Restaurant Lingo: The Terms You Need to Know

If you’re in the restaurant industry, chances are you’ve heard some of the following lingo and slang terms. They may sound strange to an outsider, but to those in the know, they’re just part of the everyday vocabulary.

This comprehensive list of restaurant terms and slang will help you communicate more effectively with staff and create a better guest experience. Whether you’re new to the hospitality industry or just looking to brush up on your knowledge, this glossary is a great resource.

How many of these restaurant terms do you already know? Test your skills and see for yourself!

List of Restaurant Lingo and Terminology

  • 86 – If an item is 86’d, it means the restaurant has run out of that dish and can no longer serve it.
  • Angel Shot – A secret code that allows guests to communicate discreetly about uncomfortable experiences they may have while inside the establishment.
  • A la carte – Refers to an ordering system where each menu item is priced individually.
  • All Day – The term “all day” refers to the total number of a particular menu item that has been ordered. For example, if five steaks are ordered at one table and three at another, eight steaks have been ordered all day.
  • A.M.P. – “Always More Please.” This is a polite way of asking for more food or drink.
  • Bartender’s call – Last call; the warning from the bartender that the bar is about to close.
  • Behind – “Behind” is a way to let your coworkers and guests know that you are nearby, so they don’t accidentally trip.
  • BD – “Business Decline.” This is when the rush of customers dies down and staff are left with nothing to do but clean up and prepare for the next shift
  • Bev Nap – A small square napkin for drinks.
  • BIB – “Bring It Back.” This term is used when a customer sends back their food.
  • Bump bar – A bump bar is a keypad that is used to remove food from the line when a kitchen display system is in place.
  • Busser – A busser is a restaurant employee whose job is to clear and reset tables.
  • Busy/swinging – When a server is operating at maximum capacity and satisfying all of its demands.
  • Chaser – A drink, typically alcohol, that is taken after a shot to help with the taste or to keep you from getting drunk too quickly.
  • Chit – An order from a POS system.
  • Closing – “Closing” refers to the end of the night when the restaurant is closing down.
  • Coming in/around hot – Means that you’re coming around a corner with something hot, to avoid possible collision or injury.
  • COGS – “Cost of Goods Sold.” This term refers to the total cost of food and drinks that were sold during a shift or day.
  • Comp – A free meal is given to a customer, often as an apology for poor service.
  • Contactless Dining – This refers to a way of serving guests without any personal contact, using technology like smartphones, SMS texting, and QR codes for ordering and updates.
  • COV – “Check Out Void.” This occurs when a customer cancels their order after it has been rung up.
  • Cover – A unit of measurement in the restaurant industry. One cover is equal to one customer ordering one meal.
  • Curbside Delivery – Delivery to a guest’s vehicle instead of them coming into the restaurant to pick it up.
  • Cut – Refers to a situation where a server is no longer allowed to take on additional tables.
  • Deadhead – A patron who occupies a table but does not order anything, usually because they are waiting for someone.
  • Dine and dash – To eat at a restaurant and leave without paying the bill.
  • DINE-IN – When a customer orders food to eat at a restaurant, this is referred to as “dine-in.”
  • Double – Two of something, typically alcoholic drinks. Ex: “I’ll have a double vodka on the rocks.”
  • Double – If you’re a waiter or waitress, you may sometimes have to work two shifts in a row, which is referred to as a double.
  • DOG – “Day Old Goods.” This term is used to describe food that is no longer fresh.
  • Drop – Start cooking the accompanied item.
  • Expeditor – A person who is responsible for making sure that food orders leave the kitchen in a timely manner.
  • First come, first serve – The policy of some restaurants where they will only seat parties once everyone in the party has arrived.
  • FIFO – FIFO refers to prepped food items that need to be used up before new ones are brought out. This ensures that food is fresh and doesn’t go to waste. First in, first out is another term for this same concept.
  • Fire it – When a chef is ready to start cooking a dish, they will say “fire it” to let the kitchen staff know. This term is often used for items that need to be cooked quickly, like steaks.
  • Floor manager – A staff member who is responsible for managing the dining room and making sure that everything runs smoothly.
  • Fly – “Fly” is a shorthand way of saying “poultry” when you’re referring to the meat in your walk-in cooler.
  • Gratuity – A tip, typically given to good service.
  • Guest Initiated Arrival – This term refers to when guests let the restaurant know they have arrived by using contactless communication, like SMS texting.
  • Heard – “Heard” is a term used to acknowledge that the front-of-house and back-of-house staff are on the same page.
  • HOH – House of Horrors; a restaurant that is in total disarray, often dirty and unorganized
  • Host/hostess – The staff member responsible for seating guests at a restaurant.
  • House Wine – The restaurant’s cheapest wine option.
  • In the weeds – When a server is overwhelmed with customers.
  • KDS – KDS stands for kitchen display system – a system that shows orders on a screen in the kitchen. It can be integrated with the POS (point of sale) and restaurant reservation systems.
  • KP – “Kitchen Porter.” This is a UK term for a restaurant employee whose job is to do the dishes and clean the kitchen.
  • Last call – The warning from the bartender that the bar is about to close.
  • Line cook – A cook who is responsible for preparing food orders.
  • LTO – “Limited Time Only.” This refers to menu items that are only available for a short period of time.
  • Manager – A staff member who is responsible for running the restaurant and making sure that everything runs smoothly.
  • Meal period – The time of day when a restaurant serves its main meals, typically lunch and dinner.
  • Menu – A list of the food and drink items that a restaurant offers.
  • Mid – Mid-shift refers to a work shift that starts during lunch and continues through dinner. This shift is usually the first to be cut.
  • Mis en Place – This term is used to mean that everything is ready and in place. This is often used in the restaurant industry to ensure that all ingredients and supplies are ready before cooking or serving.
  • Mispack – “Mispack” refers to an order that was put together and delivered incorrectly – in other words, a mistake in the packing.
  • NOODS – “NOODLES.” This term is used when a customer orders a dish that contains noodles.
  • Off-Premise – Off-Premise refers to any order that is not going to be eaten at the restaurant. This includes orders for curbside service, takeout, and delivery.
  • On the Fly – When a customer order is made “on the fly,” this means that it’s being made without advance notice.
  • One Star – A “one star” is a customer who’s always looking for something negative to say in a review.
  • OPEN TABLE – “Open Table” is an online reservation system that restaurants use to manage bookings.
  • Operational Efficiency – This term is used by managers to improve various aspects of the business.
  • Party – A “party” in restaurant jargon refers to a group of guests. For example, you might see “party of 4” written on a reservation.
  • Pre-Shift – A pre-shift is a meeting that is held before a shift begins. During this meeting, the managers will go over the day’s specials and any other important information.
  • QSR – Acronym for a quick-service restaurant.
  • Restaurateur – A restaurateur is a person who owns or manages a restaurant and is responsible for its overall operation and management, including hiring staff, purchasing food and supplies, setting menus and prices, and ensuring customer satisfaction.
  • Run – “Run” refers to bringing something to a table – so if somebody says “run this food to table 4”, they’re asking you to take it over there.
  • RUNNER – A runner is a restaurant employee whose job is to deliver food from the kitchen to the tables.
  • Scripting – Scripting refers to telling diners about the special and convincing them to order it.
  • Server – A server is a restaurant employee whose job is to take orders and serve food.
  • Sharp – There is someone behind you with a sharp object, like a knife. Be careful!
  • Shelf life – The shelf life of a food item is the length of time it can be stored before it begins to spoil.
  • Side duties – The side duties in a restaurant are all of the tasks that are not directly related to guest satisfaction. This can include cleaning, rubbish disposal, preparation work, and so on.
  • Split Shift – A staff member who works two or more separate shifts during a day is said to be working a split shift.
  • Spinning – Being overwhelmed with work or other responsibilities can feel like you’re just spinning in place. This can be frustrating and cause anxiety. See also: in the weeds.
  • Spirit – Distilled alcohol
  • Starter – The same as an appetizer.
  • Straight up – A diner orders something exactly the way it is on the menu.
  • Styling – A server is operating at maximum capacity when it is fulfilling all requests made by clients. This usually occurs during high-traffic times.
  • Sub – If you would like to have a different menu item than what is currently offered, you may ask to substitute it for something else.
  • Swim – Shorthand for “fish” in your walk-in cooler.
  • Swinging – When a dish is being plated, it is referred to as swinging. This term is often used in professional kitchens to describe the act of putting food onto a plate in an aesthetically pleasing way.
  • Table Turnover – The table turnover rate is the speed at which customers are being seated at a sit-down restaurant. A high table turnover rate is good because it means more customers are being served.
  • Table turn – This term is crucial for wait staff – it refers to every time a table is set up for a new party. This includes when a party arrives and when they leave.
  • To-go – Orders for food that will be taken off of the premises, such as curbside service, takeout, or delivery.
  • Top – The number of people in a dining party, as in “8 people at table 20.” See also: the number of seats at a table/how many guests a table could seat.
  • Underwater/drowning – A server is said to be “drowning” when it is overwhelmed with customers or requests.
  • Upsell – A upsell is a way to encourage customers to buy more expensive items.
  • Use first – The inventory that needs to be used next so it won’t go bad.
  • Walk-in – A walk-in refrigerator is a type of restaurant equipment that is commonly used in restaurants.
  • Walk-In – A “walk-in” is a customer who comes into the restaurant without a reservation.
  • Walkout – A diner that left without paying.
  • Waxing a table – Refers to VIP treatment of a table.
  • Well drinks – Drinks made from the inexpensive liquor the restaurant has on hand.
  • Wheelman – The kitchen expeditor.
  • Working – Food that is being prepared.


If you’re new to the restaurant industry, the lingo can be pretty intimidating. There’s a lot of slang and terminology that gets thrown around, and it can be hard to keep track of it all. This comprehensive guide is some of the most common terms you’re likely to hear in a restaurant kitchen or dining room.

How many of these restaurant-related terms did you know? Were you able to get them all correct? Is there any other vocabulary related to restaurants that you would like to add? Feel free to leave a comment below!


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