May I Take Your Order? : ESP for Food and Beverage Staff

May I Take Your Order?
ESP for Food and Beverage Staff

Martin Hendrikx
by Martin Hendrikx 63,344 views

Teaching English for specific purposes can sometimes be challenging, but there is no reason for you as a teacher to rip your hair out in frustration.

There are always some hints, tips and tricks you can use to teach English to restaurant and bar workers (Food and Beverage staff). As with most fields in ESP there are three main tools you will use. These are vocabulary lists and terms, phrases that will come in handy and lastly, role playing exercises.

The first thing we should do when teaching restaurant workers and bartenders English will be to have them bring in the training manual or employees handbook provided to them by their employers, and if they have not yet found a job, you can always find samples such as this - When you have the employee handbook or training manual, you should go through it with the student or class and ensure that they can read and understand everything while defining and clarifying any points of confusion.

Waiters will need to know the menu, and understand that certain people have special dietary restrictions (lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant, food allergies etc…). It is also necessary for waiters to have a good knowledge of the bar and the items that are on the special board daily.

It is important when you are teaching wait staff English will be to talk to them about how to serve a table. You can use role playing exercises to encourage them to overcome their shyness with the new language and terminology and it will also allow them to become more comfortable with any potential questions that people may ask. As a teacher it is important to come up with a list of questions that customers may ask and have the students respond properly. Some of the questions that you will need to ensure the students learn in order to work well as a waiter or waitress are listed below.

  1. May I interest anyone in a drink/beverage to start?
  2. Has everyone decided yet, or do you need some more time with the menu?
  3. Today or specials are _____.
  4. How would you like your steak/burger cooked?
  5. Is this all together or would you like separate tabs?

For a more complete list you can check on sites like:

Bartenders are the food and beverage staff who work behind the bar and serve drinks. It is imperative that you let your students know that bartenders are also “part time psychologists” and everyone’s friend. A bartender needs to be able to speak with all of his or her customers and make them feel welcome in the establishment where they work. Being a bartender will require a much larger vocabulary than being a member of the wait staff since bartenders normally speak more in length and about a wider variety of topics with the customers. If you are teaching students who will work or currently work in bars, you will need to assign long lists of appropriate vocabulary such as the lists found on the following websites since bartenders need to know a lot of job specific jargon.


The third group of people who work in the food and beverage industry are what we call the Back of the House. Some of the jobs in this category include bakers, dishwashers, busboys, cooks and chefs, short order cooks, and many more. When you have students in this field who wish to learn English, it is usually a lot easier to teach them, since they will not normally need to communicate directly with the customers. Even though they do not normally need to communicate with the customers, they will need to be able to understand any specific requests from the customers delivered by the wait staff. They will also need specific lists of jargon; however these are not always absolutely necessary depending on the type of jobs they perform. Some of these lists can be found on sites such as:

There are however many phrases they will need to understand which the wait staff will use which I will show you below as well as some sample responses.

Important Phrases to Teach

  1. 1

    Can I get a rush on this order for table 16 please?

    Sure, no problem. It will be out in about 10 minutes.

  2. 2

    What is the ETA (estimated time of arrival) of the soup and salad for table 4? (This will be used when they need to know how long the food will take to be sent out.)

    It should not be more than 5 more minutes.

  3. 3

    What are the specials for the day?

    The specials are the lime and chicken soup and the barbeque ribs.

  4. 4

    Table 6 sends their compliments to the chef.

    Thanks. Send them this dessert on the house (free/complimentary).

  5. 5

    This hamburger is not well done. It needs another couple minutes on the grill.

    Sure, it will be out in just a minute.

Role playing is the most important and effective tool you can use when teaching English for specific purposes. In order to do the roleplaying exercises, with wait staff, you can have some students pretend to be customers and come into the restaurant and have one student at a time take turns to be the waiter or waitress while you evaluate and give suggestions to them when they are practicing.

When you want to get your students who are bartenders to practice their English, you can set up a table with several chairs behind it and pretend it is a bar and have your students take turns as the bartender and pretend to serve the customers and have polite conversational interactions with them.

Lastly, in order to practice with employees who are back of the house workers, you should have them come up with phrases and words that they hear at work but do not understand well and have them practice these in class along with any other vocabulary and phrases you can find that may be of use.

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