Whenever you enter a new industry (or get back into one from which you’ve had a break), there’s so much to learn.
But beyond the day-to-day tasks, responsibilities and skills you’ll need to get to grips with, there’s one other aspect that catches a lot of people out: the lingo. In some industries, they practically speak an entirely different language.
This is particularly the case in hospitality, where the number of phrases, acronyms and slang terms could fill an encyclopaedia.
That’s why we’ve put together this ultimate glossary of hospitality terminology. We’ve collated the most important terms you’ll need to be aware of it you want to slot effortlessly into your working team.
What is hospitality?
There are many ways to define the hospitality industry, but it’s best to go back to the roots of the word itself.
Hospitality is all about taking care of people and providing them with a service which delivers joy, relaxation and fulfilment. You can do that with a comfortable bed for the night or a seat at a restaurant table.
This has resulted in numerous career opportunities, and while they all relate to taking care of guests and providing them with the best possible experience, they also carry their own bunch of phrases and “if you know, you know” terms.
It’s important to remember that the same term for one aspect of a role in hospitality may not carry across if you switch positions. It’s why spending some time learning the broadest range of hospitality terminology is such a good idea.
In this glossary, we’ve broken the terms up into two sections: the first for the key phrases and terms, and the second for the slang terminology you’ll almost certainly encounter on a day-to-day basis.
Most of the terms in this glossary come from the United States hospitality industry, but many can be applied across the globe.
Hospitality phrases and key terms
A La Carte: Think of this as the opposite of a set menu where the guest can order their own individual dishes of choice.
Average order value (AOV): The average amount of money each guest spends whenever they visit your venue.
Back of house: This refers to everything that takes place behind the scenes, out of view of your guests. So, think the kitchen (usually), offices, prep rooms and staff areas.
Balancing the cash register: This is usually takes place at the end of the day or shift and is the process of ensuring that the money contained in your cash drawer matches the takings during that period.
Bartender: Bartenders are employed by restaurants to run the bar service and serve drinks. Other common names include barman, bar chef, barmaid, barkeep and mixologist.
Charcuterie: This is a very specific type of cooking that’s focused on the preparations of sausage, bacon, ham and other meats.
Check back: This is when a server goes to check how the meal is for a customer while at the same time dropping them the bill. It’s more efficient than undertaking two separate table visits and helps with cover turnover.
Chef: A chef is someone who is trained in the art of cooking. They often focus on one particular type of cuisine, but some are multi-skilled.
Chef de Partie: Sometimes referred to as a ‘line cook’, a Chef de Partie is someone who’s at the beginning of their career journey (sometimes referred to as ‘Commis’, too).
Chef’s table: One of (if not the) most luxurious ways to dine at a restart. This is basically a table that’s reserved for special guests.
Comp: This is when you give something free to a guest. Sometimes referred to as ‘comping’.
Cover: This is a term for a single paying customer. So, if you have a table with two people on it, that’s two covers.
Dupe: This is the information that is passed to the kitchen from the front of house team so the chef knows what dishes to prepare
Early bird dinner: This normally takes place outside of peak times and is aimed at elderly guests and tourists who are after a cheaper meal.
Free lunch: This is a strategy used by restaurants to tempt more guests in with the promise of a free meal. The idea is to then get them to subsequently buy drinks.
Front of House: This refers to the team who run all operations within view of the guest. It includes waiting staff, managers, reception and the bar team.
Ghost restaurant: This is a restaurant which doesn’t contain seats and makes all of its money through food delivery.
Gueridon Service: This refers to table side food preparation, where the server uses a gueridon (trolly) on which to prepare the food in front of the guest.
Happy hour: This is when restaurants drop their prices for a specific period of time (usually drinks sales only) in a bid to get more people in.
Line cook: Line cooks typically prepare the ingredients and assemble dishes once everything has been prepared.
Maitre d’Hotel: This is the person who is usually employed by high-end restaurants to welcome guests and assign them their tables.
Mise en Place: A French term which refers to a specific procedure kitchen staff must follow to ensure that everything is correctly in place.
No-show: This refers to guests who book but fail to show up for their reservation.
Omakase: A Japanese term which means “leave it up to you”. It’s when guests leave the choice of their meal to the chef.
Online Food Delivery: Refers to a service offered by an increasing number of restaurants where meals are prepared in-house and then delivered directly to the customer’s house.
Overhead: When working on the finances for a restaurant, overheads are the costs attributed to the running of the business as a whole.
Party: This refers to the size of a group dining at a restaurant. For instance, “we need a table for a party of six”.
Runner: This is the person who is assigned to running back and forth between the kitchen and dining area delivering dishes (typically, they’re not assigned specific tables).
Serving cart:This is the small cart on which dishes are transported throughout the restaurant, making it far easier for waiting staff.
Server: This is another name for a waiter or waitress.
Shelf life: Refers to how long a particular food item can remain on the shelf before expiring or losing its quality.
Side work: This is terminology for any of the tasks undertaken by the front of house team from an operational standpoint. Think polishing silverware, refilling condiments - that kind of thing.
Signature dish: This refers to a menu item which is a favourite of speciality of the chef or restaurant.
Sommelier: These are the people who specialise in wine and who are tasked with matching dishes to their perfect bottle.
Station: When a server is assigned a set number of tables, this is known as a “station”.
Table d’Hôte: This refers to a multi-course menu that’s offered at a fixed price.
Table management: This is the process of managing your tables to maximise cover numbers for each shift and make the entire process as convenient as possible for staff and guests.
Table service: This is when the restaurant serves food to the customer’s table, rather than the customer having to retrieve it themselves from a buffet or serving area.
Table sharing: Some restaurants offer tables that can be shared by multiple parties.
Take-out: This refers to when a customer orders food from the restaurant but collects it and takes it elsewhere to eat.
Three Martini Lunch: This refers to dining experiences that take place at lunchtime and are catered towards lawyers and businesspeople.
Upsell: This is when restaurant employees attempt to sell a guest something that’s more expensive than whatever it is they first requested (or which is in addition to that item).
VIP: This refers to a guest who is particularly important (hence “very important person”), and could be a celebrity, food blogger, critic or even a relative of the restaurant owner.
Walk-in: This is a guest who has walked into the restaurant requesting a table but without making a prior reservation.
Restaurant industry slang terms
“5 out!”: This is typically used by chefs to inform the rest of the kitchen that the dish currently being worked on will be ready in five minutes.
“86”: This is used fairly regularly to indicate when a certain dish is unable to be prepared because of some form of constraint (for instance, a lack of ingredients).
Adam and Eve on a Raft: This refers to when a customer orders two eggs on a piece of toast (usually poached or scrambled).
“All day”: This is usually tagged onto the end of any sentence which lists the items that need to be sent out from the kitchen. For instance, “I need two cheese and bacon burgers, one BLT and a side of fries all day”.
Bev nap: You know the small square napkins that are placed under drink to prevent wetting the surface of the bar? They’re known as bev naps. N
Blue-plate special: This refers to the lower cost menu options, which are usually switched up each day in diners and cafes.
Camper: The least favourite customer for a restaurant. Campers are the people who finish and pay for their meal but remain seated at their table for some time afterwards.
Couldn’t cook their way out of a paper bag: Refers to someone who claims to be a great chef but isn’t exactly a master of the craft.
Dead plate: A dish that simply can’t be served to customers, usually because something’s gone wrong during the prep or cooking.
Dine and dash: Those unthinkable customers who have their meal but leave without paying for it.
Foodie: This refers to someone who appears to know everything about food and cooking (that may or may not be true).
Hockey puck: This refers to a hamburger that has been overcooked.
“In the weeds”: You’ll hear this phrase uttered from both the back and front of house whenever the team is put under significant strain.
“Jumpin’”: This term is used to describe a restaurant which is particularly busy.
Monkey dish: The small plates used to serve nuts and other condiments are typically referred to as monkey dishes.
“Nuke it”: This refers to the process of microwaving a dish to heat it up (or cook it) for the guest.
“Pump it out”: This is used when food needs to be prepared quickly.
“Push it”: If a particular dish or drink needs to be sold more readily than others, you may hear your manager utter these two words.
Shorting: This is when a supplier charges more than they should for the products or ingredients that have been purchased.
SOS: This is an abbreviation of “sauce on the side”.
“Still mooing”: Refers to steak that is ordered rare.
The Boogie Man: A somewhat unfair name for a health inspector.
Top: Refers to a dining party of seven people.
We’ll be updating this list regularly (there are so many terms!), therefore this is just the start. So, if you spot any hospitality terms, slang or abbreviations that we’ve missed, let us know!