25 Restaurant Terms to Know

If you spend a lot of time in and around the food service business, you’ll notice a lot of industry-specific lingo that may seem incomprehensible to outsiders. For employees new to the industry, owners hoping to grow a new venture or companies that service restaurants as clients, it’s important to know the terminology that will pervade the front and back of the house.

Here are 25 restaurant industry terms you should know to keep your restaurant, or restaurant-adjacent business, running smoothly.

  1. All day: The total amount of each item that’s needed from the kitchen, often used when there are multiple ticket orders in queue. For example, if one customer ordered a BLT and fries, another ordered a milkshake and fries, and another ordered a BLT and a salad, you might say, “two BLTs, two fries, one milkshake and one salad all day.”
  2.  Back of house: Everything behind the scenes that the dining room and bar (which are also known as the “front of house”) don’t see. In a typical establishment, this encompasses kitchen, offices, storage areas and prep stations.
  3. Combo meal: A combination meal, or combo meal, is an all-in-one order that typically includes an entree, side dish and a beverage. Though most often found at QSRs, combo meals appear at fast casual and fine dining restaurants as well.
  4. Drop the check: Fairly straightforward, this means to bring a table its bill.
  5. Early bird special: A dinner special that happens earlier than regular dinner menus are served; typically for elderly customers or anyone who wants a large meal for a steep discount, generally tourists.
  6. Fire: The head chef will say this when they’re ready to begin making or prepping a certain meal.
  7. Ghost kitchen: A completely virtual restaurant where the owner only rents out kitchen space. It sells food exclusively, or almost exclusively, through delivery services (a few offer takeout options as well). Learn more about ghost kitchens and why they’re becoming more popular.
  8. Happy hour: A time frame when restaurants typically offer drink specials and discounts on bar food, or sometimes even free meals. It’s a popular tactic to drive more customers in during your off-peak hours.
  9. In the weeds: This indicates that it’s a stressful, busy time for the restaurant. Typically there’s a lot to do and very little time to accomplish it all.
  10. Jumpin’: A restaurant that’s very busy, lively and/or profitable.
  11. Kill it: When a customer requests something overcooked, you might tell the kitchen staff to “kill it.”
  12. Last call: A warning that a kitchen or bar is about to close, so customers who want to add on to their order should do so now.
  13. Mise en place: A French phrase that means “putting in place” and ensures the kitchen staff follows proper procedure, such as prepping ingredients and readying all their cookware, before service starts and meal prep begins.
  14. No-show: A customer who doesn’t arrive on time for their reservation, at which point staff can seat other guests in their stead.
  15. On the fly: Something that needs to be done quickly and with little warning. Servers will say something to the cooks like, “Table 4 was dissatisfied with their chicken parmesan. I need a new special on the fly!”
  16. Push it: Usually in reference to a particular ingredient, item or deal that management wants servers to upsell.
  17. Quote: The estimated wait time it will take before a customer will be seated on a busy night.
  18. Runner: The staff member whose job it is to bring dishes and empty plates back and forth between the kitchen and dining room.
  19. Signature dish: A specialty meal that’s unique to either the restaurant itself or one of their chefs.
  20. Table turn: How many customers go through the entire meal, from being seated to payment, within a certain time frame or throughout the day.
  21. Upselling: When servers push customers to add on ingredients, increase their portion sizes or take advantage of special deals with the goal of raising the overall ticket size.
  22. Value meal: A combination of menu items that are sold together for less than the sum of their individual parts. Though most common at QSRs, any restaurant can have their own value meal.
  23. Walk-in: This either references a walk-in freezer for storage, or a customer who comes in for service without a reservation first.
  24. 5 out: Indicates to the rest of the kitchen that a dish will be ready to plate in five minutes.
  25. 86: To nix an order because the kitchen cannot prepare it for whatever reason, such as running out of a key ingredient.

These are just a few of the phrases you’ll need to know once you get your new career in the restaurant industry off the ground.

Have you heard of any other common restaurant terms? Let us know in the comments! 

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