Restaurant Terms

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When you go out to eat at a restaurant and you are seated near the expeditor and/or the kitchen, you may hear a few terms that you are not familiar with, unless you have worked in the restaurant industry. These terms are commonly used among cooks and servers. It is like their own language. When a person gets their first job in a restaurant, getting used to this language can be difficult. Many of the cooks and servers will use these terms and walk away leaving you wondering what the heck they just said to you. If you are curious about the most common terms in this restaurant language, read on.

Back of the house/front of the house: This one is easy. The back of the house refers mainly to the kitchen, but the office and expeditor station are also situated there. The front of the house is the part of the restaurant where guests dine, people are seated and drinks are served.

On the fly: On the fly means, make that as fast as you possibly can in restaurant terms. This term is used when something was not ordered back to the kitchen in a timely manner or there was some other mistake along the way. So, if you hear an authoritative voice in the kitchen say, “Ordering a (insert food here) on the fly.” you know they are in a hurry.

Behind you: After ten years spent working in kitchens, I find myself using this term in all kinds of places-especially the grocery store. “Behind you” is what a staff member will say when they are walking behind someone else. Restaurants can be so loud and busy that it is all too easy for people to just crash into each other. If you say behind you, then your “teammate” knows you are there and will not back up into that hot pot of water you are carrying.

Corner: Corner is another restaurant term that is used to keep people from crashing into each other. It is used when you. . . you guessed it. . . are going around a corner. It does not matter if you are empty-handed, the person who may be coming around that corner might not be. These terms should be used consistently.

In the weeds: This restaurant term is often used an S.O.S. If you hear a cook cry “Ah! I’m in the weeds.” it means she/he is getting too many orders at once and they need help. It can also be used as a negative answer to a request to help. For example, “Can you help me clean my station?” “Sorry, I can’t. I’m in the weeds.” Basically, it means, “I am very busy. If you’re not going to help me, get out of my way.”

86: 86 is simple. It means we are all out. Cooks use this term to inform servers and other cooks that they are out of something. The message is then passed to the rest of the staff. This is a cook’s favorite restaurant term. It is dorky, but when my shift was over in the middle of a rush, I used to say “86 Shelly.” with a big smile on my face.

Fire: When a cook tells another cook to fire something, that means get is started. This term is used when certain dishes need to go out before others, so you have to wait to start some of them. Once the salad or appetizer is on the guest’s table, you fire their entrees.

Up sell: This restaurant term is the dirty word that leads your server to push certain drinks or foods on you. When a server comes to your table and say something like “Have you tried our mojitos? They are to die for.” That means that their manager has told them to “up sell” mojitos. It is probably just an ordinary mojito, trust me.

Dish pit: Dish pit is the restaurant term for dungeon, I mean, dish area. This is where our busboys, dishwashers and, on the occasion, managers, servers and cooks, wash dishes. It is my belief that this term got started when a poor cook was forced to wash his own pots and pans when a dishwasher was out sick. It really is like a pit, minus the sunk into the ground part.

Now that you know what these terms mean, you will have a better understanding of what is going on in a restaurant the next time you enter one. It seems like a small success. However, I have to admit that I feel much better knowing what those cooks are yelling about in the “back of the house.”

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