I would like to learn how to order food in a restaurant. I know how to read a menu but I am unsure how to say my selection to the waiter. Is there a particular order to place the order? In other words, must I say "For starters/appetizers I will have _____. Then for the main dish I will have ________. I'll have ____ for my drink and ____ for dessert."
"I will have blah-blah (starter), blah-blah (soup), blah-blah (main dish), and blah-blah (dessert)."
I think what I want to clearly understand so that I don't embarrass myself is whether or not I must follow a particular order, i.e. always order starters first and dessert last. I hope I'm making sense.
You don't really need to mention the name of the course but you're right about the order. However, most places in the UK don't take your dessert order until you've finished your main course. Generally, your experience will go something like this:
Waiter: Welcome. Here's the menu. Would you like to order a drink?
You: Yes please. I'll have a beer/wine/Coke/whatever.
Waiter goes away then comes back with drinks.
Waiter: Are you ready to order?
You: Yes. I'll have the prawn cocktail, followed by the vegetable lasagne please.
Waiter: Certainly (then takes the order from other people).
You eat your starter.
You eat your main course.
Waiter probably asks if you need more drinks at some point.
After main course plates have been cleared...
Waiter: Would you like to see the dessert menu?
You: Yes please/No thank you.
Waiter: Would you like coffee?
You: Yes please (coffee order) / No thank you.
You: We'll just have the bill now thank you.
Waiter: Of course.
Then you pay and leave!
Neither a teacher nor an agony aunt
Don't worry too much about the order of your order, and that's an order! When I eat out I sometimes tell the waiter which main dish I want before I order my starter (maybe I just need a few more seconds to decide which starter or soup I would like). They still manage to serve the food in the right order.
Quite often you only order the starters and the main course and when you have finished eating these the waiter will bring a separate menu for the desserts. Now you can order your dessert or maybe just a coffee if you are already full. Sometimes a waiter might even take your drinks order before you are asked what food you wish to partake of. It really depends on the type of restaurant you are going to.
If you are not sure just follow the lead of the waiter/waitress. They will usually say something like: 'Are you ready to order? Can I take your food order? What food would you like? Would you like some food from our specials-of-the-day menu? May I take your drinks order? Listen to what they say to you and take it from there.
I am feeling rather peckish now.
In the U.S., the server will easily guide you through the ordering process! When you are first seated, he/she will distribute the menus and then ask "Can I bring you something to drink?" This is your chance to order either a cocktail, beer, or soft drink. When the drinks are brought to your table, the server will ask either "Are you ready to order?" or "Would you like to start out with an appetizer?" (Note: In the U.S. we call starters "appetizers".) If he just asks "Are you ready to order?" you can specifiy "We'd like to start out with some buffalo wings (or mozarella sticks or fried mushrooms, whatever)". If you need more time to browse over the menu to make your entree choice, the server will leave and place your appetizer order with the kitchen. Otherwise, you can simply continue on: "We'd like to start out with some cheese sticks, then I'll have the...." and you and each person at the table will proceed to give your order for your main dish. If the entree is accompanied by soup and/or salad and a side dish, the server will ask you "Do you want soup or salad? Our soups today are clam chowder and vegetable. What type of dressing would you like on your salad? Your dinner comes with a choice of two sides - what would you like?" (Usually the choice of side dishes are listed on the menu, but if you ask the server they will cheerfully elaborate: "You have a choice of mashed potatoes, french fries, green beans, corn or applesauce."
So, basically, in any U.S. restaurant the server is used to asking the questions and then waiting for your answsers when it comes to what you want to eat and in which order it should be served.
All very good responses, but I see that no one mentioned that, in many restaurants, there will be some sort of 'Daily Specials'- dishes perhaps not on the menu that the chef has prepared specially, and typically the waiter will mention them as he/she distributes the menus. If not, you might ask, "Are there any Specials this evening?"
Watch out though! These 'Specials" will often have a rather 'special' (high) price! Don't be turned off by that- just be aware and don't forget to ask. Also, the waiter may go through them rather quickly, so don't be afraid to ask him/her to repeat them or give more details.
So- you have made a selection of your Main Course, and other options will work backward (starter or Appetizer) or forward (dessert) from there. I have also been in situations where I really focussed on a special dessert and told the waiter, "Well, I'm really looking forward to the Chocolate cake (or whatever), so I'll save room and just order a Main Course without a Starter."
Then there's ordering the wine...
Oh, ordering the wine's easy. "Bring me the cheapest bottle you have!" Otherwise, you go through that rigmarole of staring at the wine list as if you have any idea about what you're reading, ordering something vastly overpriced and then, when it arrives, taking that tiny sip and again pretending you know what you're doing before nodding sagely and saying "Yes, lovely" even if it tastes like vinegar.
Ordering wine is generally not too difficult- it takes practice, same as any skill, like a second language. You don't mind a little practice drinking wine, do you?
I'm no expert, so I stick with a few types that I like. If I find a wine list with nothing familiar, then I simply tell the waiter that I don't know any of the wines on the list, but that I generally like (in my case) the Spanish or Italian types, and he/she should know what to recommend from that.
All that said, I, too, tend toward the cheaper end of the list, and yes, wines are almost always overpriced in restaurants, but I would be too embarassed to just blurt out, "bring whatever is cheapest" and look like a cheapskate and a boob. If the wine tastes bad, send it back or get a second opinion.
Oh, and thanks to Hedwig for pointing out my oversight...