The Cafeteria Experience

Jacqueline Norris-Holt

Quick Guide

  • Key Words: Writing, menu, instructions, ordering food
  • Learner English Level: Elementary and above
  • Learner Maturity Level: Junior high school to adult
  • Preparation Time: Varies
  • Activity Time: two–three 90-minute lessons
  • Materials: Computer, color printer, digital camera, various restaurant menus, and a university cafeteria

Around university campuses in Japan there are any number of restaurants and cafeterias, offering an array of appetizing meals for the hungry customer. However, what happens when the newly arrived exchange student or the visiting professor attempts to read the menu, all in Japanese, and then order something following the correct procedure? Here is a lesson idea which can be used to incorporate more written English around the campus and not just in the classroom. It is important to note that before undertaking this project it is necessary to obtain permission from the correct authorities and establish that the menu will be utilized in the cafeteria.


Step 1: Explain to the students that they will be responsible for the design of an English menu to be used in the university cafeteria. Ask them to suggest why such a project may be a useful undertaking.

Step 2: If the university has more than one restaurant or cafeteria it may be possible to divide the students into groups to complete the tasks. If there is only one, the teacher may decide to designate different jobs to each group or simply ask each group to complete the same cafeteria project, selecting the best one on completion.

Step 3: Distribute a variety of different menu to the students for them to examine.

Step 4: Direct the students to complete a worksheet while looking at the menus. Refer to Appendix 1.

Step 5: Instruct students to visit the cafeteria and take digital photos of either actual plates of food or the items displayed in the cabinet. These photographs are to be included in the students' menu design.

Step 6: Students should write down the following information about the items on the cafeteria menu: name of the dish, ingredients, price, and calorific value if available.

Step 7: If the cafeteria has a salad bar, the ingredients should be noted and the correct procedure for purchasing included.

Step 8: Tell students to write simple instructions of what is necessary in order to purchase food. This information is to be included in the menu. For an example, refer to Appendix 2.

Step 9: Once students have completed their research section of the lesson they are now instructed to use a word processing program to arrange the menu information and digital photos into an attractive and presentable format. They are encouraged to refer to both the menu samples provided by the teacher and the worksheet they completed.

Step 10: Upon completion, the menu can be printed and either laminated or placed in a clear plastic folder. This can then be presented to the cafeteria, for use by both students and teachers.


Around many school and university campuses in Japan there is very little English incorporated into signs and displays. This project is a useful exercise for students as it allows them to see that their work has a purpose and will be used by others. This type of activity could be extended to other areas to include the library, swimming pool, gymnasium, and administration office. A school/university handbook could be undertaken as a longer project, with the aim of providing exchange students to the campus some assistance in their new environment.

Note: This project may prove a useful addition to the cafeteria for any persons suffering from food allergies.

Appendix 1

Menu Analysis Worksheet

Choose three menus and answer the following questions:

  1. What is the name of the restaurant?
  2. What type of food does it serve?
  3. Is the menu divided into different sections? If so, what are they?
  4. What other information is included on the menu?
  5. List any special cooking terminology used, e.g., roast, fried, steamed.
  6. What items are available in different sizes?
  7. Does the menu include photographs? List examples.
  8. What are the advantages of using food photographs on a menu?
  9. How could this menu be improved?
  10. Give an overall rating for the menu.
    1. Excellent
    2. Very Good
    3. Good
    4. Average
    5. Below Average

Appendix 2

An example of common procedures for a university cafeteria:

  1. Collect a tray.
  2. Go to the hot food dispenser and ask for the dish you want.
  3. Take any cold foods from the refrigerator cabinet by yourself.
  4. If you would like rice, request the serving size.
  5. Place any salads on the scales to be weighed.
  6. Move to the cashier.
  7. Cold/hot tea is self-serve and free.
  8. Salad dressings/mayonnaise are self-serve and free.
  9. Collect eating utensils from the tray located near the cashier.
  10. When finished return tray and plates to the sink area.