To outsiders, restaurant jargon can seem like a whole separate language. There are specific restaurant terms for different kinds of food dishes, job positions, menus, and actions. If you are considering working in a restaurant or opening your own restaurant business, it’s essential to know the correct restaurant terminology.
When a restaurant runs out of a particular dish or ingredient, it is said to be “86” and cannot be prepared for customers. This restaurant term is also sometimes written or pronounced as “eighty-six,” “eighty-sixed,” “86ed,” or “86’d.” In addition to referring to an item that is out of stock or cannot be prepared, 86 can also refer to a customer who is ejected from the bar or restaurant for their behavior.
2. A la Carte
A la carte is the practice of ordering individual dishes at a restaurant, instead of being served a preset or prix fixe menu. Most restaurants serve dishes a la carte.
3. Back of House
Back of house refers to the area of a restaurant or bar that is restricted to customers, including the kitchen and behind the bar.
A barback is an assistant to the bartender. Typically, barbacks will make sure all bar supplies like ice and liquor are well stocked, and they run dirty glassware through the dishwasher. Barbacks also pour non-cocktail drinks for waitstaff.
A bartender creates and serves alcoholic beverages to customers at restaurants and bars. They typically remain stationed behind the physical liquor bar at an establishment and serve customers as they approach.
6. Blue-plate Special
Blue-plate special is typically used by diner restaurants and refers to a low-priced meal that is changed daily.
Bussing refers to the practice of clearing dishes and utensils from a table after customers leave and preparing the table for new guests. Bussing is often done by waitstaff, but busy restaurants may have dedicated employees for bussing, known as bussers.
The term BYOB stands for “bring your own beer,” “bring your own bottle,” “bring your own beverage,” or “bring your own booze.” It is used by restaurants to indicate to customers that they do not sell alcohol, but that diners can bring their own alcohol to consume during their meal.
A chef is a trained professional cook that typically serves as the head of a restaurant kitchen. Chefs are trained by attending a culinary institution or by apprenticing with an experienced chef. When hiring chefs for your new business, you must employ chefs with the right training and experience. Using a software program like Homebase helps manage employee hiring and time tracking easily all in one place.
10. Chef’s Table
Chef’s table is a dining table located in or near the kitchen that is typically reserved for VIP or special guests. Customers seated at the chef’s table may be served a themed or tasting menu that is not part of the regular menu.
11. Cooked to Order
Cooked to order refers to food that is prepared as the customer places their orders and to the customer’s specific instructions. Most restaurants offer cooked-to-order meals. The exceptions are usually some fast-food restaurants or fast-casual restaurants.
12. Dine and Dash
Dine and dash is a restaurant term that refers to a type of theft where a customer consumes their meal and then leaves without paying. There are several other slang terms for this, including “dine and ditch,” “eat and run,” and “doing a runner.”
Most of your diners will be paying customers. So, having a payment processor that can accept all major payment types quickly is important. First Data offers credit card and payment processing services to businesses of all sizes. It also has a variety of card readers and terminals from which to choose. Visit First Data for a free quote.
13. Diner Lingo
Diner lingo is a type of slang used by cooks and waitstaff in diner-style restaurants, usually to communicate customer orders. Common diner lingo terms include:
- Two dots and a dash: Two fried eggs and a strip of bacon
- Tube steak: Hot dog
- Make it cry: Add onion
14. Early Bird Special
An early bird special or early bird dinner is a dinner meal served before typical dinner hours. Early bird specials are usually offered at a discounted price. The concept was developed to lure more customers during slow hours.
15. Front of House
Front of house refers to the area of a restaurant where customers are allowed, such as the dining tables and bar. Front of house can also be used to describe the employees that work in this area, such as servers, bartenders, and the host or hostess.
16. Ghost Restaurant
A ghost restaurant is an establishment that only offers delivery orders through phone calls or online food ordering. These restaurants are also called “delivery-only restaurants” and “dark kitchens.” They do not have a storefront or dining area which customers can visit.
17. Happy hour
Happy hour is a timeframe, usually in the late afternoon when bars and restaurants offer discounted food and drink specials. Happy hours are typically only during the week and are designed to draw in more customers during the slow hours before the dinner rush.
18. Host or hostess
The host or hostess is the person who welcomes customers into a restaurant and shows them to their tables. They also track reservations and manage the waitlist. This is an important position as they are guests’ first impression of the business and are responsible for getting everyone seated promptly.
19. In the weeds
In the weeds is a term used by restaurant staff to say they are swamped. A server might be “in the weeds” if they are struggling to keep up with the demands of all their tables, or a kitchen might be “in the weeds” if they are backed up on orders.
20. Kids’ meal
A kids’ meal or a children’s meal is a restaurant or fast-food combination meal consisting of kid-friendly foods at a lower price point. Sit-down restaurants typically have an age limit on who can order a kids’ meal.
21. Meat and three
Meat and three is a type of meal that comes with a selection of protein (the meat) and three side dishes. There are also standalone meat and three restaurants, which are typically casual places that serve from a precooked selection.
A menu is a list of all the food and drink options a restaurant provides. Menus can be printed on paper and handed to each customer or displayed on a large display board. Pricing information is usually listed next to each dish on the menu.
Plating is the arranging of food on the serving plate to be presented to the customer. High-end restaurants usually put a heavy emphasis on plating and overall presentation.
A POS system is a software system that tracks and processes customer orders, manages inventory, and provides reports. POS systems can also be used to track and manage employees, submit purchase orders, and see which dishes are selling the best.
25. Signature dish
A signature dish is a recipe or menu item that is unique to a particular chef or restaurant. It can also be used to refer to the chef’s specials on a menu. Signature dishes are also usually the highest quality and most popular menu items.
26. Table sharing
Table sharing is the practice of seating multiple parties who may not know each other at the same large table. This is typically done so that more people can be served at a time, or so parties don’t have to wait for another group to finish before being seated.
Takeout, also known as carryout or takeaway, are restaurant prepared meals that customers purchase to-go with the intent of eating the food somewhere else. Many restaurants offer takeout as an option in addition to traditional sit-down dining.
28. Three-martini lunch
Three-martini lunch is a term used in the United States to describe a casual and indulgent business lunch. These types of business lunches used to be popular with lawyers or business people, though they are not as common anymore.
29. Turnover rate
In restaurant terms, turnover rate refers to how quickly customer tables are filled, emptied, and refilled. A high turnover rate is ideal because that means you are serving more customers. A slow turnover rate means that people are sitting at the table for a long time, or there are not many customers coming in.
30. Value meal
A value meal is a group of menu items that are sold together for a discounted price. Value meals are more common at fast-food restaurants, although some sit-down restaurants offer value meals at lunch or dinner by bundling sides with a main dish.
When opening a new restaurant, there is so much to do and so much to learn, leaving no time for communication errors. Getting familiar with restaurant terminology can help improve communications when working with food vendors, suppliers, and employees.
Using a POS such as Revel also makes the process easier by allowing restaurants to manage tables, customer orders, and payment processing all in one place. Revel also has features to create a customer loyalty program, manage online and delivery orders, and track ingredient-level inventory. Visit Revel for a free demo.