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Entree vs. Appetizer: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 7, 2023
An entree is the main course of a meal, while an appetizer is a small dish served before the main course to stimulate appetite.

Key Differences

In dining, both entrees and appetizers play distinct roles in the course of a full meal. The entree is considered the focal point, often containing the primary protein and most substantial components of the meal. Conversely, the appetizer, as its name suggests, is meant to whet the palate, serving as a teaser for what's to come.
While entrees are substantial and fulfilling, often being the most hearty and sizable portion of a meal, appetizers are intentionally designed to be lighter. These starter dishes give diners a taste of the chef's style or to complement the theme of the main dishes.
It's common to see diverse ingredients and preparation methods in entrees, ranging from meats to vegetarian dishes, grilled to baked. Appetizers, on the other hand, might include soups, salads, or bite-sized items, and their primary function is to keep diners engaged and anticipate the upcoming entree.
Price points in menus often reflect the difference between entrees and appetizers. Given the substantial nature of entrees, they are typically priced higher. In contrast, appetizers usually come at a lower cost due to their smaller portion and role as a prelude to the main dish.
In some cultures or regions, the term entree can mean a starter course, leading to potential confusion. However, in American English, the entree is firmly the main course, with appetizers preceding it.

Comparison Chart

Course Order

Main course in a meal
Served before the main course

Portion Size

Typically larger and more substantial
Smaller, meant to stimulate appetite


Generally higher due to its substantiality
Usually priced lower


To satiate and satisfy the diner
To whet the palate for the courses ahead

Variety in Menus

Main proteins and dishes
Soups, salads, bite-sized items

Entree and Appetizer Definitions


The main course of a meal.
The steak and vegetables were the entree for the evening.


A preliminary to the main dishes of a meal.
The bruschetta appetizer hinted at the Italian theme of the meal.


A dish served in formal dining before the main course in some regions.
In parts of Europe, a pasta dish can serve as an entree.


A small dish served before the main course.
We started with an appetizer of shrimp cocktail.


The primary dish around which a meal is built.
The roasted chicken entree came with two sides.


Food intended to whet the appetite.
The soup appetizer was both warm and comforting.


The focal point of a meal in terms of content and portion.
The chef's special entree for the night was lamb shank.


Often bite-sized or portioned to be shared among diners.
The nachos appetizer was perfect for the table to share.


The main dish of a meal.


A light dish meant to introduce the meal's flavors.
The chef prepared a unique appetizer using seasonal ingredients.


A dish served in formal dining immediately before the main course or between two principal courses.


A food or drink served usually before a meal to stimulate the appetite.


The act of entering.


A small, light, and usually savory first course in a meal


The power, permission, or liberty to enter; admittance.


Something that creates or increases excitement for what is to follow.


An opening or introductory movement at the beginning of a dance such as a pas de deux.


Something which creates or whets an appetite.


A coming in, or entrance; hence, freedom of access; permission or right to enter; as, to have the entrée of a house.


Food or drink to stimulate the appetite (usually served before a meal or as the first course)


In French usage, a dish served at the beginning of dinner to give zest to the appetite; in English usage, a side dish, served with a joint, or between the courses, as a cutlet, scalloped oysters, etc.


The dish which comprises the main course of a meal, especially in a restaurant; as, there were many entrees on the menu.


The principal dish of a meal


The right to enter


Something that provides access (entry or exit);
They waited at the entrance to the garden
Beggars waited just outside the entryway to the cathedral


The act of entering;
She made a graceful entree into the ballroom


A substantial dish in a dining setting.
For my entree, I chose the grilled salmon.


Can the term entree mean a starter dish in any culture?

Yes, in some European regions, entree might refer to a starter dish.

Are salads always appetizers?

While often served as appetizers, some salads can be substantial enough to be entrees.

Do all meals require both an entree and appetizer?

No, while common in many dining settings, not every meal features both.

Is it common to share entrees?

Some people choose to share entrees, especially if portions are large or for variety.

Are there vegetarian appetizers and entrees?

Yes, many menus offer both vegetarian appetizers and entrees.

Are appetizers always savory?

While many appetizers are savory, some can be sweet or a mix of both flavors.

Can desserts be considered entrees?

Typically, desserts are a separate course and not considered entrees.

Can I skip the appetizer when dining?

Absolutely, it's a personal choice whether to have an appetizer or go straight to the entree.

Are appetizers only for formal dining?

No, appetizers can be found in various dining settings, from casual to formal.

Is the entree always the most expensive item on the menu?

While entrees are typically priced higher than appetizers, they might not always be the most expensive items.

Can an appetizer be a meal in itself?

Some appetizers can be filling and substantial enough to serve as a light meal.

Why might an entree be more fulfilling than an appetizer?

Entrees are designed to be the main meal component, so they are typically more substantial.

Can an entree consist of multiple items?

Yes, an entree can include the main item plus sides or accompaniments.

Is bread served before the meal considered an appetizer?

While bread can precede a meal, it's not technically an appetizer but rather a complimentary offering.

Can drinks be appetizers?

While drinks can precede a meal, they're not categorized as appetizers.

Is it a faux pas to order only an appetizer and not an entree?

No, diners have the freedom to order as they please, whether it's just an appetizer, entree, or both.

How do I choose between multiple entrees on a menu?

It's a matter of personal preference, dietary restrictions, and curiosity about the dishes.

Do all restaurants offer appetizers?

While many do, not every restaurant features appetizers on their menu.

Are entrees always hot dishes?

While many entrees are served hot, some, like salads or sushi, can be cold.

Can appetizers be spicy?

Yes, depending on the cuisine and dish, appetizers can be spicy.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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