If you've ever worked in the restaurant industry or found yourself eavesdropping on the chatter of chefs and waitstaff during a busy service, you'll know that the restaurant industry has a language all its own. Whether you're dipping your toes into the culinary world, dreaming of opening your own spot, or just a food lover eager to know more, we’ll decode some of the most common, quirky, and downright essential restaurant terms and slang in this article.
Back of House (BOH)
Definition: The area of a restaurant that guests do not see, including the kitchen and storage areas. It involves all the operations necessary to prepare and cook the food.
Example: "The BOH team is introducing a new inventory system next week to streamline kitchen operations."
Definition: A term used when an item on the menu is no longer available.
Example: "The salmon has been 86'd for the night because we've run out."
Definition: Refers to the total number of certain dishes needed at a given time, often used during a rush to keep track of orders.
Example: "We need three steaks all day, meaning three steaks in total on the current tickets."
Definition: A warning called out when moving behind someone to avoid collisions or spills.
Example: "Behind!" to alert a colleague you’re passing closely with hot pans or sharp knives.
Definition: A term for a stove's heating element, but in slang, it's used to refer to a very busy night.
Example: "We're on full burners tonight" meaning the kitchen is exceptionally busy.
Definition: The act of announcing orders as they come in to keep the kitchen staff informed.
Example: "I'm calling two burgers medium rare, one veggie pasta!"
Definition: Refers to the number of guests served or the number of dishes prepared.
Example: "We have 100 covers tonight" indicating 100 guests to serve.
Definition: Colored labels used to indicate the day of the week an item was opened or prepared, ensuring proper rotation for freshness.
Example: "Check the daydots on the sauce to see if it's still good."
Definition: A dish that has been sitting too long and may need to be remade before serving.
Example: "That burger is a dead plate, refire it."
Definition: Slang for a table of two.
Example: "We have a deuce on table five waiting for appetizers."
Definition: To start cooking an order.
Example: "Fire table six's mains now."
Definition: A term used when a dish needs to be quickly reheated or finished under a broiler.
Example: "Flash that lasagna, it's not hot enough."
Definition: Short for "mise en place," referring to having all your ingredients prepped and ready to go.
Example: "Make sure your meez is set up before service starts."
On the Fly
Definition: An urgent request to prioritize a dish or correction, often due to an error or a guest's special request.
Example: "I need a Caesar salad on the fly, the last one was sent back."
Definition: The area where food is plated and inspected before being sent to the dining room.
Example: "Get those dishes up to the pass, they're ready to go out."
Definition: The ticket holder where orders are lined up for the kitchen to execute.
Example: "The rail is full, we're slammed."
Definition: A warning called out when moving with or handing off a sharp knife.
Example: "Sharp, coming through!" to prevent accidents.
Definition: An internship or trial period where a cook works in a kitchen to learn new techniques or recipes.
Example: "We've got a stage helping out tonight."
Definition: Refers to the number of guests at a table or the number of portions needed.
Example: "There's a four-top on table eight that just ordered appetizers."
Definition: The act of cleaning your station thoroughly, usually done before and after service.
Example: "Give your station a good wipe down before you clock out."
Definition: A term used in both front and back of house to indicate that an order or table is approximately five minutes away from being ready or needing attention.
Example: "Table 12 is 5 out; get ready to clear their main course plates and offer dessert menus."
Cooked to Order
Definition: Food that is prepared according to each guest's specific request at the time the order is placed, ensuring freshness and customization.
Example: "All our steaks are cooked to order, so please ask the guest how they'd like theirs prepared."
Front of House Restaurant Terms
Front of House (FOH)
Definition: The area of a restaurant where guests are served, including the dining room and bar area. It involves all customer-facing operations.
Example: "The FOH staff meeting will focus on improving guest satisfaction and reviewing new health protocols."
Definition: Short for "complimentary," referring to free goods or services given to guests.
Example: "Comp the dessert for table 7 due to the long wait for their main courses."
Definition: Assigning two tables to a server at the same time, often due to a rush.
Example: "Be aware, you've got a double seating coming your way with tables 8 and 9."
Definition: A table setting for four guests or two guests, respectively.
Example: "We need a four-top set up ASAP for the next reservation."
Definition: The staff member, often a host or hostess, who welcomes guests upon arrival.
Example: "Our greeter will show you to your table."
Definition: A reservation that does not arrive and has not been canceled.
Example: "Table 12 is a no-show, so you can give it to the next walk-in."
Definition: A reference point used by servers to organize and remember orders by their position at the table.
Example: "Use the pivot point to keep track of who ordered what without mixing up the dishes."
Definition: Clearing unnecessary plates and utensils from a table while guests are still seated.
Example: "Pre-buss table 4 before you bring out their entrees."
Definition: A staff member responsible for delivering food from the kitchen to the guests' tables.
Example: "We need a runner for these dishes going out to table 6."
Definition: A trial opening for a limited number of guests, used to train staff and work out service kinks.
Example: "We're having a soft opening next week to get the staff up to speed."
Definition: The complete cycle from when guests are seated, served, and leave, and the table is set for new guests.
Example: "We're aiming for a 45-minute table turn during peak hours."
Definition: A portion of tips that servers share with other FOH and sometimes BOH staff.
Example: "Don't forget to tip out the bartenders and bussers at the end of your shift."
Definition: Adding more beverage to a guest's glass without them asking.
Example: "Top off the wine for table 5; their glasses are half empty."
Turn and Burn
Definition: The practice of moving guests through their dining experience quickly to free up tables.
Example: "We need to turn and burn tables tonight to accommodate all the reservations."
Definition: Suggesting higher-priced items to guests to increase the bill total.
Example: "Try to upsell premium spirits when guests order cocktails."
Definition: A small, complimentary drink served alongside a primary drink order, typically water or soda.
Example: "He ordered a whiskey neat with a water back."
Definition: The process of making a drink directly in the glass it will be served in, usually starting with ice.
Example: "Build a rum and coke over ice in a highball glass."
Definition: A drink served alongside a shot, intended to be sipped immediately after to soften the taste of the alcohol.
Example: "Serve the tequila shot with a lime wedge and a salt rim as a chaser."
Definition: A small amount of ingredient added to a cocktail, typically referring to bitters or a similar liquid.
Example: "Add just a dash of Angostura bitters to the Manhattan."
Definition: Refers to a martini with a smaller amount of vermouth; the drier the martini, the less vermouth.
Example: "He ordered his martini extra dry, so only use a splash of vermouth."
Definition: Pouring a small amount of one ingredient on top of another in a drink, creating a layer.
Example: "Float dark rum on top of the Mai Tai for a stronger flavor."
Definition: Pouring liquor directly from the bottle into a glass or shaker without using a measuring tool.
Example: "I free pour the vodka for speed, but I've practiced to get the right amount every time."
Definition: A type of drink served in a tall glass, typically consisting of a base spirit and a larger proportion of a non-alcoholic mixer.
Example: "A gin and tonic is served as a highball."
Definition: Crushing herbs, fruits, or spices in the bottom of a glass to release their flavors before adding the main liquid ingredients.
Example: "Muddle the mint leaves and lime for the mojito before adding rum."
Definition: A way to serve a drink that is pure and unadulterated without ice or mixers.
Example: "Serve the scotch neat in a lowball glass."
On the Rocks
Definition: Serving a drink over ice.
Example: "He wants his bourbon on the rocks."
Definition: Applying salt, sugar, or another garnish to the edge of a glass.
Example: "Rim the margarita glass with salt before pouring the drink."
Definition: Mixing ingredients in a shaker with ice before straining into a glass, used for cocktails that include mixers like juice or cream.
Example: "Shake the daiquiri ingredients vigorously before straining into a chilled glass."
Definition: Gently mixing ingredients with a long spoon, typically used for cocktails that are all spirits.
Example: "Stir the negroni in a mixing glass with ice to properly chill without diluting."
Definition: A drink that's been shaken or stirred with ice, then strained and served without ice.
Example: "The martini is served straight up, with an olive."
Definition: The final ingredient added to the top of a cocktail, often a splash of soda or tonic.
Example: "Finish the whiskey sour with a club soda topper."
Definition: A piece of citrus peel used as garnish, often to add a zesty aroma.
Example: "Garnish the old fashioned with a lemon twist."
Definition: A non-alcoholic version of a drink.
Example: "She ordered a virgin piña colada."
Definition: Cocktails made with non-premium, house liquors stored in the bartender's well for easy access.
Example: "The happy hour special includes all well drinks at half price."
Definition: A technique used in bartending to serve draft beer, involving an initial pour to settle the foam before topping off the glass with a second pour. This method ensures the perfect balance of beer to foam and enhances the overall drinking experience.
Example: "When serving a stout, use a two-part pour to allow the initial foam to settle, then fill the glass to the brim with the second pour for a smooth finish."
Business Restaurant Lingo
Definition: The average amount spent by a customer or group of customers.
Example: "Our goal is to increase the average check by promoting higher-priced menu items."
Definition: The point at which revenue equals costs, and the restaurant neither makes nor loses money.
Example: "We need to sell 200 dinners a night to hit our break-even point."
Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)
Definition: The total cost of all the ingredients used in the dishes sold.
Example: "By reducing our COGS, we can improve our profit margins."
Definition: Training staff members to perform multiple roles within the restaurant.
Example: "Cross-training our servers and hosts has improved our operational flexibility."
Definition: The number of people passing by the restaurant, potentially indicating the number of walk-in customers.
Example: "Our new downtown location has significantly more foot traffic."
Definition: A measure of how often inventory is sold and replaced over a specific period.
Example: "Improving our inventory turnover helps reduce waste and save money."
Definition: An item sold at a loss to attract customers in the hope they will purchase additional items.
Example: "Our $1 taco Tuesdays are a loss leader that significantly boosts our beverage sales."
Definition: The amount added to the cost price of goods to cover overhead and profit.
Example: "We use a 300% markup on our wine list to cover our extensive selection."
Net Profit Margin
Definition: The percentage of revenue that remains as profit after all expenses are paid.
Example: "Last year, we achieved a net profit margin of 10%."
Definition: The total cost associated with occupying a space, including rent, utilities, and other expenses.
Example: "Keeping our occupancy cost below 10% of revenue is crucial for profitability."
Definition: Profit and Loss statement, a financial document summarizing revenues, costs, and expenses.
Example: "Our P&L statement shows a strong third quarter with increased profits."
Definition: The combined cost of sales (COGS) and labor, a key figure in restaurant finances.
Example: "Reducing our prime cost is essential to improving our bottom line."
Quick Service Restaurant (QSR)
Definition: A quick service restaurant is a type of restaurant characterized by fast food service and minimal table service.
Example: "Our QSR chain focuses on healthy, fast-casual dining options."
Definition: Variations in business volume due to seasonal changes in customer demand.
Example: "We adjust our menu and staffing in response to seasonality, with lighter dishes and more staff in summer."
Table Turnover Rate
Definition: The table turnover rate is the number of times a table is occupied by new customers over a certain period.
Example: "Increasing our table turnover rate during peak hours is a priority."
Definition: Encouraging customers to purchase more expensive items, upgrades, or add-ons.
Example: "Training staff in upselling techniques has boosted our average check size."
Definition: The process of adjusting prices in real-time based on demand to maximize revenue.
Example: "We use yield management for our reservation system, charging more during peak dining times."
Dining Experience Restaurant Lingo
Definition: A complimentary, bite-sized appetizer offered at the start of a meal to stimulate the palate.
Example: A small cracker topped with a delicate piece of smoked salmon and a dollop of crème fraîche.
Definition: A charge levied by a restaurant when guests bring their own bottle of wine to consume at the table.
Example: Bringing a vintage bottle of wine to a restaurant and being charged a $25 corkage fee to have it served with your meal.
Definition: A multi-course meal designed to showcase the chef's skills and creativity, emphasizing the art and experience of tasting.
Example: A seven-course degustation menu that includes dishes like seared scallops, duck confit, and a chocolate lava cake.
Definition: A small, often refreshing course served between more substantial courses to cleanse the palate.
Example: A lemon sorbet served between the fish and meat courses in a multi-course meal.
Definition: A Japanese term that means "I'll leave it up to you," where guests leave the selection of dishes to the chef.
Example: Visiting a sushi restaurant and opting for omakase, allowing the chef to choose an array of fresh sushi and sashimi based on what's in season.
Maitre d'Hotel (Maître d')
Definition: The person responsible for the overall management of service in the dining room, including welcoming guests and seating arrangements.
Example: The maître d' warmly greets guests upon arrival and leads them to their table, ensuring they have a pleasant dining experience.
Definition: A wine expert who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food pairing.
Example: Consulting with the sommelier to select a wine that perfectly complements the flavors of your meal.
Expediter (or Expo)
Definition: The person who coordinates orders between the kitchen and the dining room, ensuring that food is served timely and correctly.
Example: The expediter organizes orders by table number and communicates with both chefs and servers to ensure dishes go out to the correct table at the right time.
Definition: A service style where food is prepared or finished tableside, often on a trolley.
Example: A Caesar salad prepared from scratch next to your table or a steak Diane flambéed in a guéridon trolley.
Definition: Small, savory appetizers served before the main course of a meal, usually at receptions or cocktail parties.
Example: Bite-sized bruschettas, mini quiches, and shrimp cocktails served on a platter at a formal event.
Definition: A traditional English method of food service where food is served from the left and drinks and dishes cleared from the right.
Example: A server uses silverware to serve roast beef directly from the platter to guests' plates.
Definition: A menu offering a pre-selected meal with limited choices for a set price.
Example: A three-course table d'hôte menu that includes a soup, a choice of two main courses, and a dessert.
Definition: A diet that includes fish and seafood but excludes other types of meat.
Example: A diner who follows a pescatarian diet orders a grilled salmon filet instead of a beef steak.
Definition: A diet and lifestyle choice that excludes all animal products and by-products.
Example: A vegan diner orders a dish made entirely from plant-based ingredients, such as a tofu stir-fry with vegetables.
Definition: A diet that excludes meat, fish, and poultry but may include dairy products and eggs.
Example: A vegetarian guest chooses a cheese lasagna instead of a dish containing meat.
Menu Types and Food Restaurant Terms
Definition: A smooth, creamy, and highly seasoned soup of French origin, typically made from crustaceans.
Example: A lobster bisque, enriched with a blend of lobster stock, cream, and cognac.
Definition: A dish of raw meat or fish, thinly sliced or pounded thin, and served mainly as an appetizer.
Example: Beef carpaccio, served with capers, onions, and a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice.
Definition: A method of cooking and preserving food in which it is slowly cooked in its own fat.
Example: Duck confit, where the leg is slowly cooked in its own fat until tender.
Definition: An Italian and Spanish term for raw fish or seafood, typically dressed with olive oil, citrus juice, and seasonings.
Example: A salmon crudo appetizer, accented with lemon zest, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil.
Definition: A French term meaning "of the day," used to denote menu items that are available on a particular day.
Example: Soup du jour, indicating the soup that is being specially prepared for that day.
Definition: A food item that is wrapped in pastry dough and then baked in the oven.
Example: Beef Wellington, a tenderloin encased in puff pastry with mushroom duxelles.
Definition: A culinary knife cut in which the food item is cut into long thin strips, resembling matchsticks.
Example: Carrots julienne, used as a garnish for a salad.
Definition: A flavor base made from diced vegetables, usually carrots, onions, and celery; the proportions are roughly two parts onions, one part carrots, and one part celery.
Example: A mirepoix sautéed as the foundation for a hearty beef stew.
Definition: A method of cooking in which food is placed in a plastic pouch or a glass jar and cooked in a water bath for longer than usual cooking times at an accurately regulated temperature.
Example: Chicken breast cooked sous-vide, ensuring it's perfectly moist and evenly cooked.