8 Phrases to Use When Ordering to Customize Your Food

Ordering food is pretty straightforward. You just look at the menu and say, “I would like to order…” then the name of the dish (or dishes) you want to eat. But there are some instances when people need to customize their food, especially people on certain diets, people with food allergies, and specific culinary preferences. And when those factors come into play, ordering food becomes a little more complicated.

However, as long as you are ready with certain words and phrases, customizing your food or knowing what is in your food becomes easier. Here are eight phrases to use to customize your food (i.e., get what you want exactly) when ordering at a restaurant!

What do you recommend?

The first step to customizing your food is to open yourself up to different options. When you are looking at a menu at a restaurant, you will likely find something that you want to eat. But that may not be the best option.

The best way to know what the restaurant is known for—whether because it is their chef’s specialty or popular with their customers—is to ask your server, “What do you recommend?” This phrase signals the waiter to tell you about the best food in the restaurant. From their recommendations, you can decide better what you would like to eat to get the best experience out of the meal.


“What do you recommend, sir?” “The tuna salad and the steak are our best-sellers. But I personally like the glazed pork chops.”

What is the…?

You cannot order something that you do not know. So when you are glancing at a menu and encountering an unfamiliar dish, ask the server, “What is the…” followed by the dish’s name as written in the menu. The waiter will explain the dish, usually mentioning the main components, the background of the dish, or similar dishes you can compare it with. With this, you can decide if it is something you would want to eat or not; or if it is something that you would like to try—but with a few changes.


“Excuse me, sir, what is the “Shrimp Po’Boy?” “That is a sandwich inspired by the famous po’boys of New Orleans, Louisiana in the US. It consists of cajun shrimp and a Creole sauce, sandwiched between French bread.”

Do you have anything that…?

If you are looking for something specific, you can go ahead and ask the server directly instead of combing through each dish in the menu one by one. Ask them, “Do you have anything that…” followed by the specific criteria you are looking for. They will list down items on their menu that fit your preferences, then you can narrow down your choices from there.


“Mister, do you have anything that has no meat?” “Yes, all of our salads can be served without meat. We also have a couple of vegetarian pasta and fish dishes.”

What is in the…?

You may find a menu item that entices you, but you have to check what is in it before ordering. You can get this information by asking “What is in the…” followed by the dish’s name. The waiter should then tell you the ingredients of the dish or at least the main components of it. Then you can decide if the dish is something that you can consume based on any personal dietary restrictions.


“What is in the “Samurai Salad”?” “It has crab, sesame mayonnaise, mangoes, and lettuce leaves.”

Does this have…?

If you already know what a dish generally consists of, you can go into specifics to clearly know whether or not it contains specific ingredients that you may be avoiding. Just ask the waiter, “Does this have…” (or “Does it have…” if you are referring to a dish you already asked about), then the name of the ingredient you are concerned about. 


“Does this have nuts? I am allergic to nuts.” “Yes, it does. But we can take them out if you would like.”

Please take out the…

You may have decided on the perfect dish to order, except it has something you would rather not have. You can easily customize your order by removing it; just tell the waiter, “Please take out the…” followed by the component you would like them to take away. That way you can enjoy one of their dishes in a way that suits your taste!


I would like to order the steak on a sizzling plate. But please take out the mushrooms.

I will have a slice of the House Special pizza. But please take out the bell peppers.

Can I have this with…?

Alternately, some dishes do not need any ingredients removed. Instead, you may want to add something to it to make it even better! This could be a specific ingredient, a side dish, etc. To ask your waiter if you can add something to your meal, say “Can I have this with…” followed by the food that you want to complement your order.


Can I have the spaghetti with some garlic bread?

Can I this with more Parmesan cheese?

Can you please…?

You may have other requests to ask for when customizing your order. In these cases, the phrase “Can you please…?” is helpful to remember because it can precede almost any request—even those not related to the food itself but the whole dining experience. After the phrase, just insert the specific action you would like to be done. Remember to be polite and always add please when making special requests.


Can you please separate the rice from the meal and serve it in a different bowl?

Can you please sing “Happy Birthday” when you serve the chocolate cake?

Can you please add extra chili and cheese sauce to the nachos? Thank you!

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Jica Simpas is a writer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. She has over two years of writing experience in producing travel and food-related content. She is currently exploring new writing ventures to expand her practice.