Fun activities set in familiar situations can provide the ideal context for language learning. Restaurant scenarios are inherently motivating because they provide a framework for authentic language, require a focused vocabulary that is plugged into predictable scripts and lead to delicious rewards for those who achieve successful communication. Let’s look at some activities that will help students relax and enjoy acquiring real-world Spanish.

Create a Restaurant

Introduce food vocabulary and have students work in groups to choose a name for their restaurant, design a menu and present their menus to the class. You may wish to supply menus in Spanish from restaurants in your area or from the Internet as models. Student menus can include categories like “Entremeses” (appetizers), “Platos Principales” (main courses), “Postres” (desserts) and “Bebidas” (drinks) and can list prices in the currency of a Spanish-speaking country such as pesos, queztales, colones, bolívares or córdobas, according to student research. Menus can provide the opportunity to look at comparative structures as well as feminine and masculine endings: “La langosta es cara. El pollo es más barato." (The lobster is expensive. The chicken is cheaper/less expensive.)

Set the Table

Supply place settings and a table -- two student desks pushed together work as a table for two. Using Total Physical Response, command students to have a seat, point to the glass, pick up the knife, put a fork to the left of the plate, fold the napkin. When students follow commands with ease, pick up the pace. Then have students give commands to others at the table. To reinforce vocabulary, students can role play asking for items: "Necesito.. ." (I need…) "...un tenedor" (a fork) or "...la sal" (salt).

Order a Meal

Introduce useful restaurant phrases such as "¿Qué desean comer?" (What would you like to eat?), “Me gustaría…”/”Quisiera…” (I would like…), “De postre, quiero..” (For dessert, I’ll have…), “La cuenta, por favor” (Check, please). Keep phrases on the board for reference. Have students take turns playing server and diners, ordering a complete meal with drinks and dessert. Servers can recommend menu items: “Yo le recomiendo...” (I recommend…). Customers can take or leave the suggestions: “No, tráigame …” (No, bring me…).

Know Your Classmates

Have students interview their classmates in Spanish to find who fits the following descriptions. “¿Quién…” (Who…?) “…toma café después de cenar?” (drinks coffee after dining),. “… prefiere pescado?” (prefers fish), “…no come carne?” (doesn’t eat meat), “…cuenta calorías?” (counts calories). You can provide students with a list of interview questions or ask students to make up their own. Have students report their findings to the class.

Off to the Races

Create a set of eight to 10 restaurant question-and-answer sets such as “¿Cuánto le debo? Cincuenta dólares.” (How much do I owe? $50.00) and “¿Está incluido el servicio? Si, está incluido.” (Is the tip included? Yes, it is.) Write the answers in random order in two columns on the board or on poster sheets. Students line up in two teams behind a mark on the floor. Read a question. The two students at the front of the line race to touch the correct answer while saying it to score a point for their team. The next students in line then face off for the next question.

What Are They Doing?

One by one, students draw a slip of paper with a restaurant activity to pantomime for the class: ordering a meal, serving drinks, cutting a steak, eating a food that tastes bad. To practice formation of questions and present progressive, have one student ask, “¿Qué está haciendo (él/ella)?” (What is he/she doing?). Other students answer based on the pantomime: “Está tomando café” (She’s drinking coffee).

The Whole Enchilada

Put it all together and take your practice scenarios on the road with a class trip to a local Spanish-speaking restaurant. Give waitstaff the heads up to speak only Spanish to your group. Allow students to bring dictionaries or cheat sheets, anything they might realistically rely on if traveling abroad. Remind students that politeness trumps foreign language skills, so they should remember “por favor” (please) and “gracias” (thank you) and use "Ud." when addressing the server, as in “Tráigame….” (Bring me…).