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Restaurant Terms and Lingo You Need to Know

a picture of a word cloud with common restaurant terms and lingo included in it

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If you’re in the hospitality industry, it’s a good idea to brush up on restaurant terms and lingo. There are all sorts of unique phrases used in restaurants around the nation, and knowing them will make it easier to communicate with your staff. Our guide will give you insider knowledge on what phrases like “bump bar” and “FOH” really mean.

Common Restaurant Terms and Lingo

Below is a list of common food service terms and their definitions:


If the kitchen has run out of an ingredient, it is 86ed. You’ll need to tell wait staff about the 86ed item so that they know to quit offering it to guests. 86 is also used as a verb, such as saying, “86 the soup of the day.”

A La Carte

An a la carte item is a menu item that people order separately from the rest of the meal. For example, if the roast chicken is always served with potatoes, they aren’t a la carte. However, if a steakhouse lets people order a steak and then pay for a separate side of their choosing, the mashed potatoes would be a la carte.


BOH stands for “back of the house.” This refers to any restaurant staff who work behind the scenes in the kitchen. Any non-customer facing role, including chefs, kitchen prep, or storage area staff, are BOH staff.

Bump Bar

A bump bar is a tool used to control the kitchen display that manages orders. This is a small keypad with touch buttons that staff can use to move a ticket to a cooking state, select a ticket number, prioritize certain tickets, and more.


A busser is a staff member responsible for cleaning up a table. They will typically do things like take dirty dishes to the dishwasher, throw away table debris, and wipe down dirty tables.


Campers are restaurant guests who continue to sit at their table after they have finished eating and paid a check. These guests can be a problem because they take up valuable resources without resulting in any profit for your business. However, rudely kicking them out can lead to poor reviews. It’s one of those restaurant terms and lingo that you need to know, but you hope you rarely hear.


Comp is short for “complimentary,” and it is usually used as a verb. A server might comp a menu item if the guest has a problem with it, or comping can provide a free reward to VIPs or celebrating guests.

Double Sat

If a server is being double sat, it means the host has seated two or more parties in the same server’s section at the same time. This is stressful for the server since they end up having to take a lot of orders and deliver a lot of food in a very short amount of time. If you want to avoid conflicts, you should try to reduce the chances of anyone being double sat.


In a restaurant setting, saying something needs to be “fired” doesn’t mean lighting a literal fire. Instead, chefs use this kitchen slang to tell someone to start cooking a dish.


FOH, or “front of house,” is a term that refers to staff in customer-facing positions. Servers, hosts, and bartenders are all FOH staff.


A KDS is short for “kitchen display system.” It refers to a viewing screen that helps the kitchen keep track of orders. A KDS is essentially just the digital version of the paper order tickets older restaurants use. Servers enter orders, and then the kitchen can see when to cook certain items.

Mise en Place

This is a French term that describes food preparation. Mise en place refers to measuring out, chopping, and preparing relevant ingredients before the chef puts them in the meal.

Pick Up

When one server picks up, it means they are taking over a table for another server. Servers might do this to help a busy co-worker or to care for a friend who is sitting in another server’s section.

Point of Sale

The point-of-sale system, or POS system for short, lets a restaurant tally up order totals and accept payments from customers. Many POS systems also help with things like sales tracking and other useful metrics.

Side Work

Side work is the work that servers do during free time when they are not taking orders, bringing food, or otherwise working with customers. This kind of work varies a lot depending on what sort of restaurant you run. It can include things like brewing tea, filling to-go containers with sauce, or rolling silverware into napkins. Task management systems can be used to help restaurant employees keep track of their side work.


The sous-chef is the second in command. When the main chef is not in the kitchen, the sous-chef will be in charge. This is a restaurant term you’re more likely to hear in a fancy restaurant.


The ticket is a customer’s order. Tickets tell the kitchen what to cook, and staff will also use them to figure out a customer’s check.


A top is simply a table, booth, or other seating area. You’ll usually hear staff refer to the top as something like a two-top or four-top. This number stands for the number of customers a top will seat.

Turning Tables

Turning tables refers to a server’s ability to take a table through the whole cycle of seating guests, ordering food, and paying for the meal. A high number of table turns is a good thing because it means more profit for everyone in the restaurant.


If your restaurant serves liquor, this is a term you need to know. Well refers to inexpensive, generic brand liquors. If a customer does not specify the liquor they want for a mixed drink, well liquor is the typical choice.

When and Why to Use Restaurant Terms and Lingo

Once you can recognize and correctly use these restaurant terms and lingo, it’s a lot easier to understand employees and communicate effectively. If you’re in the food service business, and you’d like to improve your workplace communication even more, check out TimeForge. Our labor management solutions include several ways of connecting with your team. We also provide employee scheduling, workforce optimization, sales-to-labor metrics, and other useful tools. Contact us today to learn more about our services.

UPDATE: Want more useful tips and info like this? We just added the content in this post to our new Restaurants 101 eBook for employees. We hope you like it!

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