50 Restaurant Terms You Should Know

Whether you’re thinking about opening a restaurant, working the front of house or back of house, or even frequenting the dining scene — you may have heard some restaurant jargon that is pretty unique to the industry! While each place may have its own vernacular, during the hustle and bustle of the rush; the lingo that is used to communicate on a daily basis is key to keeping operations up and running smoothly. Let’s take a dive into 50 restaurant terms used across the hospitality industry.  

2-top, 4-top, etc.  

The number of guests that can be seated at a table. A two-top table for 2 people, a four-top table for 4 — the list goes on. Hosts will use this term when talking with servers or seating new guests in their section. 

86 / “Eighty-Sixed”  

This term is used when a dish is unable to be prepared due to the main ingredient being sold out or other important ingredients being unavailable. 
This can also jokingly refer to patrons who are causing a disruption who need to be ejected from the establishment. Be kind and don’t get 86’d! 

À La Carte  

A French phrase meaning “according to the (menu) card” for individually priced items from the menu, not part of a set meal.  

All Day  

This refers to the total number of items that need to be dispatched out from the kitchen that day, combining all of the incoming orders. 

Back of House (BOH)  

This includes everything that is non-customer facing in the restaurant, usually behind the dining room such as staff (chefs, line cooks) and the kitchen, inventory storage, offices, and prep rooms.  

Bev Nap  

The small, square napkins placed under beverages when served. These can be used to wipe the table or your hands.  


A staff member who cleans up the table, bussers take dishes and wipe the dining area down to prepare it for its next guests.  


Guests who have already finished their meals and paid but remain at the table. Campers can lead to longer waits during a busy service or a rush. 


Short for “complementary”. A dish, meal, or drink that is given for free to a guest. A comped item is given for a variety of reasons such as its not up to standards (the order is running incredibly behind or cold), done as a gesture to an important guest, or for a special occasion.  


When service begins to slow, staff can be “cut” so that they can stop taking tables and complete their side work and go home. This usually happens in the order in which staff comes in.  

Chef’s Table  

One of the most luxurious ways to dine, Chef’s Tables are reserved for special guests who are served a custom-curated dining experience that wouldn’t be offered in the regular dining room.  

Cooked to Order  

A dish or order that is cooked with the customer’s specifics in mind. It is not pre-prepared. 


Two shifts back–to–back. 


This happens when hosts seat guests in a server’s section back-to-back. Getting double-sat as a server can be stressful and can make it difficult to greet, take orders, and run food at the same time.  

Drop the Check  

Describes when servers present the guest with their bill at the end of their meal. 

Expeditor / Expo  

A person responsible for reading orders to the kitchen staff from the ticket, arranging and checking the accuracy of plates to make sure the presentation is top-notch before it leaves the kitchen on time to go to the customer. They are also in charge of communication between the Back of House and the Front of House.  

Front of House (FOH)  

The front of the restaurant includes the dining room, bar, and waiting area. Staff who are customer-facing such as servers, hostesses, and bartenders are usually FOH. 

Full-Service Restaurant / FSR  

Full-service restaurants provide service to guests with employed serving staff that take orders and deliver food.   

Ghost Kitchen / Ghost Restaurants  

This is a kitchen or restaurant that does not have a dining area but offers delivery and occasional takeout. They use third-party delivery services to take orders and get meals to customers. 

Happy Hour  

A set period of time in which the price of drinks or a specialized menu is reduced.  

Holding Time  

The amount of time that a dish can be held after it is prepared until the time it can be served without compromising on food safety and quality. 

In the Weeds  

When a server or other member of the staff is super busy due to having a lot of tables in their section, handling a large party, or more. 


A term to describe a busy and very popular restaurant.  

Kill It  

To overcook an item, usually at the guest’s request.  

Last Call  

A warning at the end of the night to customers to let them know that the kitchen or bar is about to close. This is usually when they can get their final orders in. 

Line Cook  

Essential to the functioning of a restaurant kitchen. Line cooks prep ingredients and assemble the dishes according to various recipes. 


A shift that starts at lunch and will run through dinner. These shifts are the first to be cut.  

Mise en place  

A French culinary term that means “putting in place”, referring to preparing all of the ingredients and cooking tools prior to actually cooking a dish before the service starts.  


When employees miss their shift without any explanation or call to their supervisors. Guests with reservations who are late or don’t show up are also considered no-shows  

On the Fly  

A task that needs to be completed immediately or as quickly as possible.  


A front of house employee who is responsible for opening and operating the restaurant at the start of business hours.  


Any additional factors which are included in calculating the food cost for your restaurant.  

Point of Sale (POS)  

A system used to process transactions, manage sales, track inventory, and more.  

Pick Up  

When another server takes over another’s tables or section.  


A group of restaurant guests seated at the same table.  

Quick Service Restaurant / QSR 

A restaurant that is focused on providing customers with food as quickly as possible with no table service. Food is cooked to order from a limited menu in a short amount of time.  


Staff who brings food from the kitchen to the table or to other parts of the restaurant.  

Roll Up  

Cleaned and prepped utensils which are wrapped in napkins, part of side work. 

Soft Launch  

The announcement that a new restaurant is opening, a new menu is being released, or other major changes to be made before opening, are usually intended for a small group of people to try some sample menu items before the grand opening or release.  


An appetizer or entrée before the main dish.  

Side Work 

Prep that is required to keep the restaurant operational. This includes drying, polishing and rolling up silverware, refilling salt and pepper shakers, etc.  

Tip Pooling  

Staff who make tips contribute their earnings into a pool and then that amount is distributed among all employees, often based on assigned percentages.  


An order that is printed out from a POS system to alert the kitchen what order needs to be made with any additional substitutions or moderations. Tickets also help the expo ensure that the dish matches the order.  

Take Out  

Food that customers order from a restaurant that they can pick up to eat elsewhere.  


A technique used by servers to get guests to purchase more expensive items on the menu or to even upsize the size of their meal.  

Value Meal  

A combination of restaurant items that are bundled and sold at a lower price.  


A refrigerated room used to keep items that are perishable cold or frozen.

This term is also used to describe a guest that walks into the restaurant without a reservation  


Bartenders will use an inexpensive house or bar-rail branded alcohol when a customer doesn’t specify the brand. 


A place where food is placed when it is ready to be brought out to the guests. These windows sperate the cooking stations from the server area of the kitchen with the window having a heat lamp above to keep the dish hot.  

Year to Date  

The period starting at the beginning of the current year and ending in the current day. This is used to see how the business is fairing up to the current date versus its set budget for that period for sales, profits, etc.  

How much of this restaurant slang did you know? As long-time restaurateurs, we know that staying in the know with the latest lingo can help prevent miscommunication around your restaurant. That’s why choosing a technology partner with decades of industry experience is key. From technology that powers your operations to terms that keep you and your staff in the loop, we believe that restaurant technology is key to powering your back office. Learn how you can cover your operations with Decision Logic.  

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