Learn the Lingo: A Guide to Kitchen Jargon from A-Z
All the terms you need to know for working back & front of house so you don’t get 86’d.
By: Jessi Minneci
Have you ever walked into a busy restaurant on a Saturday night, only to get seated next to the open kitchen (A.K.A. one of the most entertaining seats in the house!)? All night, you were probably tantalized with delicious, fresh smells wafting over the border wall and into your vicinity. Yum!
Keep thinking back to that experience. Being so close to the kitchen, did you notice anything else in particular? Something you may not have picked up on was all of the conversation going on between the back-of-the-house team. And that’s probably because it sounded like a bunch of gibberish to you.
“By 9, we were slammed and had already 86’d halibut and monkfish. I was running the pass when this huge push was happening, and we were doing the skirt steak a la minute, you know?”
If you’re scratching your head at that sentence, you’ve probably never worked in a kitchen before. Like all industries, the kitchen has developed its own jargon—one that is at once clever, efficient, and sometimes a little crude. We’re breaking down all of the kitchen slang A-Z so that you’ll be talking like a true sous chef in no time.
12-top: Depending on the number of guests that can fit at a table, that determines what type of ‘top’ the table is. If four people can sit at the table, the table is a four-top. If 12 people can sit at the table, it’s a 12-top. And so on…
3 out: Plating and preparation time is crucial when it comes to the successful flow of a kitchen, especially on busy days. Three out refers to the amount of time before a dish will be ready to be plated. If the chef yells “3 out on the duck,” that means the duck will be ready for plating in three minutes. “5 out on the shepherd’s pie” means that that dish will be ready to go in five minutes.
86’d: When the kitchen runs out of a dish, it’s “86’d” from the menu. Certain dishes can also be 86’d if the chef is unhappy with the preparation and temporarily wants it off the menu.
A la carte: A phrase meaning ‘according to the menu’… it refers to a selection of differently priced dishes that are prepared when ordered from the menu.
A la minute: Despite what you might think – and we apologize in advance if this breaks your spirit – but not all restaurant dishes are made to order. This is a good thing, though, because to prep everything as an order comes in would be next to impossible.
There are items on the menu, though, that are created ‘a la minute’ (‘in the minute’ in French) that are made then and there. Instead of making a huge vat of soup for the night, a soup made ‘a la minute’ means that each serving is prepared to order.
Amuse-bouche: Bite-sized hors d’oeuvres. We like this one because its translation is literally ‘mouth amuser!’
Apéritif: A before dinner, alcoholic beverage used to stimulate appetite.
Bev nap: The little, square napkin that a beverage rests on.
BOH: Back Of House, the kitchen… any area where you don’t deal with customers, basically. It also refers to the group of people who work there.
Camp kitchen: Believe it or not, not all venues come equipped with a complete kitchen. Sometimes, the caterer needs to bring their own equipment in order to get everything prepared, cooked, and served to standard. This can also be referred to as ‘field kitchen.’
Combi: A fancy oven with convection and steam features – all the bells and whistles.
Comp: To give something away free. “We were slow on table eight… comp the whole table coffee and dessert!”
Digestif: An after dinner, alcoholic beverage enjoyed as an aid to digestion.
En croute: A food that is wrapped and baked in a pastry
Family meal: Staff meal, usually served family-style, that all staff eat together before a shift to discuss the night ahead
F&B: Short for food and beverage.
Front of House: The front of the restaurant; dining are.
Getting a push: Work on the line usually comes in waves: peak times, closing time, late night, etc. When the restaurant is getting busier, the kitchen is “getting a push.”
Low-boy: An under-the-counter refrigerator.
Mise: French for ‘everything in place.’ You better hope that everything is mise en place throughout the night.
Ops meeting: A gathering held by the caterers before your event. This marks the time when the client(s) and caterer go over everything that will happen during an event.
The pass: When dishes are ready to be served, they are transferred to the pass, where the wait staff will pick them up and bring them to the table.
Robot Coupe: This device it like a food processor… but the motor is a heck of a lot stronger.
Salamander: A term for the broiler. (No, not a lizard!)
Short: To be missing an item to complete the meal, e.g., “The steak is short the demi glaze”
Shuck: What one does to an oyster.
Sommelier: A trained professional of wine and food pairing.
SOS: Sauce on the side.
Waxing the table: To give a table of customers the VIP treatment.
Working: While the food is actively being cooked, it is ‘working.’
When you find yourself in a kitchen setting – whether it be sitting near an open kitchen, taking a stab at working in the restaurant business, or attending a party with an active catering staff – the food-specific vernacular could come off as quite intimidating.
However, once you master the terms on this list, you’ll be ready to handle the F&B in the front of the housewhile your team’s feeling the push; all without getting 86’d on your first day!