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The meaning and origin of the expression: À la carte

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À la carte

Meaning

On the menu, with each dish separately priced.

Origin

This is a French term, literally translated as 'according to the card' (the 'card' is the menu card). This applies to meals which are ordered in a restaurant as separate items, each with a specified price, as distinct from a 'table d'hôte' meal, which has a fixed inclusive price.

The date of the earliest French usage isn't known. In English the first citation is Joseph Sherer's, Notes and Reflections During a Ramble in Germany, 1826:

"He will find comfortable apartments, civil attendance, excellent fare, à la carte, at any hour."

See also - other French phrases in English.