The Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Lingo: 98 Restaurant Terms Defined

The Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Lingo: 98 Restaurant Terms Defined

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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. 

Kitchen Terms

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."

All Day

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."

Dead Plate

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."

Wipe Down

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."

5 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."

Double Seating

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."

Four-top, Two-top

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."

Pivot Point

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."

Soft Opening

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."

Table Turn

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."

Tip Out

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."

Top Off

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."

Bar Terms


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."

Free Pour

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."

Straight Up

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."

Well Drinks

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."

Two-Part Pour

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

Average Check

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."

Break-Even Point

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."

Foot Traffic

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."

Inventory Turnover

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."

Loss Leader

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%."

Occupancy Cost

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."

P&L Statement

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."

Prime Cost

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."

Yield Management

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.

Corkage Fee

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.

Guéridon Service

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.

Hors d'Oeuvres

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.

Silver Service

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.

Table d'Hôte

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.

Du Jour

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.

En Croute

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.

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