A La Carte – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you heading to an ‘a la carte’ restaurant for a special dinner? What can you expect from the menu and the meal? This post unpacks the origin and meaning of this phrase.


The expression ‘a la carte’ is a French expression meaningaccording to the card.’ The ‘card‘ in the saying refers to a menu. The correct French spelling is ‘À la carte.’ However, the English spelling of the word usually leaves out the accent from the phrase.

The term ‘a la carte’ refers to food items ordered separately, with individual pricing for each dish. It’s the opposite of a ‘table d’hôte’ menu, which offers the complete meal at a fixed price.

Example Usage

“Are we going to the French restaurant tonight? I love their ‘a la carte’ menu. It’s amazing. I hear they just hired a Michelin-star chef. I can’t wait to try the food this time.”

“French restaurants and a la carte menus are overrated. You get a tiny piece of food that costs a fortune, and I never feel full after my meal. What a waste of time.”

“If you’re all about In-and-Out and love your burgers and fries, don’t ever have dinner at an a la carte restaurant. You’ll regret your decision.”

“I love the a la carte dining experience. It’s so fancy, and I always feel like I’m rich when I’m eating at a French restaurant.”

“Some people spend their spare cash on clothing and entertainment. I choose to spend mine on high-quality dining experiences. I find nothing more satisfying than staring at an a la carte menu.”

“Oh, you’re one of those who enjoy a la carte dining? How can you get any value from those meals? They’re tiny and so expensive.”

“We aim to give your company an a la carte, customized experience when setting up your digital systems. We tailor everything to meet your company’s individual needs.”

“I love a good a la carte menu prepared by a three-star Michelin chef. There’s something about good food that just tickles the delight centers in my brain. I love every bite I take of the meal.”



The expression ‘a la carte’ originates from French. However, language experts are unsure who introduced the word’s first use in English-speaking communities. The phrase entered English use in the early 1800s.

Interestingly, the first recorded use of the phrase wasn’t to describe food. The first citation of the expression in English comes from Joseph Sherer, in his book, ‘Notes and Reflections During a Ramble in Germany,’ published in 1826, where it appears as follows.

“He will find comfortable apartments, civil attendance, excellent fare, à la carte, at any hour.”

The use of the phrase in this context refers to apartment buildings. The speaker is referring to the customized options available to tenants.

Phrases Similar to A La Carte

  • Individually priced.

Phrases Opposite to A La Carte

  • Table d’hôte.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Al la carte.

Ways People May Say A La Carte Incorrectly

Using ‘a la crate’ to describe a wheeled cart or horse-driven cat is incorrect. The phrase translates to ‘according to the card,’ and it has nothing to do with carts. While ‘carte’ translates to ‘card,’ it refers to a menu, not a greeting card.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase A La Carte

You can use ‘a la carte’ when referring to customized items. While the phrase mainly relates to food, applying it to anything customized to your preferences is acceptable. For instance, you could say that your CRM at work is an ‘a la carte’ solution built specifically for your business model.

‘A la carte’ is suitable for professional and social conversations. You could use it at a business dinner or social dining event to describe the menu and the food. The phrase is French, but it’s well understood by English speakers around the globe, even if they don’t understand the meaning of the term.

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