Before You Plate: A-Z of Restaurant Lingo

Before You Plate: A-Z of Restaurant Lingo

Here's a comprehensive guide on useful restaurant terminologies. Learn about restaurant lingo for every restaurant franchise owner and franchisee out there.


A couple seated at a table does not know what’s happening in the dining area because the restaurant staff are speaking in some kind of secret code language. When it’s a couple on their special night, they may not have the time or the need to do so. Why would they care for what’s a blue plate special anyway? But you, the restaurant owner really should, and each person of your catering force must be well versed in them. Without much ado, let’s journey alphabetically through each one of them.


A La Carte: The opposite of a set menu, it’s when the customer orders an individual item(s) from the menu.

A La Mode: A dish served with ice cream. The usual suspects for A La Mode are fruit salad, waffles etc. It is also used for a chunk of meat served in wine.

All Day: This is the current quantity of a particular item that is on order. If the waiter says, “I need eight Eggs Benedict all day”, then it means that 8 plates of Eggs Benedict are currently on order.

The term “All Day” probably has its origins in the phrase “Don’t take all day!”, and it means “right away”.


Back of the House: This includes everything behind the dining area in a restaurant, that is, kitchen(s), storage room, office, and any prep rooms.

Bartender: Anyone who mixes and serves alcoholic drinks (and stands behind the bar). He/she could also be referred to as a barkeep. Another fancy term gaining popularity is “mixologist”!

Behind: Usually coupled with another term, as in “Sharp Behind” or “Hot Behind” to inform the person ahead that there is a person holding a sharp knife or carrying a hot dish coming through. 

Blue plate special: A term exclusively used in the United States and Canada, and refers to the low cost menu item that is the special for the day. It was made popular by Fred Harvey, owner of the Harvey House who served all his specials on blue plates.

Buddy Punch: Marking attendance on behalf of someone. Generally happens when the other person is late by an hour or two to a shift.

75% of all businesses in the US are affected by buddy punching.


Call Drink: When a customer specifies what brand to use with a soda, then it is referred to as a call drink. For instance, “Jack and Soda”, where Jack is short for Jack Daniels, will be a call drink. The opposite of a call drink is a rail/well drink.

Camper: A camper is a restaurant’s least favorite customer. Why so? Because they are the people who pay off their bills and then continue to spend time at a restaurant, hurting revenues during peak hours and if people are on a waitlist.

Charcuterie: A specific kind of cooking that is focused on the preparation and cooking of meats such as sausages, ham, and bacon.

Check back: A check back happens when a server checks on what the customer felt about the food and also drops a check at the same time. This generally happens one after the other with either coming first.

Cross-sell: A term often encountered in sales of any kind, it’s when a waiter suggests an item that pairs well with another. An example is lasagna with Sangiovese(a good quality red wine).

Chef de Partie: Quite literally a “welcome to the party”, it is a person who cooks one particular dish only. They are also called line cooks.

Chef’s Table: An eating experience where the dining table is right inside the kitchen, it offers specially curated dishes that are not on the menu and are specialities from the Chef himself. Generally, VIPs are served in this manner.

Comp: A dish that is served complementary with another dish. The process of serving a dish in this manner is called ‘comping’.

Commis: A person who works underneath a Chef de Partie. A Commis is usually an intern who is starting out in the kitchen and needs guidance to become a Chef de Partie.

Cooked to Order: A dish that is cooked to match a customer’s specific instructions. It is not pre-cooked.

A tiny restaurant in Upstate NY has the longest waiting queues (nearly 10 years). We can’t blame that on campers, can we?

Did you know that Commis is sometimes confused with commie, an informal term for a communist?


Dead Plate: A dish that cannot be served to any customer. This could be because of overcooking, which has spoiled the food, or because the ingredients used were not fresh.

Deuce: A table that can seat only two customers at a time.

Dine and Dash: A situation where a customer or a group of people eat their food and then leave without paying.

Douse it: When a customer wants a dish cooked in extra sauce, it is referred to as dousing.

Drop the check: A waiter brings the check to the table where the customer is dining at and hands it over.

Dupe: The information about what is to be cooked is passed from the front of house to the kitchen, and is called a Dupe.

Deuce is derived from the French (deux) or Latin (duos) meaning “two”. We think it could be either because the food industry is so popular in both France and Italy!


Early Bird Dinner: Takes place earlier than peak dinner hours and includes seats at buffets that typically cost less than the normal rates.

Eighty-sixed (86’d): A term used to describe an item that is no longer available on the menu or is recommended not to be served because of lack of ingredients etc.

ETA: The expected time for an item to be served to the customers.

Expeditor: A person who arranges food from the kitchen to be delivered to servers as quickly as possible.

Coined in the 1920s or 30s, 86’d refers to an act of getting rid of someone or something.


Family Meal: A restaurant serves this to its employees during off-peak hours. The chef may use the family meal as an opportunity to try out new recipes.

Flash it: When a customer wants something cooked a bit more, and the item is cooked for more time in the pan.

Front of House: The area that is in front of the bar or kitchen. It includes the bar, reception and dining and waiting areas.

Free Lunch: A strategy used by restaurants, with the aim of bringing in more customers, generally during off peak hours by offering them a free lunch.

Did you know that several cookbooks have been published describing family meals or staff meals at popular restaurants? An example is Off the Menu: Staff Meals from America's Top Restaurants by Marissa Guggiana (2011)


Garde Manger: A part of the restaurant that is used to prepare cold items such as desserts, salads, and other cold appetizers.

Ghost Restaurant: A restaurant that generates most of its orders from food deliveries, with very few people dining in.

Graveyard Shift: The night shift that is common in restaurants asking employees to work 24/7.

The 18th Century term “Graveyard Shift” originates from the fear of being buried alive. The people would be buried with a bell attached to their body and placed on the surface so that if the bell rings, it means someone has ‘shifted in their grave’. 


Happy Hour: A way to drive more traffic during the off-peak hours, it’s a period when a few beverages or food items are available at a reduced cost or even free. 

Hockey Puck: A hamburger patty that is well-cooked. Well, well-cooked here is pretty relative, and for some of us, it may be seriously overcooked. To each, his/her own, but it’s still a hockey puck!

The term “Happy Hour” probably originated in 1914 when the US Navy would have a weekly “happy hour” to relieve themselves. Initially, such happy hours weren’t about deals on food and drinks but just about entertainment where there used to be boxing contests, cards, arm wrestling and other fun activities. Yes, maybe boxing can be fun too, despite being painful as well!


In the Weeds: The times when staff are overwhelmed and struggling to serve the customers. This generally happens when a restaurant is full or understaffed. It could apply to both front of house and back of house staff. Offer an early bird menu or dinner, and you could be safe. Just saying!

In the Window: When an order is ready in the kitchen and placed on the warming table to be taken out to the serving station, then it is said to be “in the window”.

Interim Menu: A menu that is on offer during the after lunch hours, when the chef gets some time away or the staff is preparing for dinner. This menu usually includes easy-to-prepare afternoon snacks. Having an interim menu to quickly sell items can be a revenue booster for restaurants.

The term “window” has its origins in the Old Norse word “vindauga”. It literally means “wind’s eye” Yeah, we get it! There could be a storm in the kitchen at times! 


Jumpin: A term to describe a very busy, crowded and happening restaurant.

The busiest restaurant in the world is Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe in Orlando USA.


Kid’s Meal: A term coined for a meal that is specially made for children and appeals to them. It could also come with a complimentary game or puzzle etc. to keep the kids entertained.

Kill It: Overcooking a dish, as requested by a customer.

Most restaurants offer free Kids Meals on a select day of the week. Call your local restaurant and ask them if they do, on what days, and what the conditions are.

Thank you! Here's your
download link
Please enter valid email address


Last Call: It happens when a bar or restaurant is closing down for the day and the last round of meals or drinks is about to be served. 

Line Cook: Also referred to as Chef de Partie, they prepare basic dishes in the kitchen.

Low Boy: If something is in the “Low Boy”, it is in the fridge under the bar counter.

In old English inns, there used to be a bell to signal the “last call”. 


Main Course: The section of the menu that follows the starters and the appetizers, and displays dishes that are the main focus of any meal.

Maitre d’Hotel: A person, usually in high-end restaurants, who welcomes guests, assigns tables, and ensures that they have a good time.

Meat and Three: This is a term used in the Southern United States for a meat and three side dish combo in the menu.

Menu: All the food and drink options that you serve to your customers organized into sections, with or without images.

Mise en Place: A term used to indicate that kitchen staff are to follow a particular order of steps to cook something.

Monkey Dish: A small dish that is used to dispose of bones after eating the meat. It also refers to a small dish used to serve nuts.


No-show: A customer (with a reservation) or an employee (promising to show up for work) who does not come to the restaurant.

Nuke It: When a dish is heated or roasted in a microwave oven to get it well done.


Omakase: Letting the chef choose every dish of the meal, rather than ordering a la carte. 

On the fly: A need to cook a dish more quickly than otherwise, on an urgent need from the customer.

One bowl with two pieces: Primarily used in China, when one orders a pot of tea to go with two dimsum.

Overhead: The factors other than the ingredients used to make the food that affect its cost. Overhead includes electricity charges, cost of labor etc.

Omakase is derived from the Japanese “Leave it up to you”.


Party: A group of people at a table or those who have together made a reservation (could include more tables)

Pick Up: A server picking up another server’s duties (or just a table)

Pump it Out: Preparing food quickly.

Push It: Trying to sell any one particular dish more quickly than others. This tactic is generally employed with dishes that don’t sell so well.

The term “Party” was used in legal contexts to begin with, but by the 17th Century Shakespeare uses it as a term for a generic person in his A Winter’s Tale


Quote: An amount of time that it will take for a customer to get a table when the restaurant is busy. A Quote is generally offered by a senior member of staff.


Regular: A loyal customer who keeps returning to the restaurant no matter what the circumstances and generally appreciates the food. 

Rollup: Dining dishes or cutlery rolled up in napkins or paper

Runner: Never assigned a particular table, the job of a runner is to run back and forth between the kitchen and dining area and deliver food to unassigned tables or when a particular server is loaded with orders.


Sacked: When a chef or another member of staff in a restaurant is fired.

Saucier: A line cook that holds responsibility for anything that is sautéed. 

Serving Cart: A cart used to bring dishes to a table. It could be used to display items that people can pick as well.

Server: An alternate term for a waiter or waitress.

Shelf Life: The longevity of a food item.

Shorting: When a larger amount is charged to a restaurant by the supplier than the cost of the products received.

Sidework: Work done by the front of house staff to keep the restaurant operational. This includes polishing silverware, refilling toothpicks, and cleaning napkins.

Signature Dish: The chef’s speciality, which may or may not be on the menu.

Sous-Chef: The second in command of the kitchen in a restaurant.

Stiffed: Of a situation where a customer does not leave a tip behind for the server.

The oldest restaurant in the world (founded 1725) that has been in continuous operation is Sobrino de Botín in Madrid, Spain. The signature dishes are cochinillo asado (roasted pig) and cordero asado (roasted lamb).


Table d’Hôte: A set menu consisting of several courses offered at a fixed price.

Table Reservation: When a customer books a table after calling in or browsing the restaurant website.

Table Service: Implies that food will be served to the customer at the table rather than having the customer pick it up at the counter.

Table Sharing: When multiple parties are seated at the same table or adjoining tables.

Take Out: Ordering food from a restaurant to have it at home or elsewhere.

 The Boogie Man: The health inspector 

Three Martini Lunch: Primarily catered towards business people and lawyers in the US, it is a special offering from the restaurant around noon.

Tipping: When a customer pays a percentage of the total cost of the meal as a token of gratitude for the services rendered by the server. This is directly paid to the server. Sometimes, restaurants split the tips at the end of the day and award a certain percentage of it to each server.

Toss: A term used for altering the appearance of a product to make it appear like the box is full when it is not.

Tourne: Cutting a vegetable to resemble a tapered cork.

Turn and Burn: Happens usually in a busy restaurant where a number of tables must be turned very quickly to satisfy a long list of waiting customers.

The Three Martini Lunch got its due after President Trump got his way and restored the tax deductions for business meals to its former glory, many years after Jimmy Carter had made the business meals quite sober.


Upsell: Trying to sell a higher value item to a customer as an alternative to what they have requested.   


Value meal: A meal combo that is reasonably priced and at a total lower cost than the sum of the individual prices. It is used to attract customers to the restaurant. 

VIP: A guest or a party that is offered a preferential treatment at a restaurant. This could include a special menu or better seating or view. 

Voiding: The process of removing a certain dish from the menu. This could happen because a server added a quantity of an item by mistake, the customer canceled the order later or the particular item was not cooked to match the customer’s liking.


Walk-in: A customer or a couple who have just walked in without any reservation, but are entertained and hopefully seated nonetheless! 

Waxing a Table: Offer more standout services than what you offer your VIPs. This could be sending out appetizers not on the menu and then not charging the customer(s) for it.

Well Drinks: A mix of the cheapest liquors available that customers won’t probably find in a cocktail menu. It is given to customers who are not very particular about the cost or quality of the alcohol they are drinking.

Wheelman: A restaurant’s wheelman comes between the front of house and the back of house coordinating both their activities to ensure that the restaurant completes the deliveries smoothly.


Yield: When you ensure that a particular food item, generally a favorite, lasts through the day, you are “maximizing the yield”.

Though not impacting portion size, you could slightly reduce the single portion a bit, by adding more protein to each portion, thereby improving the satiety of customers and also increasing the number of bowls that can be served.


Zip-loc: These are airtight bags that are a staple in most fast food restaurants and used to pack in the condiments that go with dishes.

Closing Words

Whoo-hoo! And that’s a wrap and a delicious one at that (pun intended). Hope that was a learning in restaurant lingo for every restaurant franchise owner and franchisee out there. There’s a lot more to running a restaurant and a whole lot more slang and terms that you will pick up as you move from country to country. Good luck in your restaurant’s journey!