The Business Jargon Every Restaurant Owner Should Know

Chef standing behind counter. On the counter - plates with food, order tickets hanging from the top.

The Business Jargon Every Restaurant Owner Should Know

86ed? Fire? In the Weeds? Huh?

Every business has its jargon, and the restaurant world is no different. Whether you’re a hands-on manager or stop by your store every once in a while, your staff needs to trust your expertise and you need to know the lingo that proves you’re a pro. More importantly, shared terminology improves communication among staff and helps speed up the entire operation, from the host stand, to service, and in the kitchen.

You could probably fill a dictionary with culinary vocabulary, but let’s start with the basics: here are 10 frequently used restaurant terms you can master today.

Effective communication makes for quick service.

A group of chefs wearing blue gloves working in a steamy restaurant kitchen

Front of the House Terms

Front of the house (FoH) is literally the front of the restaurant, including the waiting area, the bar, and the dining area. Here are the 8 most commonly used terms in FoH:

  1. 86ed
    When you run out of a menu item, ingredient or drink, it’s 86ed. Put simply, it’s off the menu.
  2. Example: Tell the servers we’ve just sold our last steak, so 86 steaks for the rest of the service.
  3. In the weedsLike it or not, there comes a point at any service that both the servers and the kitchen are swamped with orders. These times are stressful, to say the least, and if there isn’t a total meltdown, you’d call it a success. When a waiter is slammed with orders or the kitchen is overwhelmed, they are in the weeds.
    Example: I’m in the weeds with this party of 8, can you take an order from table 10?
  4. À la carteOriginally French (as you probably guessed), À la carte is a menu item that is sold on its own, with no extras.
    Example: Does the Salmon come with a salad or is it a la carte?
  5. CampersLingerers. Customers who set up camp at their table and continue to sit and chat long after they’ve finished eating and paid the check. Understandably, servers don’t exactly like campers because they’d rather be serving new diners and earn more tips.
    Example: Those campers at table 5 have been sitting there for 20 minutes! Can’t they see there’s a line of people waiting to be seated?
  6. Pick upThis is when a server steps in to serve a table that wasn’t theirs to begin with. Usually, it’s to help out when the other waiter is swamped or if a special guest is involved.
    Example: Can you pick up table 10? I’m in the weeds with these 5 tables.
  7. Push itSell it. Do everything you can to get customers to order this item. This situation usually occurs when there’s a lot of a particular ingredient in stock that the kitchen wants to get rid of before it goes bad. Example: Make sure you push the oysters tonight! They’re only good for one more night.
  8. UpsellWhen servers pad a customer’s check by promoting more expensive or additional items. A good server would do this elegantly, without being too pushy. Example: The lobster ravioli goes great with a glass of Chardonnay, would you like me to bring you one with your order?
  9. CompedSometimes customers get free food. When a dish or drink is comped, it’s usually to spoil a special guest, or because there was a service error – the dish was too cold, the service was much delayed, or another reason that made the experience unpleasant for the customer. Example: I comped their margaritas because the bar was overwhelmed and their drinks came out late.

Back of the House Terminology

This is the part of the restaurant that usually does not come in contact with customers. It includes staff members like cooks, chefs, busboys, and areas like the kitchen and your storage spaces.

  1. All dayA normal kitchen on a busy night has to handle multiple orders at once. An all day is the server or chef’s way of saying how many tickets have the same item order. This helps the kitchen know how much of the same dish they should make.
    Example: I got 5 shrimp baskets and 7 calamari apps all day!

  2. Stretch itWhen the kitchen is running low on an ingredient or dish and they want to make the most of it, the kitchen will “stretch it”. Stretching can be done in several ways, such as reducing the portion sizes of certain ingredients.
    Example: Make sure you measure each serving properly so we don’t have to stretch the tomato sauce like last night!

  3. Dead PlateWhen a customer sends back food for whatever reason. Dead food most often turns into waste, which means a loss for the business.
    Example: That dead plate was delicious. Being a server definitely has its perks.

  4. CoversThe total number of tables that a restaurant has served during a single service. The more covers the better.
    Example:Good work tonight everyone, we had 30 covers!

  5. On the Fly!When a server or the kitchen make a mistake and the order doesn’t go out, the kitchen might decide to cook a new dish as quickly as possible. Obviously, this can be quite annoying for chefs who have to make up for mistakes made by front of house employees.
    Example: I forgot to put in the order for table 6 so I need two entrees on the fly! Sorry!

  6. FireThis is when the head chef anticipates an order will soon arrive so they give the go ahead to the cooks to start cooking a dish.
    Example: Go ahead and fire those sushi rolls for table 12!

  7. Pick up / in the windowThe cooks’ way to indicate to the servers that an order is ready to be served. Smart restaurants keep a hot plate in the window, to keep the food warm while it awaits service. This is why it’s called “the warming area”.
    Example: I’ve got two filet mignons and one chicken sandwich ready for pick up!

  8. ExpoShort for “expeditor,” an expo is the middle-person between the kitchen and the customer. The expo’s job is to give the finishing touches to every dish that leaves the kitchen or and complete any other quality control.
    Example: The expo just asked one of the cooks to get more parsley for garnishing from storage.
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