Off-Campus Dining

American Meals

Americans usually eat three meals a day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Certain foods are typical for each meal. Breakfast usually consists of toast  or cereal (hot or cold) with milk, orange juice (O.J.), and coffee (or hot tea). Eggs (scrambled, fried, or poached) and bacon or sausage are also eaten in the morning.

At lunch, Americans eat a lot of sandwiches. A sandwich is a filling between two slices of bread. The bread is typically white, rye, or whole wheat. Filling can be ham, roast beef, turkey, chicken, tuna or egg salad, cheese (often provolone, Swiss, or American) or peanut butter and jelly. Another popular food is a "sub" which is a large roll with filling. Soup and crackers is also common.

Dinner is the main meal. People usually sit down to eat dinner between 5:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Dinner consists of a main entree of meat, chicken, or fish with side dishes of rice, potato, or pasta and a vegetable or salad. Water, juice, soda, wine, or beer are the beverages people drink. After dinner, a special dessert and coffee are served.

Many Americans also eat between meals. These are called "snacks" and generally are not very nutritious. They include items such as candy, cookies, chocolate, crackers, and potato chips.

Eating Out in Restaurants

Fast food restaurants are the same everywhere in the United States. Local restaurants offer variety, but there are some general types to look for. Some places call themselves family restaurants. this usually means the food is not very expensive, and probably the food is typically middle-class American. These restaurants may not serve alcohol, and so if you like a glass of wine or beer with your meal, ask before you sit down.

Some places are called cafeterias. This means you walk through a line, choose your food, put it on a tray, pay at the end of the line, and carry your food to an empty table.

Other informal places to eat are called cafes, coffee shops, sandwich shops, delis (a kind of sandwich shop), diners, and truck stops. While driving along America's highways, you may find it interesting to stop at a truck stop and listen to the conversation of the long-distance truck drivers.

Here are a few interesting things you should know about American restaurants:

  • Most restaurants have smoking and non-smoking sections. Many do not allow smoking.
  • Many restaurants post menus in the window so you can see the prices before you enter. If they do not, it is acceptable to enter the restaurant and ask for a menu before you sit down. If it is too expensive, it is OK to leave.
  • At good restaurants, lunch is usually less expensive than dinner.
  • Bread and butter and water are usually served with the meal.
  • If you do not eat all your food you may ask for a "doggie bag." The waiter will put your uneaten food in a bag, and you can take it home. You should not do this at an expensive, first-class restaurant.
  • The charge for service is not included in your restaurant bill, usually called "the check."
  • To ask for the check, signal the waiter with your eyes or a raised hand. If that doesn't work, you can say, "Excuse me." Then say, "May we have the check, please?"
  • You must calculate the tip. The normal amount is 15%. If the service is poor you may leave less.
  • There is usually a food tax added to your restaurant bill. The amount varies from state to state.
  • Waiters will be both men and women.

It is common in the United States to find signs saying "Wait to be seated" when you enter a restaurant. This means you must wait near the sign until someone comes to show you to your seat. This wait is not usually very long. If the restaurant is crowded, you may be told there is a wait and be asked for your name. Then you will be called by name when there is a place for you. If this happens, be sure you ask how long the wait is before giving your name. You don't have to stay if you don't have the time. If the restaurant is not crowded, you may see a sign that says, "Please seat yourself."

In restaurants, you should be prepared to answer some questions. Here is a list:

  • Do you want smoking or non-smoking?
  • Would you like something to drink before you order? (cocktails)
  • (At breakfast) How do you want your eggs? (soft-boiled, scrambled, poached, fried either sunny-side-up or over-easy, or in an omelet). What kind of toast? (white, wheat, or rye)
  • What kind of dressing (for your salad)?
  • How do you want your steak (rare, medium, well-done)
  • Baked, mashed, or fried (potato)?
  • Would you like some dessert?
  • Regular or decaf (coffee)?
  • (In fast food restaurants) Is that for here or to go?


In restaurants, the usual tip for waiters is 15%. In most fast food restaurants you do not tip. In hotels and motels you leave a top for the maid only if you stay several days. You should tip 10%-15% for hotel room service people and $1.00 per bag for bell-hops. Barbers and hairdressers are usually tipped about 10%-15%, and taxi drivers also expect 10%-15%.