Thursday, June 9, 2011

restaurant terminology A-L

People who work in restaurants have their own private language, it's not our fault and we're not trying to keep you of the loop, it's just the environment we find ourselves in.  I will attempt to shed a little light on the meaning behind the 'gibberish' heard in and around your favourite dining venues so that you can sound extra-savvy the next time you're out with your friends.

A la Minute: Made to order from start to finish (no pre-fabricated/par-cooked products used).

Allergy: Something that the kitchen takes very seriously and the guest does not; ie. dairy allergy to us means you can't have butter (because of the milk solids) but for some reason you can still have butter.  Don't say allergy unless you mean it!

Aperitif: A drink served before the meal to cleanse/stimulate the palate. (Eg. prosecco, campari, vermouth, lillet, pimm's).

Back of House: The area of a restaurant that guests are not allowed. The kitchen, dish-washing area and wait station are areas where we talk dirty to each other and say mean things about the guests.  

Bar-back: An assistant for the bartender. A bar-back usually runs glasses through the dishwasher, stocks the beer and wine bottles, changes kegs and generally is lorded over by the bartender.

Behind: "Don't back up or you'll wear the tray I'm carrying".  A term used to alert those around you that you are moving behind them - helps avoid spilled trays, etc.

Board:  An ever growing number of chits filled with food orders that the kitchen must remember and produce for your dining pleasure.

Bussing: Term used for clearing off and resetting tables after guests have left. In busier restaurants this is done by the busperson (also called a busser or a runner).  A pre-buss is the general table maintenance while the guests are still dining (removing empty glasses, dirty plates etc.)

Campers: The dreaded guests that sit on the bill for an eternity chin wagging and drinking water.  Usually, they're the last table in the restaurant.

Canape: Pronounced [can-uh-PAY] this is another word for an hors D'oeuvre when you want to sound fancy.

Charcuterie: The area of cooking devoted to prepared meats such as bacon, pate, terrine, sausage, confit, etc. 

Check Average: The amount of money each individual spends in the restaurant.  Higher check averages means higher tips/profits, so have another drink!

Chit: The piece of paper on which a table's order is recorded to be given to the kitchen so the food can be prepared and served.  Often printed from a computer system or written in chicken scratch by the servers.

Covers: This term directly translates to 'customers' it just has one less syllable so it's easier for us to remember.

Deuce: A table of two.

Digestif: A drink served at the end of the meal to supposedly aid digestion. (Eg. brandy, port, sherry, grappa, ouzo).

Eighty-Six: This is a general term for something that is no longer available (run out of).  If the kitchen runs out of a particular dish, that dish is "86'd". It can also refer to the termination of someones employment (Eg. "Did you hear? Todd got 86'd last night!").

Expediter: The staff member who coordinates plated food together by table number, so the servers can get it to the proper guests.

En Command: see 'On the fly' in the next terminology post.

Flat Seated: A terrifying term for any server, this is usually the result of poor planning by the 'front of house' and the 'hostess' seating four 'deuces' and three 'four-tops' at once, which will inevitable lead to being 'in the weeds'.

Floor: The area where dining happens and servers run amok.  Usually split into sections.

Front of House: Refers both to the area of a restaurant where guests are allowed (dining room, bar) and to the staff who work there (bartender, server, floor manager). Short-form = FOH.

4-top: A table of four.  This can be extended to 6-top or 8-top as well.

Host/Hostess: The person who greets the guests and shows them to their table. The host is also responsible for keeping track of reservations and waiting lines.  A good host is invaluable, a bad one - disaster!

In the Weeds: A colloquial expression used when persons are near or beyond their capacity to handle a situation or cannot catch up. Struggling. Very busy. Weeded.

Line: The line is the area that divides the cooks from the wait staff. It is where the food is placed to await pickup (a place it usually waits longer than desired!).

Let me know if I have missed anything or if something begs further definition!
Thank you to those who have commented, I have updated the post!


  1. "In the weeds" - when the kitchen is backed up with orders, not a good time to put in a lot of modifiers

    "Modifiers" changes made to menu item and special requests

    "Substitutions" replacing one item for another (green salad instead of fries, i.e.)

    more to follow, but I have to go to work

  2. Anon 4:09, Chew's just doing A-L right now. Wait until they miss the "M"'s and the "S"'s.

    Behind- Don't move or you'll wear the tray I'm carrying.

  3. agree 'behind' was so ingrained in me that I've carried it over to office life.

  4. I say behind when I'm in the grocery store or any place there are people, its just a habit now.

  5. "dogs are barking" - sore feet

  6. I know you are doing A-L. Flat seated. Usually caused by poor planning by "front of house" staff, the "hostess", by seating four "deuces" and three "four tops" at once, and will inevitably lead to being "in the weeds"

  7. Thank you! Great additions, I feel a little ridiculous having forgotten them.

  8. Campers. The dreaded guests that sit on the bill for an eternity chin wagging and drinking water. Usually, they're the last table in the restaurant.

  9. Crop Dusting: Walking through a section of tables while silently farting. Good for getting the campers to move on.