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. 

There are words that are obviously shorthand (“bev nap”) and then there are ones that everyone uses but few know where they came from (“86”). It’s fun and effective, but if you’re new, it can be confusing and intimidating to jump in with no prior knowledge. 

We’ve put together a list of 60 common restaurant jargon so if someone asks you to bring them a “left-handed spatula,” you’ll know exactly how to respond.

Back-of-House Terms

  1. # out — Cooks call this out to indicate how many minutes before a dish will be ready to plate. If a cook shouts, “Three out on fries” it means the fries will be ready to hit the plate in three minutes.
  2. All day — This is a succinct way for a chef or expo to indicate to a cook how many of an item is needed for the current batch of tickets. This can be used as a request for information (“Can I get an all day on fish?”) or as a direction (“You’ve got four fish all day.”)
  3. Baby hands (also: pantry hands, salad hands) — Someone who still has the “drop it” reflex when picking up something hot because their hands haven’t been burned repeatedly.
  4. Call outs — “Call out” isn’t slang on its own; it’s a category that contains important restaurant jargon that is shouted loud and clear to keep everyone in the kitchen safe. If you remember nothing else from this list, remember these and use them. The most common calls outs are “behind” (someone is behind you), “hot behind” (someone is behind you with something hot), “corner” (someone is rounding a corner), and “sharp” (someone is passing by with something sharp). 
  5. Chef Mike — The microwave. “This needs to go to Chef Mike” means the food is cold and needs a quick zap in the microwave. This is frowned upon in some kitchens.
  6. Cremate it — When a guest wants something extremely well done, nearly burnt.
  7. Fire — To start cooking a dish. “Fire apps for table 18.” 
  8. Heard — When a cook yells “heard” it means they’re acknowledging they’ve heard an update from the expo person or fellow cook. It’s best to say this and also repeat back the direction: “Heard! Kid’s burger on the fly!”
  9. Hot hands (also: kitchen hands) — A cook who has developed immunity to the pain of picking up something really hot. “I don’t need a pot holder; I’ve got hot hands.”
  10. Left-handed spatula (or other utensil) — This is a joke meant to send the new person on a frantic hunt to find something that doesn’t exist. 
  11. Rail — A rail in the kitchen where the tickets hang. There is usually a rail for the expo person and a rail for the cook stations.
  12. Reggae — Indicates a dish is “regular” or without modifications. “Is this pasta reggae?”
  13. Soigne — Pronounced “swan-yay,” it means “elegant” in French. It’s often used in fine dining when a dish is fantastic, especially in terms of plating. “Make it soigne!”
  14. Swimming — Food that’s in the fryer or pot. “The spaghetti is swimming.” 
  15. Stage — Pronounced “stahj,” this is a period of time, typically between two weeks and two months, where a cook works in a kitchen for free to gain experience or to be evaluated by the chef for employment.
  16. The line — The line of stations in the kitchen where food is cooked for orders. This is where the term “line cook” comes from. 
  17. Yes, chef (also: oui, chef) — This is the appropriate response to a chef’s instructions. “Make sure the plates are wiped before they hit the window!” “Yes, chef.”

Front-of-House Terms

  1. # top — Refers to the number of guests at a table. “I have a 10-top and a 5-top right now.” 
  2. Bar key — A bottle opener.
  3. Bev nap — Short for “beverage napkin,” this is the small square napkin put under a guest’s drink. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 
  7. 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.
  8. 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.  
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Hands — A call for a server or food runner to bring plates to a table — “I need hands!” 
  13. Reso — Pronounced “rezzo,” this is short for “reservation.”
  14. 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.
  15. 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. 
  16. Server alley — The side of the kitchen opposite the cooks where the servers and expo stand.
  17. Karen— It’s a fictional name given to a rude, obnoxious, and insufferable middle-aged white women. Karen(s) find everything wrong with restaurant service and are a server’s most haunted customer.
  18. Skate — When a server leaves without doing their side work. “Tony skated so I had to roll all the silverware myself.”
  19. 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?”
  20. 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.”
  21. Verbal tip — Praises from a customer instead of actual money. It will happen. It’s infuriating. We’re so sorry.

Across-the-Board Terms

  1. Clopen — This is a hybrid of “close” and “open.” It’s when an employee closes one night and has to open the next morning.
  2. 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.
  3. 87 [new by Team Edizeven!] — A play on “86,” 87 means to start fresh. “We’re 86ing yesterday. Today is a new day.”
  4. Dish pit — The dishing washing area. “Grab me the pans from the dish pit.” 
  5. Dragging — This indicates a plate is missing from an order. “We’re dragging a linguini on table 72!”
  6. Dying — When food sits too long in the window and is getting cold. “I need a runner now! The scampi is dying!”
  7. Expo —  Short for “expeditor,” it refers to the person in charge of communication between the BOH and FOH. They organize the food in the window and add the finishing touches to a dish if needed. 
  8. 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. 
  9. 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.
  10. 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 to anyone who hears and has a free minute to come to your rescue. “I’m in the weeds!”
  11. Make a hole — Get out of the way because someone is coming through with something big or heavy.
  12. Marry — Combining two or more containers into one to fill it up. “Marry the ketchups.” 
  13. Mods — Modifications to a dish. Some people affectionately refer to mods as “future mistakes.”
  14. 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.
  15. Refire — Something that needs to be remade, almost always on the fly. “Refire steak for table 78!”
  16. 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.
  17. SOS — This is not a call for help. It means “sauce on the side.”
  18. 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!”).
  19. The Man (also: The Boogie Man) — The health inspector. “Wipe down your stations. The Man is coming in!”
  20. 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.
  21. Walk-in — A walk-in cooler where food is stored.
  22. 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 the lingo, it’s time to find an awesome restaurant job!