Traditionally in France, le menu refers to a prix fixe or fixed-price grouping of items. In this case there are a few choices for each part of the meal experience (appetizer, main course, dessert); there may be several different menus at different price-points. Note that the word hors d'oeuvre which we have adopted in English and literally means outside of the work - in this case, the meal - is often confused with an appetizer. The hors d'oeuvre is a small bite, the "finger foods" people pass around on platters at functions before everyone sits down to eat. The appetizer is a planned part of the meal, served as the first, smaller course; it is called l'entrée in French, which makes sense really, as the appetizer is the "entrance" to the meal. In English, we use the term entrée to refer to the main course, which is named le plat principal in French, the principal or main plate or dish. As a welcome surprise, dessert is simply, le dessert!
La carte refers to what we in the U.S call the menu, the piece of paper or plastic that has all the offerings of the restaurant written on it. Currently, some places are calling that a menu also, but traditionally, it is strictly called la carte. When ordering à la carte, it means you are ordering items separately off the menu (carte) rather than ordering a fixed meal package option. When faced with an à la carte menu in the United States, many Americans, unfamiliar with the practice, order the steak and are disappointed when all they get is the steak! However, when dining à la carte, sides must be ordered separately.
None of our three restaurants list prices for all food items on their online menus, or cartes. This can be frustrating for the teacher looking to use this information in class. Although you could visit online chat boards and enlist people around France to tell you prices at their local restaurant, that would be time-consuming and potentially inaccurate. I emailed each establishment a request for paper copies or online documents with all prices, explaining my goal; so far I have not heard back from anyone, but perhaps that will be an option. You could always estimate prices based on the information you do have and provide those prices in a modified document. I prefer to give the students the menus as they are and use that as a discussion/writing point, asking students why the prices are listed for some items (the values) and not others. After that, you could have students compare French and American menus and practice converting dollars to euros, thus creating a modified menu with the calculated prices; students could also practice estimating skills in the same way.
In the sections that follow, I will introduce each fast food restaurant, providing pertinent websites and resources for advertisements and commercials. I will also include here examples of necessary vocabulary lists and some ideas for using the resources in the classroom.