Talk the Talk: Understanding Restaurant Jargon
Restaurants operate in a unique environment. Unlike an office or retail job, restaurants are loud, crowded, and fast-paced, and employees tend to be much more casual. Friendships form quickly because everyone has to work together to be successful.
Over time, this environment has led to a whole language of restaurant lingo that both front of house and back of house use to communicate effectively. It’s fun and effective, but if you’re new, it can be confusing and intimidating to jump in with no prior knowledge.
Some food service terminology such as “bev nap” are obvious abbreviations (in this case, for “beverage napkin”). But there are many that aren’t so clear. Terms such as “86” are used every day in restaurants, but few know how they got started.
We’ve put together a list of 60 common restaurant abbreviations and terminology, so if someone asks you to bring them a “left-handed spatula,” you’ll know exactly how to respond.
The term “back of house” refers to the kitchen area where chefs, line cooks, prep cooks, dishwashers, and expeditors work. It also includes storage and coolers, as well as the area where servers typically pick up their orders before bringing them to their tables.
The entrance of the restaurant where the host is normally located and the dining and bar areas are called the “front of house” (FOH). Guests are only allowed in FOH, and it’s where wait staff, bartenders, and hosts spend the majority of their time.
- # top — Refers to the number of guests at a table. “I have a 10-top and a 5-top right now.”
- Bar key — A bottle opener. In most restaurants, this is considered a part of your uniform and should always be on you.
- Bev nap — Short for “beverage napkin,” this is the small square napkin put under a guest’s drink.
- Burn the ice — Disposing of ice by pouring hot water over it. If glass breaks near ice or something spills in the ice, the ice needs to be burned.
- Campers — Customers who stay at a table for hours. They “camp” out and prevent servers from getting new customers in those seats. More tables equal more money, so campers are typically not beloved by servers.
- Check in (also: two-bite check in) — Checking in with your table after they’ve had a few bites of their food to ensure everything is good. ou want to check on your table within a few minutes of bringing their food so if there are any issues, you can quickly remedy them. Some restaurants have specific rules regarding how and when to check-in.
- Comp — This is short for “complimentary.” An item can be comped as a way to smooth over any issues a guest may have had with their dining experience. For example, if the guest had to wait an inordinately long time for their meal, a manager might comp them dessert. Comps are also used in other situations such as a free app or dessert for a guest’s birthday.
- Cut — When service begins to slow down, servers will be “cut off” from taking more tables so they can complete their side work and go home. This usually happens in the order the servers came in, so the server who came in first will be cut first. Often it’s the FOH manager or host who lets you know when you’ve been cut.
- Double or triple sat — When a server is given two or three new tables at a time instead of the host going through the full server rotation. Being double or triple sat might happen because a guest requests a specific section or because the host made a mistake. It causes the server to be very busy all at once and can be stressful.
- Down or drop — Putting something on a guest’s table. “The check is down on table 27” or “Entrees dropped on 55.” This indicates where in the meal a particular table is. This is helpful in many situations, such as letting the host better estimate a wait time or letting a manager know when it’s time to check on a VIP table.
- “Food down, check down” — Indicates that the check should be brought to a guest at the same time as their meal. This is common in casual breakfast restaurants such as Waffle House. In most other types of restaurants, this is considered rude to the guest. They should feel as though they can take as much time as they want.
- Hands — A call for a server or food runner to bring plates to a table. An overwhelmed server might shout, “I need hands!” when they see their table’s order is up but they’re not able to get to it yet.
- Reso — Pronounced “rezzo,” this is short for “reservation.”
- Run/runner — To run means to bring food from the kitchen to the table, and a runner is a person who does this. Some restaurants have designated food runners, and some restaurants use servers as runners when needed.
- Section — A specific area of tables dedicated to a server. Having a designated section helps servers by keeping their tables all in the same area (though not all sections are created equal!). The best sections tend to be awarded based on seniority or merit.
- Server alley — The side of the kitchen opposite the cooks where the servers and expo stand.
- Karen— A name given to a female customer who is rude, obnoxious, or insufferable. Karens are typically middle-aged white women. Karen finds everything wrong with the restaurant, from the food to the service, and is difficult to satisfy.
- Skate — When a server leaves without doing their side work. “Tony skated so I had to roll all the silverware myself.” Don’t leave your fellow servers to pick up your slack. It’s a bad look and will often backfire by the manager assigning you all the side work on your next shift.
- Turns — The number of times a table has had a full cycle of service, from diners being sat to when they leave. “How many turns did you get on table 36?” The more tables are turned, the more opportunities the server has for tips.
- Turn and burn — To turn a table quickly because it is needed for a later reservation. “We’ve got another reso in an hour, so you need to turn and burn 47.”
- Verbal tip — Praises from a customer instead of actual money, such as, “The service was just wonderful! We had the best time and the food was delicious. Thank you so much!” Verbal tips are infuriating, since no server in the history of restaurants has ever been able to pay their rent with enthusiastic compliments to their landlord.
- Clopen — This is a hybrid of “close” and “open.” It’s when an employee closes one night and has to open the next morning. It can be pretty rough depending on your restaurant’s business hours.
- 86 — This indicates that the kitchen is out of an item or dish. “86 sirloin!” indicates to servers that this item can’t be sold to guests.
- 87 [new by Team Edizeven!] — A play on “86,” 87 means to start fresh. “We’re 86ing yesterday. Today is a new day.”
- Dish pit — The dishing washing area. “Grab me the pans from the dish pit.” If you can’t find a particular dish or utensil, it’s probably in the dish pit.
- Dragging — This indicates a plate is missing from an order. “We’re dragging a linguini on table 72!”
- Dying — When food sits too long in the window and is getting cold. “I need a runner now! The scampi is dying!” Letting your food die will not endear you to the BOH staff because that means they have to refire your order. It also means your customer has to wait longer than they should to get their food.
- Expo — Short for “expeditor,” it refers to the person in charge of communication between the BOH and FOH. Having one dedicated person for this keeps chaos at bay. Expos also organize the food in the window and add the finishing touches to a dish if needed.
- Family meal— A free, pre- or post-shift meal created by the chef or cooks and served to all the staff. It’s a way to show appreciation to the staff and for chefs to try out new dishes.
- FIFO — This stands for “first in, first out” and refers to the way new inventory is organized. The new items go behind the older ones so that the items that were there first get used first, ensuring freshness and quality.
- In the weeds — This means a person is extremely behind and needs any help they can get. This is often a response to someone asking how things are going or just a general call for help. If you hear, “I’m in the weeds!” and you have a free minute, see if you can organize a rescue effort by pitching in wherever the person needs help.
- Make a hole — Get out of the way because someone is coming through with something big or heavy.
- Marry — Combining two or more containers into one to fill it up. “Marry the ketchups.”
- Mods — Modifications to a dish. Some people affectionately refer to mods as “future mistakes.”
- On the fly — A direction to the kitchen that something is needed quick, fast, and in a hurry, either because the server forgot to put the order in or because the order was made wrong.
- Refire — Something that needs to be remade, almost always on the fly. “Refire steak for table 78!”
- Shift drink — A free drink from a manager after a shift is over. It can be a “thank you” for an employee’s hard work or an “I’m sorry” for something that went wrong that night.
- SOS — This is not a call for help. It means “sauce on the side.”
- Table — This indicates a specific table in the restaurant (table 14, table 37) or to refer to guests dining at a table (“My table ordered everything on the menu!”).
- The Man (also: The Boogie Man) — The health inspector. “Wipe down your stations. The Man is coming in!”
- Trail — The equivalent of a follow-up interview, trails are “live” interviews where potential candidates actually do the job. They’re usually around 10 hours total but broken up into different shifts. This allows the chef or manager to see how the person works under pressure.
- Walk-in — A walk-in cooler where food is stored.
- Window (also: pass) — The window or pass is where the food is put when it’s ready to be brought out to the guest. There’s usually a heat lamp above the food to keep it hot. The window/pass also separates the cooking stations from the server area of the kitchen.
Now that you’ve learned all the common food service terminology and abbreviations, it’s time to find an awesome restaurant job! Edizeven organizes thousands of restaurant job ads in one place to speed up your search time and also creates helpful resources for restaurant workers to further their careers.