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The Language of Restaurants

Everything You Should Know About Restaurant Lingo

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The Language of Restaurants

May I take your order? How much restaurant lingo do you understand?

Karl-Erik Bennion

One of my all time favorite movies is Waiting… It is about a bunch of servers working a dinner shift at a fictitious chain restaurant called Shenanigans (think Applebee’s). The movie includes just about every type of restaurant staff stereotype you can think of, from the flaky hostess to a sleazy waiter who hit on every girl in the joint to busboys sneaking whip-its in the walk-in. A non-restaurant friend watched the movie and didn’t like it at all. He didn’t understand it. Part of the problem was he had never worked in a restaurant and just didn’t get it.

The restaurant world is different from other industries. We act different, we dress different, we speak different when we work in a restaurant. And you have to work in the biz to really understand how it operates, its subtle nuances and unspoken rules. Like the server whose worked at the same restaurant for the past three years can wear jeans when no one else can. Or that you must dish wash for a month before being allowed to set foot in the kitchen as a prep cook. Or that when the owner threatens to fire you for being late again, he never will because you bring in too much money in sales and the customers love you. Every restaurant has its own rites and rituals.

Another stumbling block for my friend watching Waiting… was the language.

  • A. It was extremely vulgar. Just like in a real restaurant and,
    B. There were a lot of restaurant terms he didn’t understand.

I hadn’t given much thought to the restaurant terminology in the movie. I forget that unless you work in a restaurant, something like “You have a 2-top at D-1 who just want apps” will be about as understandable as Latin or Ancient Greek. (It translate to “You have two people sitting in your section at table 1 and they would just like to order appetizers rather than a full dinner.”)

I can only imagine what it must be like for someone who wants to open a restaurant without any restaurant experience (I strongly suggest you read Five Restaurant Myths first). They wouldn’t have the faintest clue what their cooks or servers are talking about during a busy shift.

To help familiarize yourself with the language and vernacular of the restaurant world, I suggest you take a gander at the Restaurant Glossary, which lists every term I could think of relating to working in a restaurant from Baine Marie to Up Selling. Some terms you may be familiar with, such as Bartending, while others will be foreign, like Expediter or POS System .

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