To be successful in the restaurant industry, employees and managers alike need to be familiar with standard restaurant terms. This will help when talking with customers or other staff members.
The hospitality industry has developed its unique language (restaurant slang), which is efficient and peppered with expletives. While each establishment may use different restaurant terms for food preparation, many words are used across the board.
Restaurant Terms and Slang
We reached out to many chefs, bussers, servers, and other restaurant staff members to compile a list of common (and not so common) restaurant terms. Here is your guide for some commonly used words and phrases that may be unfamiliar.
2-top, 4-top, modeled.…
This is the number of people sitting at a table. This is typically used when informing the server that the table has been modeled with customers. A 2-top has two people, 4-top has 4, and so on. “I just sat you with a 2-top near the bar.”
When a restaurant is out of ingredients for a menu item, the staff usually notifies their servers, so they don’t offer them or tell guests. “We have to remove the surf and turf special from our dinner menu.”
Adam and Eve on a raft
This refers to 2 eggs—scrambled or poached—on toast. “We need those eggs right away. That’s the third order in a row we had for Adam and Eve on a raft!
The ticket system allows the kitchen to understand how many dishes they need to prepare to fulfill their demands.Click To Tweet If there are five fish tacos on one window, the chef would call out “5 fish tacos all day!” to make those and everything else. “I have five fish tacos all day!”
À la carte
A la carte is a French term that means to be sold by itself. It is common for steaks to be sold a la carte in a steak house. This means that they do not come with sides 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 works in a restaurant’s kitchen, preparing food and stocking supplies. These workers include chefs, cooks, dishwashers, and other prep cook positions.
A tiny, square napkin for drinks.
This staff member wipes clean and clears the tablets.
Remove an order from a cook’s kitchen display system once made.
This refers to guests who linger at their table after they have finished their meals. For restaurants, this isn’t great. It would be better to turntables to a new set of guests and not keep other guests waiting. “Our waitlist is growing by the minute! And, these campers at table 12 paid 15 minutes ago!”
Comped means it is given for free. Restaurants will sometimes provide a complimentary dish to show appreciation, or if the food is not up to standards. “I comped the appetizers at table 5 because their meals came out cold after they got lost in the kitchen.”
This is when a server has been excluded from serving more tables. “I was going to work the late service, but then I got cut.”
A dish that has been sitting under the heat lamps or in the window for too long. “I need a salmon dish on the fly, this one’s dead.”
Start cooking the accompanying item.
Drop the check
When the server brings out a guest’s check at the end of their meal.
This is when the host seats a server’s section back to back. It can be stressful for the server to greet, take orders, and run food simultaneously. “Can you take these drinks to take 7? The host double-sat me.”
When a restaurant employee has to work two shifts in one day. “I am so glad that I have tomorrow off because this weekend has been a double shift.”
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 the presentation and plating, making sure it is presentable before sending it out to a customer.
First in, First out. This refers to prepped food items.
The head chef in the kitchen uses this term to let everyone know it is time to begin cooking or prepping a dish. “Fire those steaks for table 15!”
The job of this person is to run food to the table. “The food runner just dropped table 20’s apps, so it’s time to ring in their dinner order.”
Front of the house (FOH)
The front of the restaurant is where all customer-facing employees work. Servers, hostesses, and bartenders are there to serve customers.
An acronym for a full-service restaurant.
When the front of house and back of the house are in sync.
In the weeds
When servers get overloaded with too many tables and/or in a large party. “Can you get the drinks from the bar for table 10? I’m in the weeds with this party of 7.”
In the window
When a dish is ready to be taken out of the kitchen, it will be put in the window or the warming area where containers are kept before being served. “I’ve got two penne a la vodka dishes in the window.”
A Kitchen Display System (KDS) is a screen that shows orders on the kitchen wall. It can be integrated with ith point of sale, which displays as soon as an order comes in.
When bartenders and servers are about to close up shop, they use this phrase. “Last call before the kitchen/bar closes. Would you like to order anything beforehand?”
Mise en place
“Mise en place” is a French term that means putting in place. It means putting all ingredients and cooking tools in order before you start cooking. It typically happens when the kitchen staff is about to serve food.
On the fly
These are times when the kitchen needs to make something as soon as possible – this is called “on-the-fly.” The cooks aren’t always happy about that, but it happens. “Table 5’s full entree order is missing. I need two pasta specials on the fly!”
A customer who is committed to being critical in a review.
A group of restaurant guests.
When a bartender or server works with a guest served by a different employee. “Can you pick up table 12?”
Point of sale (POS) is the system staff use to place orders. It is where sales are recorded.
Sell the item. “Make sure you push the salmon special tonight.
Bring something to a table. “Run these entrees to table 5.”
The worker “running” food to a table.
We are informing and selling specials to customers.
Prep work done by the FOH staff
Acronym for sauce on the side.
To replace one menu item with another. “Sub the side salad with fries.”
This is when the kitchen staff makes the most out of an ingredient. “We only have five onions left. Stretch it to the end of the night!”
Another term for appetizer or entrée.
When a diner orders exactly what is on the menu.
This is the time a table has between being seated and paid. This can be difficult for servers because it limits their seating options to how quickly they are able to get guests out. “Nice job turning tables. You were able to serve 3 more tables than the rest of the servers.”
The number of people at a dining party. “Eight top at table 6.”
A ticket is printed out when an order is entered into the restaurant POS. It alerts kitchen staff of a new order. “I have 11 tickets in the window.”
A strategy servers use to make customers buy more expensive menu items.
The inventory needs to be used first for it not to go badge badges
Usually refers to a walk-in refrigerator.
When a diner leaves without paying.
Waxing the table
Providing VIP treatment to a table. The manager told me to wax the table.”
Inexpensive house liquors.
The kitchen expeditor.
Food that is being prepared.
Final Thoughts on Restaurant Terms
These restaurant terms are commonly used in the restaurant industry. Do you know of any others that did make a list?