What is the Difference Between an Entrée and a Dinner? Clearing Up the Confusion

Have you ever found yourself deliberating over the menu in a fancy restaurant, trying to decipher what the difference is between an entrée and a dinner? The truth is, many people use these terms interchangeably, without realizing that there is, in fact, a difference between the two. While the distinction may seem trivial at first, it can often mean the difference between a meal that leaves you satisfied and one that leaves you feeling underwhelmed.

At its core, the difference between an entrée and a dinner is one of scope. An entrée typically refers to the main course of a meal, usually a meat or fish dish accompanied by one or two sides. Meanwhile, a dinner can encompass a broader range of courses, often including appetizers, soups or salads, and desserts, in addition to the main course. While both entrées and dinners can be satisfying in their own right, it’s important to understand what you’re ordering so that you can make an informed decision based on your appetite and dietary needs.

So, how can you tell the difference between an entrée and a dinner? In many cases, it comes down to the context in which the terms are being used. A restaurant may offer a separate entrée menu with a limited selection of main courses, while advertising “dinner specials” that include a broader range of courses. Ultimately, however, the distinction between an entrée and a dinner is ultimately up to the individual eatery, which is why it’s always a good idea to ask your waiter for clarification if you’re unsure.

Understanding Meal Courses

When dining out or hosting a formal event, understanding meal courses is important. Each dish is served in a specific order and with a specific purpose. Meal courses typically include an appetizer, entree, and dessert. However, depending on the event or restaurant, there can be additional courses such as a soup, salad, or cheese course. Understanding the purpose of each course can enhance the dining experience and show appreciation for the art of culinary.

Types of Meal Courses

  • Appetizer: served before the entree to stimulate the appetite and introduce flavors, usually a small dish such as a salad or soup.
  • Entree: the main course of the meal, typically a larger portion of protein such as steak or fish with sides such as vegetables and starches.
  • Dessert: served at the end of the meal as a sweet treat to finish the dining experience, such as cake or ice cream.

Formal vs. Informal Dining

Formal dining typically includes additional courses such as a soup and salad course. It is important to understand which utensils and glasses correspond to each course and to wait for all table guests to receive their course before beginning to eat. In informal dining, dishes are typically served family-style and guests can serve themselves. Understanding these differences can enhance the dining experience and show appreciation for the art of culinary.

Sample Menu with Meal Courses

Below is an example of a four-course meal at a formal dining event:

Course Dish
First Course Salad with vinaigrette dressing
Second Course Potato and leek soup
Third Course Beef filet with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes
Fourth Course Chocolate cake with raspberry coulis

Knowing the order and purpose of each course can enhance the dining experience and show appreciation for the efforts of the chef and restaurant staff.

Origins of the Term Entrée

The term “entrée” has a fascinating history that can be traced back to France in the 18th century. In those days, a meal was typically served in courses, with each course consisting of several dishes. The main course or “plat principal” was served after the lighter dishes, and it usually consisted of a meat-based dish.

However, the French aristocracy began to grow tired of the heavy meat dishes and demanded something lighter. Thus, the “entrée” was born. Originally, the term entrée was used to describe a dish that was served before the main course, but over time, it came to refer to a smaller, light, and savoury dish served after the appetizer and before the main course.

Types of Entrée

  • Hot and Cold: The entrée can be hot or cold, depending on the recipe. For example, a cold entrée can be a salad or a charcuterie plate, while a hot entrée can be a soup or a cooked vegetable dish.
  • Vegan and Vegetarian: With the rise of vegan and vegetarian lifestyles, the entrée has evolved to cater to these dietary choices. Today, vegan and vegetarian entrées are a staple in many restaurants and home-cooked meals.
  • Regional Cuisines: International cuisines have their own variations of the entrée, such as tapas in Spain, mezze in the Middle East, and sushi in Japan. These dishes vary in size, ingredients, and preparation, but all retain the light and savoury aspect of the entrée.

Entrée vs. Dinner

Many people confuse the terms “entrée” and “dinner,” but they are not the same thing. The entrée is a small, savoury dish served before the main course, while dinner is a larger meal that can include appetizers, entrees, side dishes, desserts, and drinks.

Additionally, the entrée is typically more casual and served at smaller gatherings, while dinner is more formal and served at larger gatherings such as weddings or holiday dinners.

It’s also worth noting that the term “entrée” may have a different meaning outside of France. In British English, “entrée” is used to describe the main course, which can be confusing to those accustomed to the French usage.


The entrée is a culinary term that has been around for centuries, evolving over time to cater to different dietary choices and cultural tastes. While it may have a different meaning in other parts of the world, it remains a staple in French cuisine and a popular dish for those looking for a light, savoury appetizer.

Origin: French cuisine
Meaning: Savoury dish served before the main course
Types: Hot or cold, vegan/vegetarian, regional cuisines
Confusion with: Dinner or the main course, which is used differently in British English

Knowing the difference between an entrée and a dinner is not just about semantics, but also helps you understand a little better about culinary customs and preferences. The next time you are out to eat at a French restaurant, you can impress your companions with your knowledge of the history and evolution of the entrée.

Variations of Traditional Dinner Meals

While many people think of a traditional dinner as having a meat, a starch, and a vegetable, the variations of this classic meal can make each night feel like a completely different culinary experience. Here are some popular variations on traditional dinner meals:

  • One-Pot Meals – These meals are perfect for busy weeknights when you don’t have much time to spend in the kitchen. One-pot meals like chili, stews, and casseroles can be made in advance and thrown in the oven when you’re ready to eat. Plus, the leftovers make great lunches!
  • Vegetarian/Vegan Dinners – Whether you’re a full-time vegetarian/vegan or just trying to cut back on your meat consumption, these dinners can be just as satisfying as their meat-filled counterparts. Popular vegetarian/vegan dinner options include roasted vegetable quinoa bowls, vegan lentil shepherd’s pie, and zucchini noodles with tomato sauce.
  • International Cuisine – Why stick to traditional American fare when you can branch out and try dishes from around the world? Shake things up with a Greek moussaka, Indian curry, or Vietnamese pho. You’ll expand your culinary horizons and find new favorite meals along the way.

Side Dishes to Elevate Your Dinner Game

No matter what main course you choose, the right side dishes can bring your dinner to the next level. Here are some ideas:

  • Roasted Vegetables – Roasting veggies like carrots, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes is a great way to enhance their natural sweetness. Plus, it’s an easy and healthy side dish option.
  • Grain Salads – Grain salads like quinoa and farro can be served hot or cold and are hearty enough to serve as a main course. Mix in some roasted vegetables, nuts, and a dressing of your choice for a delicious and filling side dish.
  • Cauliflower Mash – Swap out traditional mashed potatoes for a healthier version made with cauliflower. Add some garlic, chives, and a bit of cream cheese or plain Greek yogurt to make it extra tasty.

Table Setting Tips for a Perfect Dinner Party

Hosting a dinner party is a great way to bring people together, but it can also be overwhelming. Here are some tips for setting a beautiful table:

1. Choose a theme or color scheme and stick to it for a cohesive look.

2. Invest in some nice linens and dinnerware to elevate the overall look of the table.

3. Include a centerpiece like fresh flowers or a candle arrangement.

4. Set out water and wine glasses, and make sure to have enough for each guest.

5. Consider placecards to ensure a smooth seating arrangement.

Formal Dinner Party Casual Dinner Party
Multiple courses One or two courses
Formal attire Casual attire
Elaborate table settings with fine china and silverware Simpler table settings with everyday dishes and utensils

By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to hosting a successful dinner party.

Difference in meal portions between entrée and dinner

One of the main differences between an entrée and a dinner is the portion size. An entrée typically refers to a small dish that is served before the main course. In some cases, an entrée may be the main course if it is a larger portion size. A dinner, on the other hand, refers to the main course or the complete meal.

  • The portion size of an entrée is usually smaller than that of a dinner.
  • An entrée is intended to be a small appetizer or starter dish before the main course.
  • A dinner, on the other hand, is a full meal that includes the main course and usually sides such as vegetables or a salad.

When looking at the portion size of an entrée and a dinner, it is important to note that the size will vary depending on the restaurant and culture. In some cultures, such as in France, the portion sizes of meals tend to be smaller than in the United States. In the US, larger portion sizes are often desired and expected.

Below is a table that shows typical portion sizes for entrées and dinners in the United States:

Type of Meal Portion Size
Appetizer/Entrée 4-6 oz
Dinner/Main Course 8-12 oz (often with sides)

Overall, the portion size difference between an entrée and a dinner is primarily based on the intention of the course and the culture in which it is being served.

Is there a cultural difference between the two?

While entrée and dinner are commonly used terms in the United States, they may not have the same cultural meaning in other parts of the world.

In France, for example, the term “entrée” refers to a small dish typically served before the main course. In this case, the entrée is not the same as the American usage of the term, which refers to the main course. In addition, the French also use the term “plat principal” to refer to the main course, which further illustrates the differences between the cultural usage of these terms.

Similarly, in Australia, the term “entrée” is not commonly used. Instead, the term “entree” refers to a small dish served before the main course. Australians commonly use the term “main” or “main course” to refer to the main dish served during a meal.

Key Differences Between Entrée and Dinner

  • The term “entrée” originated in France and initially referred to a small dish served before the main course
  • The American usage of the term “entrée” refers to the main dish served during a meal
  • Australian usage of “entree” refers to a small dish served before the main course and use “main” or “main course” to refer to the main dish served during a meal

How to Navigate These Cultural Differences

If you’re traveling to a different country and unsure about the cultural usage of these terms, it’s always best to clarify with the server or ask a local for assistance. In countries like France, where language barriers may be present, it’s particularly important to ask ahead of time to ensure you’re ordering the correct dish.

Another way to navigate these cultural differences is to pay attention to menu descriptions. If a menu lists a dish as a “starter” or “small plate,” it may be the equivalent of an entrée in American usage, while “main course” or “plat principal” may be the equivalent of dinner.

Summary Table of Differences

Country Entrée Meaning Dinner Meaning
United States Main course of a meal Main course of a meal
France Small dish served before the main course Main course of a meal
Australia Small dish served before the main course Main course of a meal

Understanding the cultural differences between entrée and dinner can ensure that you order the right dish and have an enjoyable dining experience.

Which type of cuisine typically features entrées versus dinner?

When it comes to the difference between entrées and dinner, the type of cuisine being served plays an important role. Let’s take a closer look.

  • American Cuisine: In American cuisine, the terms “entrée” and “dinner” are often used interchangeably. However, in more traditional settings, the entrée is typically the main course and is served after appetizers and salads, while dinner refers to the entire meal.
  • Italian Cuisine: Italian cuisine often features pasta dishes as entrées, while meat, poultry or seafood dishes are served as the main course or “secondi”. Salads are typically served as a separate course before the main meal.
  • French Cuisine: In French cuisine, the entrée refers to a small dish served at the beginning of the meal, often a soup or a pâté. The main course is known as the “plat principal” and typically features meat, poultry or fish. Dessert follows the main course.

It’s clear that the definition of entrée versus dinner varies depending on the cuisine being served. In some instances, the terms are used interchangeably, while in others, they refer to different courses altogether.

What are some common entrée and dinner options?

When dining out or hosting a dinner party, choosing between entrée and dinner options can be confusing. While some people use the terms interchangeably, they actually refer to different courses of a meal. Understanding the difference between them can help ensure a well-rounded dining experience.

The entrée is typically the main course of a meal, served after the appetizers or soup and before dessert. It is usually a more substantial dish, featuring a protein such as meat, fish, or poultry, accompanied by vegetables, starches or grains. Examples of common entrées include steak, chicken Alfredo, salmon, or pork chops.

  • Steak – A classic American entrée, steak is typically cooked to order and served with a side of potatoes, vegetables, or salad.
  • Chicken Alfredo – A popular Italian dish, this entrée features chicken cooked in a creamy Alfredo sauce and served over pasta.
  • Salmon – A healthy and flavorful fish option, salmon can be grilled, baked, or pan-seared, and is often served with a side of vegetables or rice.

Dinner, on the other hand, refers to the entire meal, consisting of multiple courses including appetizers, soup or salad, entrée, and dessert. The entrée is just one component of the overall dinner experience.

When planning a dinner party or event, it’s important to consider a balance of flavors and textures in the overall meal. For example, if serving a heavy entrée such as steak, balance it with lighter sides such as a green salad or grilled vegetables. If serving a light and healthy entrée like grilled fish, consider a heartier side such as risotto or mashed potatoes to round out the meal.

Entrée Side Dish
Grilled chicken Roasted sweet potatoes
Pork tenderloin Sautéed spinach
Rack of lamb Garlic mashed potatoes

Ultimately, whether you choose to order an entrée or plan a full dinner, the goal is to enjoy a satisfying and well-rounded meal. By understanding the difference between the two and choosing complementary flavors, you can ensure a memorable dining experience for yourself and your guests.

FAQs on the Difference between an Entrée and a Dinner

Q: Are entrée and dinner the same thing?

A: No, they are not the same thing. In fact, entrée and dinner refer to different courses of a meal.

Q: What is an entrée?

A: In American usage, the term “entrée” typically refers to the main course of a meal. It can be a meat dish, a vegetarian option, or any other dish that is substantial enough to serve as the centerpiece of the meal.

Q: What is dinner?

A: Dinner is an evening meal that is often the largest meal of the day. It typically includes multiple courses, such as an appetizer, entree, and dessert.

Q: Can dinner include an entrée?

A: Yes, dinner can certainly include an entrée. In fact, in many countries, the entrée is the main course of the dinner.

Q: Is an entrée always a meat dish?

A: No, an entrée doesn’t have to be a meat dish. It can be any substantial dish that serves as the main course of the meal, regardless of whether it contains meat.

Closing Thoughts

Now that you know the difference between an entrée and a dinner, you can impress your friends and family with your knowledge at your next meal. Remember, while entrée refers to the main course of a meal, dinner is an evening meal that may include multiple courses. Thanks for reading and we hope to see you back here soon for more interesting food topics.