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à la carte

À la carte is French. Literally translated, it means “to the menu.”

In practice, if you order à la carte, you order each item independently off the menu. For example, you might order a separate cocktail, aperitif, appetizer, soup, salad, pasta, main course, side dish (or multiple side dishes), dessert, cheese course, wine to go with each course, and after dinner drink. If so, you are well on your way to becoming a morbidly obese drunk, assuming you aren’t already there.

Ordering à la carte contrasts with ordering from a fixed price menu or, to stick with the French, prix fixe. A prix fixe menu lists a fixed price that includes specific selections for the various courses.

There may be some choice within each course, but the selection is usually not nearly as wide as on the à la carte menu. And the number of courses will rarely be as great as what you ordered in the à la carte example above, you fat sot.

To my mind, if à la carte means “to the menu” it’s a bit of a misnomer to say that it is mutually exclusive with prix fixe—and the two are mutually exclusive in restaurants. The prix fixe selection is often also on the menu or possibly on a separate menu. You’re not forced to simply order it and take whatever they give you.

Then again, my complaint might simply be a result of my almost total lack of proficiency in the French language. Or it could be because I’m an exceptionally anal retentive stickler.

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