The Abbreviations and Lingo Every Restaurant Worker Should Know

Carrie Dennis | February 2, 2023, 11:00 PM CST

The Abbreviations and Lingo Every Restaurant Worker Should Know

No matter where you find yourself on the org chart of a restaurant, you’re bound to encounter some dense jargon. The industry’s lingo is famously as pithy as it is fun — restaurant workers, like soldiers, bring a sense of humor to their demanding jobs. And just as surely as you’d hear a zillion abbreviations if you were in the employ of the Department of Defense (a.k.a. the DOD, fyi), you’re going to encounter your fair share of shorthand in any kitchen, hostess station, or back office.

What follows is a rundown of some of the key abbreviations in restaurant lexicon. Now, as with all pursuits, there is some crossover; many abbreviations here apply to other businesses. “Profit before tax”? You don’t necessarily have to manage a restaurant to know that one.

For a primer on broader restaurant vocab, have a peek at our glossary of restaurant lingo, and for a broader course on the business of hospitality, check out some of the titles on this college syllabus. Before you know it you’ll be fluent in the weird, influential, live-fire language of restaurants.


above the line

Not exclusively a restaurant term. This is the sum of costs (labor, ingredients, utilities, rent) you spend just to get food on tables — the expenses needed to earn income. This can also refer to mass-media sales and marketing: e.g., television, billboards, radio, newspapers, magazines. 


buy back

A drink the house gives a customer for free, usually after that person has already spent a nice amount of money. That birthday shot the bartender slides across the bar when a party finally settles up? Probably a buy back, baby.

bev nap

beverage napkin

These are the tiny napkins that sit under your drink at the bar. Fitting name for a small, useful item.


buy one, get one

The oldest promotional offer in the book. Pay for one, get two.


back of house

Basically anything not public facing in a restaurant involved in preparing food or cleaning — the kitchen, the wine room, storage. It also refers to the staff that works in those spaces. Distinct from Front of House.


below the line

The expenses such as interest and taxes that get taken out of your gross revenues after you earn them. Also refers to advertising that isn’t traditional mass media — think: social media marketing, trade shows, and search engine marketing.


bring your own bottle (or bring your own booze or bring your own beer)

When a restaurant allows customers to bring their own alcohol. An establishment may not have a liquor or wine license, or it is just down with you bringing what you like. Customers probably get charged a corkage fee on the latter.


customer acquisition cost

How much you spend in research, marketing, and advertising to get someone new to spend money at your establishment.


cutlery, crockery, glassware

Makes it easy to refer to tableware. It’s most often used by managers. 


chef de partie / demi chef de partie

A “station” chef in charge of a particular section of a kitchen, such as grilling, frying, or overseeing the vegetables. In a large kitchen, this person, often called a line cook, might supervise others.


department of health

Health inspections come around at least once a year. Better know how to alert the staff fast. 


direct store delivery

A service that brings products from a manufacturer or supplier directly to the retailer or restaurant, bypassing a distribution center.


equated monthly installment

A fixed amount that a loan borrower pays to their lender each month. 


employee stock option plan

In addition to salary and tips, compensating employees with shares of the restaurant can inspire loyalty and company pride. 


furniture, fixtures, and equipment

All the freestanding equipment and appliances in a restaurant: tables, chairs, espresso machines, blenders, and so forth.


first-in, first-out

A way to manage food inventory. Let’s say you cut a bunch of limes into wedges for drinks. Under FIFO rules, you’d dish out the oldest first. Apply that across the board. 


front of house

All the customer-facing roles and areas of the establishment. Compare to back of house.


full-service restaurant

Casual family restaurants, fine dining, pubs. Any establishment that has table service is an FSR. Compare to QSR.

GN pan

Gastronorm pan

The Gastronorm standard is a mostly European standard for kitchenware trays and containers. They come in all sizes and materials, most commonly stainless steel.


happy hour

A timeframe of discounted drinks and small snacks at a restaurant or bar, a state of mind, and what corporate officers force their workers to go to at 5pm on Tuesdays in the name of team bonding. Paradoxically it's rarely just one hour, and it's often not all that happy.


kitchen display system

A digital screen system that simplifies back-of-house operations by organizing orders and allowing real-time updates.


legal drinking age

Or “minimum legal drinking age.” The minimum age someone can purchase and consume alcohol. It’s 21 in the U.S. of A., younger in other countries and Canadian provinces.


no call no show

When an employee doesn’t come into work and doesn’t tell anyone about it. Generally this is grounds for firing.


operating supplies and equipment

Everything a restaurant needs to run: CCG, bar and kitchen tools, paper towels. Typically things that don’t need to be installed.


profit after/before tax

Two handy phrases that compare the amount of money you feel like you have to the amount you actually have.


private dining room

A secluded place in a restaurant where guests can hang with select group of people, away from the main areas of the restaurant.


point of sale

The time, place, and terminal where a transaction is completed. Basically, where and how diners and drinkers pay, and so essential to the operations of the restaurant, it’s now among the industry’s most fundamental abbreviations.


quick service restaurant

A fast-food or take-out joint. Restaurants with minimal-to-no table service are collectively considered QSRs.


server’s assistant

A busser, generally.


soup of the day

It’s the soup special of the day! Often abbreviated this way on menus and when staff takes orders.


standard operating procedures

Operational instructions and processes that everyone follows. Often it’s a manual or a set of rules that explains all roles and responsibilities, regulatory requirements, and routine tasks. 


sauce on the side

Not, in fact, a cry for help. Just simply a request for a condiment to be placed in the periphery of the ordered dish and definitely not on it.



You know when there’s a cobb salad on the menu but you want fried chicken instead of grilled and balsamic dressing instead of honey mustard? Just ask for a lil’ sub.



Rhymes with “edge.” As far as restaurant abbreviations go, this one is pretty accessible.

[Photo by Brian Tromp on Unsplash]

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