What Is a La Carte? – Meaning and Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

The culinary term “a la carte” has a unique meaning and significance in the context of restaurant menus and served food. But what does the borrowed term really mean, and what’s the correct way to use it? I’m glad you asked because this guide will explain the definition and break down the term’s origin so you know exactly how to use it.

What Does “a La Carte” Mean?

What Is A La Carte Meaning Examples

The French term “a la carte” is an expression and loanword that basically translates to “on the card” or “according to the card.” When looking at the context of dining at a restaurant, saying “a la carte” means you’re ordering off the menu. The opposite word for a la carte is a table d’hôte which translates to “a meal served at a fixed price.”

A La Carte or a La Cart?

A La Carte vs A La Cart Ngram
a La Carte and a La Cart usage trend.

This is a common mix-up, but the correct spelling is “a la carte” with an “e” at the end of “carte.” Being a French loanword, it’s easy to assume it’d be “cart,” which is an American term, rather than “carte.”

Etymology of a La Carte

Back in the day, fancy French restaurants offered what was considered the full experience where you’d come and sit down, and they’d serve you dish after dish the chef had prepared. This usually consisted of an appetizer, a soup or salad, the main course, and then a dessert. You didn’t get to choose what each item was.

Then the idea of “a la carte” came about, which gave restaurantgoers the option to choose an itemized meal from a menu. The term became a loanword for English around the early 1800s.

What Are the Synonyms for a La Carte?

  • By the piece
  • Individually priced
  • Made to order
  • Separately priced
  • À la carte menu
  • Off the menu
  • Off the card

A La Carte Examples in a Sentence

What Is A La Carte Meaning Examples 1
  • The new Italian restaurant offers both a tasting menu and an a la carte menu, giving us a choice of dining experiences.
  • I prefer a la carte services over pre-set packages any day.
  • After years of working in the serving industry, my mother prefers to order a la carte because it allows her to sample different dishes without committing to a full meal set.
  • The a la carte pricing at the new sushi place is very affordable. 
  • I really enjoyed the a la carte menu that featured a delicious variety of appetizers, entrees, and mouth-watering desserts.
  • Check out the a la carte list! We can pick from pasta and burger and even vegetarian options!
  • For those with dietary restrictions, ordering a la carte can give you more flexibility and peace of mind knowing exactly what you’re going to get.
  • The chef’s specials were available a la carte, allowing people to try new dishes alongside their favorite menu items.

That’s a Wrap

I hope my quick guide to the French term a la carte explained everything you were hoping to discover about the loanword. Learning English can be hard, but adding loanwords from other languages on top of that can be tricky. Just remember that it simply means “off the menu.”