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Restaurant Terms and Slang: How to Talk Like a Seasoned Restaurateur

Restaurant Terms and Slang: How to Talk Like a Seasoned Restaurateur

The hospitality industry has developed its own vernacular—one that is unique and efficient (and often peppered with expletives). While each restaurant will have its own unique jargon, many restaurant terms are commonly used across the industry.

We reached out to chefs, bussers, servers, hosts, line cooks, owners and managers to build out our list of restaurant terms, lingo and slang—from the most common to the most obscure. Here’s your definitive guide to restaurant terms.

Lightspeed: The most intuitive restaurant POS around

Even if you’re not fluent in all the restaurant terms, Lightspeed Restaurant is easy to understand and use, whether you're a seasoned restaurateur or new to the industry.

 2-top, 4-top, etc…

This is the number of guests you seat at a table. The host will typically use this term when informing the server their table has been sat with new guests. A 2-top has 2 people, a 4-top has 4, and so on and so forth. 

“I just sat you with a 4-top near the bar.”


Sometimes, the kitchen will run out of an ingredient in a menu item (no more cinnamon sugar rims on the fall cocktail), a drink or an entire menu item. This means it’s 86ed. Usually, the manager or the kitchen staff will alert servers so they don’t offer it or can tell guests. 

“We have to 86 the surf and turf special for the rest of the dinner service.” 

Adam and Eve on a raft

This refers to two eggs—poached or scrambled—on toast. 

“I need those eggs right away. That’s the third Adam and Eve on a raft in a row we’ve had ordered!” 


This refers to the total amount of a particular dish needed at a specific moment in time. So if you’re cooking three burgers and three more tickets come in with five more burgers between them, you’ve got eight all day. Think of it as another way of saying “total”. 

“Chef, can I get an all day?”

“Eight all day—five medium rare, kill three.”

À la carte

This French term means a menu item is sold by itself. In a steakhouse, for example, it’s common for steaks to be sold with sides à la carte. This means the steaks don’t come with a side included.

“Does the steak come with mashed potatoes or is it à la carte?”

Back of house (BOH)

The back of house refers to staff who work in the back of the restaurant, out of sight of diners. These folks are the chefs, kitchen prep, and storage area staff. 


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Bev nap

A small, square napkin for drinks.


This is the staff member who cleans up the dishes, napkins, and other debris from a table, wipes it down and clears it off for the next guests.

“We need a busser to table 5.” 

Bump it

Removing an order from the cook’s kitchen display system screen once it’s made.


These are guests who linger at their table after they’ve finished their meals and paid the check. For a restaurant server, this isn’t great—they’d rather turn their table to a new set of guests. Campers can also be frustrating for guests waiting to be seated.

“These campers at table 12 paid half an hour ago and our waitlist is growing by the minute!” 


When a staff member is scheduled for the closing shift and opening shift the following day. 

“I’m not going to bother wiping down that table before leaving, I’m clopening anyway.”


When an item or meal is given to a guest for free, it’s “comped”. This can happen for many reasons – the item wasn’t up the restaurant’s standards, or maybe the restaurant does it as a gesture to an important guest, or to a guest celebrating a special day. 

“I comped the appetizers at table 5 because their meals came out cold after the kitchen lost their order.” 


Refers to each guest in the restaurant. 

“Holy guacamole, we did 300 covers tonight.”


When a server has been cut from serving more tables. Once they’re “cut”, they focus on finishing up their existing tables and doing their side duties before clocking out.

“Yeah, I was going to work the late service but then I got cut.”

Dead plate

This term is often heard in the back of house. It refers to a plate that’s been sitting in the window under the heat lamps for too long. There are few things more frustrating than wasting food and disrupting the kitchen because a plate sat for too long in the window.

“I need a salmon on the fly, this one’s dead.” 

Dish pit

The dishwashing area in the back of the restaurant.

“The glasswasher’s broken at the bar. Take these back to the dish pit.”


The dishwasher, otherwise known as the “backbone of any food establishment.” (Thank you for your service.)

“Rule number one: never mistreat the dishie. If they walk, service will go totally off the rails.”


To start cooking an accompanying item. 

“The steak is almost ready, drop the fries into the fryer.”

Drop the check

This is when the server presents the guest with their check at the end of the meal. 

“I’ve just gotta drop the check to 60, then I can run the salads to 16!”


This is when the host seats a server’s section back-to-back. This can be tricky timing-wise for a server to greet, take drink orders, take food orders and run food at essentially the same time. 

“Can you take these drinks to table 7? The host double-sat me.”

Double shift/double

When a restaurant employee works two shifts back to back. 

“I am glad to have tomorrow off, I’ve worked doubles the entire weekend.” 

While scheduling staff for a double shift is sometimes unavoidable, it’s important to keep a close eye on the schedule to make sure you’re not over or under scheduling certain employees. This will not only help you keep employees happy, but it will also help you prevent paying through the nose for overtime. Here’s how Toronto’s Bar404 uses Lightspeed and 7shifts to keep labor costs under control.


This is a table in a restaurant that only has two seats.

“I have a deuce waiting and a party of three that just was sat.” 


Short for “duplicate”. It’s the order ticket given to the kitchen.


So this one is fun. Outside of North America, an entrée is usually a dish served before the main course—a starter or appetizer. But, in the United States and most of Canada, the term entrée refers to the main dish or the only dish of a meal.


The food expeditor, or “expo”, is the person in charge of prepping the plates and making sure their presentation is on point before they leave the kitchen. This role is often rotated between servers, hosts and managers. 

Family Meal/A family

A communal, family-style meal provided for the staff before or after service. 


FIFO refers to First In, First Out (proper stock rotation). Essentially, it is an inventory management method that assumes the first goods purchased are the first goods sold. This makes a lot of sense in restaurants where you’re dealing with perishables. Learn more about restaurant inventory management


The head chef in the kitchen uses this term to let everyone know it’s time to start cooking or prepping a dish.

“Fire those steaks for table 15!” 


To quickly heat or cook something partially. 

“Flash those veggies before plating.”

Food runner

Exactly how it sounds: this person’s job is to run the food to the table. Food runner is often an entry level job for someone new to the industry, or a new server might work several shifts as a food runner while they’re in training and getting familiar with dishes. 

“The food runner just dropped table 20’s apps so it’s time to fire their mains.” 

Front of house (FOH)

This is the front of the restaurant—the dining room, waiting area and the bar. Front of house staff are the customer-facing employees, including servers, hostesses, bartenders, etc. 


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An acronym for a full-service restaurant.


When you hear “hands!” coming from the kitchen, it means a plate is finished and ready to be brought to a guest. It’s a signal for the server/expo/food runner to grab the dish and run it to the table. When “hands” don’t arrive in time and the plate sits for too long, you’ve got yourself a dead plate.


When the FOH and BOH are totally in sync.

In the weeds

When a server is swamped or overwhelmed, they’re “in the weeds”. There are a lot of things that can push a server into the weeds, whether that’s a large party, too many tables, inefficient workflows, being double or triple-sat or not having enough support staff (e.g. bussers, runners). 

“Can you get the drinks from the bar for table 12? I’m in the weeds with this party of 16.” 

In the window

When an order is ready to be taken out from the kitchen to a guest’s table, chefs will put it “in the window”, which is a heated shelf or warming area in the kitchen or between the kitchen and dining room. 

“I’ve got two penne à la vodka dishes in the window.” 


This stands for Kitchen Display System; a system in kitchens that displays orders on a screen to chefs. It’s typically integrated with the restaurant point of sale so that orders get pushed to it as soon as they’re taken.

Kill it

“Kill it” means to overcook something (usually by the customer’s request). For example, when someone orders a well-done steak. 

Last call

This is a warning that bartenders and servers use to notify customers when the kitchen or bar is about to close.

“Last call before the kitchen/bar closes. Would you like to order anything beforehand?”


A low refrigerator located under the kitchen prep area.

Market price

Price of an item based on its current cost in the market, often seen with seafood items. The market price is subject to change based on factors such as availability, seasonality and market fluctuations.

Mise en place

This is a French culinary term that directly translates to “putting in place.” It refers to preparing all of your ingredients and cooking tools prior to actually cooking a dish and is typically done before service starts.


A misfire is effectively a mistake resulting in a wasted dish that won’t be sold to a customer. This may be a cook accidentally cooking or preparing an item before it’s needed, or a server punching in the wrong item.


A customer who makes a reservation but doesn’t turn up.

On the fly

Mistakes can happen. A server may forget to punch in an order or a guest may not like what they ordered. In these circumstances, the kitchen may need to make a dish as soon as they possibly can—this is “on the fly.” The kitchen is not a fan of this… but it happens. 

“I forgot to put in the order for table 5. I need two pasta specials on the fly!” 

One star

A customer who makes it their mission to find negative things to say in a review. Learn the right way to respond to bad restaurant reviews.


Refers to the size of the group dining at your restaurant.

“Incoming party of six.”

Pick up

This is when one server takes over another server’s tables. For example, a server who’s been cut shortly after starting a new table. If the table looks like they’re going to be there a while, it often makes more sense to transfer the table to the server who’ll be taking over the section. 

“I just got cut, can you pick up table 15? They have their drinks but you’ll need to take the food order soon.” 


An acronym for point of sale; the system that wait staff use to place orders and where each sale is recorded. Robust POS solutions such as Lightspeed Restaurant do more than just record sales, providing a single touchpoint from which you can manage your workforce, inventory, marketing campaigns and more.

Unlike disconnected solutions that can’t scale with your growing business because of their limited features, clunky workarounds and DIY onboarding and support, Lightspeed provides restaurants with timesaving tools and integrations, data that helps them serve faster and better and support from industry experts who know what it takes to succeed in the market today. Learn more about Lightspeed Restaurant.

Push it

Actively sell a particular item or dish. A restaurant might want to push a particular item to prevent it from going to waste, to encourage guests to try new menu items or to sell items with better profit margins.

“Make sure you push the salmon special tonight. We don’t want to see that fish go to waste!”

Prix fixe

Prix fixe refers to a menu with a fixed price and limited options.


An acronym for quick service restaurant.


The act of bringing something to a table.

“Run these entrées to table 3.”


The person “running” food to the table.


Informing diners of the special and selling the special.


When a new employee is learning by closely observing another, they are “shadowing” that employee.

Side work/Side duties

This is no one’s favorite… but it has to happen. This is prep work performed by the FOH staff to ensure that things run smoothly during service or to set up the next service for success.

“Make sure you roll the silverware tonight, that side work has to be done.” 

Silent service

Serving guests unobtrusively and anticipating their needs without being asked. Every guest is different and may be more or less open to engaging with the front of house staff. Reading a guest’s body language is an important skill, especially for servers. 


An abbreviation for “sauce on the side.”

Sous chef/Sous

Second-in-command in the kitchen, directly under the head chef.


A form of an internship where a cook or chef works briefly, for free, in another chef’s kitchen to learn and be exposed to new techniques. Pronounced “staahj”, it’s based on the French “stagiaire” meaning trainee or intern.


To substitute one menu item for another.

“Sub fries with Caesar salad.” 

Stretch it

This is when the kitchen is running low on a certain ingredient and they do whatever they can to “stretch” whatever is left of it to last through the rush or the rest of the night.

“We only have five onions left… stretch it to the end of the night!”


The same thing as an appetizer.

Table turns

Table turns refers to the number of times that a specific table has been sat and settled during a shift. Basically, how many times did a guest or group sit there, order and pay over the course of a shift? 

This is an important restaurant metric, for servers and management. For servers because it often dictates how much they can earn during their shift. If a table sits empty for most of the shift, or if campers settle in for much of the night, the potential to generate sales and tips goes way down. How long it takes to turn a table—or “turn time”—is often out of the server’s control, but sometimes it comes down to a server’s inexperience or lack of sense of urgency.

For example, let’s say you’re a manager using Lightspeed’s Advanced Insights. In the Server Reports, you notice that one server regularly turns fewer tables than the others on any given shift. This a good indication that they could use some coaching on how to better manage their section.

Table/Ticket stacking

This is when servers take orders for several tables and then punch them in all at once. This isn’t great for guests—who end up waiting longer to get their orders—or for the kitchen. When the kitchen is slammed, service slows down for everyone in the restaurant. 

Proper pacing in restaurants is crucial to maintaining control in the kitchen and ensuring a positive guest experience. Tableside ordering can help ensure good pacing by enabling instant order sending and eliminating trips back and forth to a central POS. 


The number of people in a dining party.

“You’ve got an eight-top at table 6.”


When an order is entered into the restaurant POS, it prints out a ticket that alerts the kitchen of the order.

“I have 10 tickets in the window.” 

Turn and burn

Quickly turning over tables in a restaurant.


Upselling is a sales technique in which a server/bartender/manager suggests more expensive items to guests to increase check size. Done properly, upselling looks like great customer service, requiring top-tier product knowledge, intuition and subtlety. 

Upselling is an effective way for restaurants to boost their profits, and an important skill for servers to have. It’s a good idea for restaurants to identify their top sellers and those who could use some extra coaching to develop those skills. Lightspeed’s Server Reports offer a fast and easy way for restaurant managers to identify knowledge gaps and build a top-performing team.

Use first

The inventory that needs to get used first so that it doesn’t go to waste.


Most commonly refers to a walk-in refrigerator.


A diner who leaves the restaurant without paying. (Ugh, the worst.)

Waxing the table

A term used to infer giving VIP treatment to a table.

“Do you know who that is? Wax the table.” 


This refers to the house, non-premium alcohol. So when a guest orders a basic gin and tonic, for example, unless they ask for (or are upsold to) a premium gin, they’ll receive the standard gin from the “well”. 

“Are you sure they wanted well for those martinis?”

It’s important for all of your staff to understand the difference so they can make appropriate suggestions and to prevent costly mistakes. 


The kitchen expeditor.


Food that’s in the process of being prepared.

Your definitive guide to restaurant slang

How many of these restaurant terms did you already know? Do you know any restaurant terms that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments or shoot us a message on social.

If you’re looking for a technology partner to help streamline and manage your operations, talk to one of our experts about how Lightspeed can help.

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