essentials.

In Spanish, as in English, the most natural (and still polite) way to ask for things is just to say the name of whatever you’re ordering, followed by “please”.

Rather than using para mi, una hamburguesa or quisiera una hamburguesa as your default go-to phrase, opt instead for the simpler: una hamburguesa, por favor.

To mix things up every now and then, throw in any of these slightly longer ordering options, including:

  • me das una hamburguesa, por favor;
  • me traes una hamburguesa, por favor (if there is table service); or
  • me pones una hamburguesa, por favor (Spain only).

These are the Spanish equivalents of saying “Could I get a burger please?”.

Better this, than those textbook-style phrases, which sound more like: “Kind sir, please may you bring me one of your finest hamburgers?”.

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