Restaurant Terms Defined: All the Lingo and Industry Slang You Should Know

Speaking the language of the line.
December 11, 2020, 10:27 PM UTC
Restaurant Terms Defined: All the Lingo and Industry Slang You Should Know

The restaurant business is like no other, so it only stands to reason that restaurant slang is completely unique as well. Restaurant workers in the front of house and back of house use different terms, lingo, and language to communicate quickly and effectively with one another during even the busiest of shifts. Check out some common slang terms used by restaurant workers below.


This means that the kitchen is out of a certain dish or ingredient. When you "86" something, you're out of the item for the rest of service and customers can't order it. One legend has it that this term originated at Delmonico's, a historic steakhouse in New York City with 100 items on its menu. Item #86, a Delmonico cut steak, was particularly popular and often ran out, so workers came to calling out "86" to let each other know.


This is a call workers will make to alert another staffer of their position relative to them in tight quarters, such as the kitchen or bar. One would say "behind" while walking behind another person to avoid collision or an accident.


Much like "behind," workers should yell this when going around a blind corner to alert people to their presence and avoid collisions.


A seated table. When a restaurant does 50 covers in a night, that means 50 parties have been served that evening. But a cover could be one person or 10, so not all covers are created equal.


When chef asks a cook to begin preparing a dish, this is how they'll ask.

"Front of house" and "back of house"

The two sides to pretty much every restaurant operation. The front is where customers and waitstaff interact; the back is where food prep and administrative work happen. ("Back of House" is also the name of this very website, now you know why!)

>>>RELATED: The key differences between front and back of house

"In the weeds" or "weeded"

This signifies that a worker is behind on their work, usually due to an unexpected rush or an understaffed shift. A server might be "in the weeds" if they can't keep up with their tables, while a kitchen might be in the weeds if they have too many orders to keep track of.

"On the fly"

When a server needs something last minute, it's "on the fly." This may happen if a customer is dissatisfied with something and wants a refire, or if a server forgot to put something in.

The rail

This is the metal bar that holds printed tickets for the line to reference as they're firing orders.

"Running the pass" and "dying on the pass"

A worker overseeing incoming tickets and outgoing plates is "running" it. When a waiter is tardy in grabbing plates to be run to their respective tables, the food is said to be "dying on the pass," because it's getting cold. Chef would not be pleased.


Restaurants are divided into sections of tables, and each section is assigned to a server. The host or hostess is responsible for knowing the sections and for seating customers in a staggered way as to not overwhelm one server more than the others.

Side work

This refers to the tasks servers must do before and after each shift. These tasks include filling ketchup bottles, polishing glasses, filling salt and pepper shakers, setting tables, sweeping, and more. It's menial, untipped labor, so unsurprisingly, servers are not fans of side work.

Turnover or "turned tables"

How often a table is filled during a shift. Higher turnover means more customers served with shorter wait times, and generally means more money earned. Woohoo!


This practice refers to recommending a more expensive item or certain additions to customers in order to increase their bill. Want avocado and bacon on that cheeseburger for just a few bucks more? Of course you do—and that's the upsell.

The window or "pass"

Where food is placed when finished cooking. This heated area is stationed in front of the expo's station. Food must be removed from the window and taken to tables promptly to avoid it going bad, or "dying in the window"

[Photo: Edward Eyer via Pexels]