Hospitality Terms Every Industry Worker Should Know

Customers 30 minute read 14th June 2021

Whenever you enter a new industry (or get back into one from which you’ve had a break), there’s so much to learn.

Why is it important to know hospitality terms? Because they’re an essential part of the hospitality industry. There’s so much to learn whenever you enter a new industry (or get back into one after a break).

But beyond the day-to-day tasks, responsibilities, and skills you’ll need, you also have to learn the lingo. Some industries practically speak an entirely different language.

This is particularly the case for hospitality. In the restaurant and hotel industry, there are countless phrases, acronyms, and slang terms that could fill an encyclopedia.

That’s why we’ve put together this ultimate glossary of hospitality terminology. We’ve handpicked the terms you’ll need if you want to fit in with your team. But first, let’s define the most important hospitality word: hospitality itself.


Hospitality Defined

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 caring for people and providing them with a service that delivers joy, relaxation, and fulfillment. You can do that with comfortable hotel rooms or a seat at a restaurant table.

The hospitality industry creates numerous career opportunities. They all relate to taking care of guests and providing them with the best possible experience. But they each have their unique language and slang. Hotel terminology may have words in common with restaurant terms, but they’ll also have unique words.

Remember that the same term for one aspect of a role may not carry across if you switch positions. It’s why learning the broadest range of hospitality terminology is a good idea.

We’ve broken the terms into two sections in this glossary of hospitality terms. The first is for crucial phrases and words. The second is for the slang terminology you’ll encounter daily.

Most of the terms in this glossary come from the United States hospitality industry, but many work globally.


Hospitality Terms and Key Phrases

We’ve alphabetically divided our list of the “need-to-know” hospitality industry terms. Please note that this list isn’t exhaustive and may differ depending on your location and industry. With that, let’s dive in.

Hospitality Terms That Start With an A

A La Carte. This is a restaurant term for how a meal is served and ordered. Think of this as the opposite of a “set menu.” Here, the guest can order whatever dish they like with adjustments.

Arrival date. The set date when guests will arrive at the hotel where they made their room reservations. This is a bit of hotel terminology. Available room. A hotel phrase for guest rooms available for reservation. This is the opposite of an occupied room.

Average Rate Paid (ARP). This is similar to the average room rate. It’s the average rate that bookers pay when they reserve room nights at a hotel.

Average Daily Rate (ADR). A phrase or abbreviation in the hotel business for the average room rate per day for a particular establishment. The average daily rate calculates the total room revenue per available room. Then, it divides it by the number of rooms occupied (aka, rooms sold).

Average order value (AOV). The average amount of money each guest spends whenever they visit your venue.

Hospitality Terms That Start With a B

Back-of-house (BOH). This refers to everything that occurs behind the scenes, out of view of your guests. Think of the kitchen (usually), offices, prep rooms, and staff areas. You can also use these hospitality terms to describe team members who work in the kitchen, offices, etc.

Balancing the cash register. This usually takes place at the end of the day or shift. It’s ensuring that the money in your cash drawer matches the takings during that period.

Banquet Event Order (BEO). All the order information for a banquet client at a hotel or restaurant. This could include the number of guests, tables and chairs, decoration requests, menu orders, etc.

Bartender. Bartenders run the bar service and serve drinks. Common names include barman, bar chef, barmaid, barkeep, and mixologist. You’ll find them in the food and beverage industry and at some hotels.

Booking engine. An online search engine that sells hotel rooms. They help guests compare hotels and reserve room nights. They’re useful for getting the best hotel rate, but they’ve also modernized how hotels secure and sell their rooms. Ensuring your business is on a booking engine is a great way to increase your hotel’s revenue.

Boutique hotels. These are small, luxury, and design-driven hotels. They’re not focused on having the largest hotel rooms or franchising. Instead, they want to provide a unique and aesthetic experience for customers. The hotel’s performance depends on the venue’s personality and how memorable the experience was.

Hospitality Terms That Start With a C

Central reservation system. A software for managing, updating, and maintaining your venue’s bookings and reservations. You can use it to track your occupancy rate, the price of room nights, and the inventory used. This software takes that information and sends it to distribution channels like your website.

Charcuterie. Add this to your must-know list of hospitality terms if you work at a wine bar or other swanky businesses. This is a specific type of cooking that’s focused on the preparations of sausage, bacon, ham, and other meats. It also usually refers to a board of assorted meats, cheeses and light accompaniments. Check back. When a server goes to check on 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.

Check-in. When guests arrive at your hotel and let you know they’re there. At check-in, guests might finish payment on their hotel rooms booked and receive keys and other hotel information.

Chef. A chef is someone who trained in the art of cooking. They often focus on one particular type of cuisine, but some are multi-skilled. Knowing how to hire a chef and what to look for is vital for any restaurateur or hotel manager.

Chef de Partie. Sometimes referred to as a ‘line cook.’ Chef de Partie is someone who’s at the beginning of their culinary career journey (sometimes referred to as ‘Commis’, too). They handle more rudimentary, basic kitchen tasks. Chef’s table. One of (if not the) most luxurious ways to dine at a restart. This is a table reserved for special guests.

Comp. This is when you give something free to a guest—sometimes called ‘comping’. Complimentary ratio. The ratio of guest rooms contracted for free (comped rooms) versus the total number of occupied rooms. If gross operating profit margins are important, you don’t want to comp more rooms than those you sell.

Cover. This is a term for a single-paying customer. A table with two customers could be two covers if they split the bill. Or, it’s one cover if not.

Cut-off date. This is one of those hospitality terms that could also apply outside of the industry. The last date to do something. Like the previous date to book a table for an event or to take advantage of a room block rate.

Hospitality Terms That Start With a D

Definite booking. Some hotel terms mean exactly what they say. This is a booking that is definitely happening. Aka, it’s a confirmed booking. This is usually in writing.

Destination Management Company (DMC). This is a middle-man organization that facilitates the relationship between local service and product providers and travel agents. They usually exist in very popular tourist destinations. They aim to connect hotel managers, restaurateurs, and other small business owners with more tourists (aka, customers).

Destination Marketing Organization (DMO). A business or non-profit that works to market a specific destination. Many tourism boards belong to local governments or work closely with them to attract more people to their locations. Double room. A hotel word for a guest room with two beds.

Dupe. Information passed to the kitchen from the front-of-house team so the chef knows what dishes to prepare.

Hotel and Restaurant Terms With an E

Early bird dinner. This typically occurs outside peak times and targets elderly guests and tourists looking for a cheaper meal.

Ecotourism. Tourism with a sustainability and eco-friendly slant. Ecotourists aim to minimize their footprint, support locals, and preserve local wildlife while traveling.

English service. A service style for restaurants or events. Unlike buffet or family-style service, this involves presenting the main course on a tray to the host of the table. Then, sides and vegetables are available for guests to serve themselves.

Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA). This is another one of those self-explanatory hotel terms. It’s when you expect guests to arrive. The counterpart to this is ETD or Estimated Time of Departure.

Hospitality Terms That Start With an F

Farm to Table. This hospitality term represents the cycle of your food coming direct from the farm to your restaurant’s table. Depending on your market, it’s a great way to differentiate yourself locally.

Feeder city. Cities near a major city. These “feed” into the market in that larger, perhaps more attractive city.

Fenced rate. A rate for guests who meet certain requirements and agree to specific contracts the booker sets.

Front of house. The team runs all operations within view of the guest. It includes waiting staff, managers, reception, and the bar team.

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Hospitality Terms That Start With a G

Ghost restaurant. This is a restaurant that doesn’t contain seats and makes all of its money through food delivery.

Global distribution system GDS. Global distribution systems provide real-time information on availability and pricing to online travel agencies and booking engines. They help hotel rooms sell faster and more efficiently.

Gueridon service. Table-side food preparation, where the server uses a gueridon (trolly) to prepare the food in front of the guest.

Gross Operating Profit Per Available Room (GOPPAR). A metric that takes the hotel’s total revenue (not just room revenue) and divides it per the rooms available. It’s a way to understand how the business is doing financially.

Hospitality Terms That Start With an H

Half-board. A rate that includes a bed, breakfast, and a choice of lunch or dinner.

Happy hour. This is when restaurants drop their prices for a specific period (usually drinks sales) in a bid to gain customers.

High or low season. A way to understand when a hospitality business is more or less busy. The high season would be when it’s busy (also known as the “on” or “peak season”), while the low season is when things are slow.

Hotel rates. How much a hotel room costs. Room rates vary greatly depending on the hotel’s services and location.

House count. The total guest occupancy of a hotel at any given moment. House manager. Hospitality terms also include job titles. This is the manager underneath the General Manager in ranking. They’re responsible for an individual hotel, unlike the General Manager–who covers more than one.

Hospitality Terms That Start With an I

Incidental charges. Any charges incurred during guest stays not included in the room rate. This could include the price of parking, room service, or tips for bellhops and desk clerks.

Incentive fee. An additional payment that a manager may receive from an owner if they increase the success of a business. This could mean they have incredible revenue management expertise or a savvy strategy to improve customer service. It also rewards steadily increasing the hotel’s total revenue.

Independent hotel. A hotel that a parent company does not own. It’s not part of a franchise. It’s independent.

Hospitality Words with a J

JD Power. A well-known and trusted guest satisfaction survey company. They give reviews and ratings to different businesses to help consumers have a better buying experience.

Hospitality Terms That Start With a K

KPI (Key Performance Indicator). A metric to measure how an employee and/or company is doing. For example, a KPI for a restaurant could be the average profits made per day.

Hospitality Terms That Start With an L

Lead. A hospitality term for a potential customer. They’ve shown interest, but they haven’t bought any goods or services yet.

Lead conversion. That glorious moment when a lead turns into a sale.

Length of Stay (LOS). The total nights that a guest is spending in a hotel room.

Look-to-book ratio. A metric for site traffic comparing how many people look at a restaurant or hotel website versus those who book.

Hospitality Terms That Start With an M

Maitre d’Hotel. This is the person who high-end restaurants usually employ to welcome guests and assign them their tables.

Minimum Acceptable Rate (MAR). These hospitality terms mean the lowest rate a business can offer to a customer or group of customers.

Mise en Place. A French term for the procedure kitchen staff must follow to ensure everything is in place correctly.


Hospitality Terms That Start With an N

No-show. This refers to guests who book but fail to show up for their reservation. A no-show means you now have an open hotel room or restaurant table you didn’t previously account for. Therefore you might lose profits if you can’t fill it with another booking.

Hotel and Restaurant Industry Terms That Start With a O

Occupancy rate. How full a hotel or restaurant is, based on the number of occupied rooms.

Omakase. A Japanese term that 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 where meals are prepared in-house and delivered directly to the customer’s house.

Online travel agency. A virtual alternative to working with in-person travel agents.

Overhead. Overheads are the costs attributed to running the business as a whole.

Hospitality Terms That Start With a P

Party. This refers to the size of a group dining at a restaurant. For instance, “We need a table for a party of six.”

Peak season. See “High or Low Season” above.

Property Management System (PMS). The software a hotel or business uses for all core operation needs. It manages everything from bookings to shift scheduling to check-in workflow.

Point of Sale (POS). As with other intuitive hotel terms, this phrase means just what it says. It’s the point where sales occur.

Hospitality Terms That Start With a Q

Qualified rate. A special rate only offered to customers or a group business that means specific qualifications. This could include a wedding package or a partner rate.

Hospitality Terms That Start With an R

Rack rate. The price of a hotel room before any discounts or fees.

Revenue Per Available Room (REVPAR). This hospitality term is another KPI metric for measuring a hotel’s finances. It tells you how much money you can make per room available.

Runner. The person who runs back and forth between the kitchen and dining area delivering dishes. Typically, they’re not assigned specific tables.

Revenue Management System (RMS). A software that aids businesses in keeping track of their finances. They can see where the most amount of profit comes from, where it’s lacking, and find solutions.

Hospitality Terms That Start With an S

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. How long a particular food item can remain on the shelf before expiring or losing its quality.

Side work. This is terminology for any tasks undertaken by the front-of-house team from an operational standpoint. Think polishing silverware, refilling condiments - that kind of thing.

Signature dish. A menu item that is a favorite or specialty of the chef or restaurant.

Sommelier. A person who specializes in wine and knows how to match dishes to their perfect bottle.

Section. When a server is assigned a set number of tables, this is known as a “section”.

Hospitality Industry Words with a T

Table d’Hôte. A multi-course menu offered at a fixed price.

Table management. Managing tables to maximize covers for each shift and make the process convenient for staff and guests.

Table service. When the restaurant serves food to the customer’s table, rather than the customer going to a buffet or serving area.

Table sharing. Some restaurants offer tables that multiple parties can share. Take-out. When a customer orders food from the restaurant but collects it and takes it elsewhere to eat.

Tour operators. People or agencies facilitating tours or events for visitors and tourists.

Three Martini Lunch. Dining experiences that take place at lunchtime and cater to lawyers and businesspeople. This hospitality term is also a slang term.


Hospitality Terms That Start With a U

Upsell. When restaurant employees attempt to sell a guest something more expensive than whatever they first requested (or which is in addition to that item).

Hospitality Terms That Start With a V

VIP. A guest who is particularly important (hence “very important person”). They could be a celebrity, food blogger, critic, or even a relative of the restaurant owner.

Hospitality Terms That Start With a W

Walk-in. A guest who walks into a restaurant requesting a table without making a prior reservation.

Hospitality Terms That Start With a Y

Yield management. This is another term for revenue management.

Hospitality Words That Begin with Z

Zero out. When a customer completes payment on their balance.


Hospitality Slang Terms

Now that we’ve covered the more official hospitality terms let’s discuss the casual, slang side.

“5 out!”. A term chefs use to tell the kitchen that a dish in progress will be ready in five minutes.

“86”. A restaurant slang term for when the kitchen has run out of a specific dish, beverage, or ingredient. They “86” that item from the menu, so other servers don’t try to sell it.

Adam and Eve on a Raft. A diner expression for two eggs on toast. You can add “wreck ‘em” if you need the eggs scrambled.

Bev nap. You know the small square napkins placed under the drink to prevent wetting the bar’s surface? They’re known as bev naps. Blue-plate special. Lower-cost menu options are usually switched up daily in diners and cafes.

Camper. The least favorite customer for a restaurant. Campers finish and pay for their meals but remain seated at their table for some time afterward.

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 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. Someone who appears to know everything about food and cooking (that may or may not be true).

Hockey puck. An overcooked hamburger. “In the weeds”. You’ll hear this from the back and front of the house whenever the team is under significant strain.

“Jumpin’.” This term describes a bustling restaurant. Monkey dish. The small plates used to serve nuts and other condiments are monkey dishes.

“Nuke it.” This refers to microwaving a dish to heat it (or cook it) for the guest.

“Pump it out”. Prepare food quickly or “pump it out.”

“Push it.” If a restaurant needs a particular dish or drink to sell more readily than others, you need to “push it.”

Shorting. This is when a supplier charges more than they should for the products or ingredients.

SOS. This is an abbreviation of “sauce on the side.”

Top. How many people a table can serve. For example, a two-top can seat two people.

Slang is ever-changing, even in the hospitality industry. Keep these phrases in mind but remember, there are plenty more hospitality terms to add to your lexicon.


Make Free Guest WiFi part of Your Hospitality Vocabulary

Of all the hospitality terms, “free guest WiFi” is universal. Providing complimentary internet access to your customers is a great way to ensure loyalty and improve their dining experience.

Plus, if you team up with a WiFi marketing software like Beambox, you can gain valuable customer insights. Every time your guests log on through your captive portal, you’ll collect important data such as their email addresses. Or you can forward them to your website or social media page. With Beambox, the possibilities are endless.

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