Whether you are thinking about opening a restaurant, or even just starting out your career working in one, it’s going to take more than just knowing how to cook a filet mignon and plate a gorgeous appetizer. It turns out you’re also going to have to learn a new language of restaurant terms, too!
The hospitality industry has developed its own vernacular—one that is unique and efficient (and peppered with expletives). While each restaurant has its own unique vernacular, many restaurant terms are commonly used across the industry.
We reached out to chefs, bussers, servers, hosts, line cooks, owners and managers to build a definitive list of restaurant terms, lingo and slang—from basic to the most obscure. Here’s your guide to common (and not so common) restaurant terms.
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2-top, 4-top, etc…
This is the number of guests you seat at a table. The host will typically use this term when informing the server their table has been sat with new guests. A 2-top has 2 people, a 4-top has 4, and so on and so forth.
“I just sat you with a 4-top near the bar.”
Sometimes, the kitchen will run out of an ingredient in a menu item (no more cinnamon sugar rims on the fall cocktail), a drink, or an entire menu item. This means it’s 86ed. Usually, the manager or the kitchen staff will alert servers so they don’t offer it or can tell guests.
“We have to 86 the surf and turf special for the rest of the dinner service.”
Adam and Eve on a raft
This refers to two eggs—poached or scrambled—on toast.
“I need those eggs right away. That’s the third Adam and Eve on a raft in a row we’ve had ordered!”
This references the total number of a dish the kitchen needs to make in a time frame. For example, if there are multiple ticket orders in the window, the server or manager, or even the chef, might call out “5 fish tacos all day!” meaning that there are 5 orders to be sent out from the kitchen out of everything in the window.
“I’ve got 5 fish tacos all day!”
À la carte
This French term means a menu item is sold by itself. In a steak house, it is common the steaks are sold with sides a la carte. This means the steaks don’t come with a side included.
“Does the steak come with mashed potatoes or is it a la carte?”
Back of the house (BOH)
The back of the house staff is the team members who work in the “back” of the restaurant. These folks are the chefs, kitchen prep, and storage area staff.
A small, square napkin for drinks.
This is the staff member who cleans up the dishes, napkins, and other debris from a table wipes it down and clears it off for the next guests.
“We need a busser to table 5.”
Removing an order from the cook’s kitchen display system screen once it’s made.
These are guests who linger at their table after they’ve finished their meals and paid the check. For a restaurant server, this isn’t great. Servers would rather turn their table to a new set of guests and for guests waiting this can be unpleasant, too!
“These campers at table 12 paid 15 minutes ago and our waitlist is growing by the minute!”
A dish (or a meal!) is comped when it is given to a guest for free. This can happen for many reasons – the dish or drink is not up the restaurant’s standards, or perhaps it is done as a gesture to an important guest, or a guest celebrating.
“I comped the appetizers at table 5 because their meals came out cold after the kitchen lost their order.”
When a server has been cut from serving more tables.
“Yeah, I was going to work the late service but then I got cut.”
This term is often heard in the back of the house. It’s a plate that has been in the window and under the heat lamps for too long.
“I need a salmon dish on the fly, this one’s dead.”
Begin cooking the accompanying item.
Drop the check
This is when the server presents the guest with their check at the end of the meal.
“I will be right back to drop the check with you, no rush though!”
This is when a host seats a server’s section back-to-back. This can be stressful timing-wise for a server to greet, take drink orders, take food orders, and run food at essentially the same time.
“Can you take these drinks to take 7? The host double-sat me.”
When a restaurant employee works two shifts back to back.
“I am glad to have tomorrow off, I’ve worked double shifts the entire weekend.”
This is a table in a restaurant that only has two seats.
“I have a deuce waiting and a party of three that just was sat.”
The person in charge of prepping the plates and making sure their presentation is on point before it leaves the kitchen.
This refers to prepped food items: First in, First out.
The head chef in the kitchen uses this term to let everyone know it’s time to start cooking or prepping a dish.
“Fire those steaks for table 15!”
Exactly what you think: this person’s job is to run the food to the table. This job is typically a good one for someone new who is training and getting familiar with dishes.
“The food runner just dropped table 20’s apps so it’s time to ring in their dinner order.”
Front of the house (FOH)
This is the front of the restaurant – the dining room, waiting area and the bar. This is where the customer-facing employees are: the servers, hostesses, bartenders, etc.
An acronym for a full-service restaurant.
When the FOH and BOH are totally in sync.
In the weeds
If a server is swamped – perhaps she has a lot of tables to serve at once and was double or even triple-sat, or has a large party she is “in the weeds.”
“Can you get the drinks from the bar for table 12? I’m in the weeds with this party of 8.”
In the window
When an order is ready to be taken out from the kitchen to a guest’s table, chefs will put it “in the window” – which is the warming area between the kitchen and the serving station.
“I’ve got two penne a la vodka dishes in the window.”
This stands for Kitchen Display System; a system in kitchens that displays orders on a screen to chefs. It’s typically integrated with the restaurant point of sale so that orders get pushed to it as soon as they’re taken.
This is a warning that bartenders and servers use to notify customers when the kitchen or bar is about to close.
“Last call before the kitchen/bar closes. Would you like to order anything beforehand?”
Mise en place
this is a French culinary term that directly translates to “putting in place.” It refers to preparing all of your ingredients and cooking tools prior to actually cooking a dish and is typically done before service starts.
On the fly
On the busiest, or even slowest, nights mistakes can happen. A server may forget to put an order in or a guest may not like their meal. In these circumstances, the kitchen may need tot to make a dish as soon as they possibly can – this is “on the fly.” The kitchen is not a fan of this… but it happens.
“I forgot to put in table 5’s full entree order. I need two pasta specials on the fly!”
A customer who makes it their mission to find negative things to say in a review.
A group of restaurant guests.
“Incoming party of 6”
When a server or bartender starts working with a guest that was being served by a different employee.
“Can you pick up table 15? That’s the owner’s daughter.”
An acronym for point of sale; the system that wait staff uses to place orders and where each sale is recorded.
Sell the item that the person is referring to.
“Make sure you push the salmon special tonight. We don’t want to see that fish go to waste!”
An acronym for quick service restaurant.
The act of bringing something to a table.
“Run these entrees to table 3.”
The person “running” food to the table.
Informing diners of the special and successfully selling the special.
This is no one’s favorite… but it has to happen. This is prep work performed by the FOH staff.
“Make sure you roll the silverware tonight, that side work has to be done.”
An acronym for sauce on the side.
to substitute one menu item for another.
“Sub the side salad with fries.”
This is when the kitchen makes the most of an ingredient.
“We only have 3 onions left… stretch it to the end of the night!”
The same thing as an appetizer or entrée.
When a diner orders something exactly the way it is on your menu.
This is the amount of time a table has between seating and paying. Sometimes you will also hear it referred to as “turn time.” For a server, this can be a huge difference in the number of guests they are able to seat and serve.
“Nice job turning tables last night! You were able to serve 5 more tables than the rest of the servers.”
The number of people at a dining party.
“Eight top at table six.”
When an order is entered into the restaurant POS, it prints out a ticket that alerts the kitchen of the order.
“I have 10 tickets in the window.”
A technique that servers use to get customers to purchase more expensive menu items.
The inventory that needs to get used first so that it doesn’t go to waste.
Most commonly refers to a walk-in refrigerator.
A diner who leaves the restaurant without paying.
Waxing the table
A term used to infer giving VIP treatment to a table.
“Do you know who that is? Wax the table.”
These are inexpensive house liquors. It’s important for all of your staff to understand the difference.
“Are you sure they wanted well for those martinis?”
The kitchen expeditor.
Food that’s in the process of being prepared.
Your definitive guide to restaurant slang
How many of these restaurant terms did you already know? Do you know any restaurant terms that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the Facebook comments!