I will forgo the section on swear words as those are all common knowledge and used in the kitchen only slightly more frequently than, say, a sinking ship in the Mediterranean filled with veteran sailors whom have received very little education outside of a barn…as an example.
Swearing aside, you will read a great many of the terms and phrases you see here throughout this blog, and once privy to this information, you’ll be aware of kitchen workers the world over as you watch the quirks, hear the terms, and see how we as restaurant staff interact with the outside world.
If you’ve ever heard a term in or around a kitchen, and you don’t know what it is, check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/localbillings and we’ll tell you what it means. Unless it’s really, really bad, and then you probably are just better off not knowing.
Back of House/Front of House – This is the general term referring to the kitchen staff or the service staff. Those whom are presentable, well dressed, and interacting with you at your table during your meal are the front of house. It is their job to give you the best service possible, providing you with the things you need before you know you need them, and bringing you every dish your heart desires perfectly prepared and adequately temperatured so that you can enjoy your meal and everything that entails. Back of house is the staff who works tirelessly to make certain you receive the food you ordered prepared at the temperature you ordered it and with every wonderful, delicious, morsel tasting perfectly as it was lovingly prepared in the hands of great men and women whose sole purpose in life is to provide you with amazing food.
Being front of house or back of house is just a term as you will learn, in great restaurants the two function as a single unit to give you the best dining experience you can imagine and have you enjoy an evening that you chose to spend out with friends, family, acquaintances, or allies and have a nice relaxing meal and catch up on life while someone caters to your palate and makes you feel like you are special, even if only for an hour or two. We do this because in great restaurants, service is what matters. In bad restaurants, you just grind through the motions until you get 86’d and move on to the next step.
86’d – This term extends beyond kitchens and is used in many venues, bartenders are particularly familiar with the term in reference to unruly customers. To 86 something is to eliminate it. Let’s say a server comes back and asks for two beef wellingtons. That’s all the beef wellingtons the kitchen had left and so the call to the staff is “86 the Wellington!” This lets everyone know that item is gone for the rest of service and selling it would be detrimental to your survival.
There are a great many theories as to the origins of this term and I have two of them which I can nearly prove as definitively true as far as tracing their histories.
The first is that a very popular deli in New York had a very extensive sandwich list and rather than name each of them they were assigned numbers. One of the most popular was the number 86 and concurrently it was sold out before service finished that day. As it was always the first to go; a running joke started and when another item would run out for the day the call from the waitstaff would be to 86 it.
The other I have heard is that in the military being absent when call is taken is labeled as a Code 86. So when it’s supposed to be there but isn’t, we give it the 86.
The Board – In every good kitchen there is a board of some sort, dry erase, chalk, or even a sheet of paper, where things are recorded throughout the course of service. The other name for The Board is The Insurance Policy; if something is on special or if it’s been 86’d or if an item is changing midway through service, that information will be put on The Board. As servers pass through the kitchen they will see that information and hopefully retain it when talking to the newest tables that arrive.
The Line – This is where everything happens in a kitchen. It is where chefs and cooks do their work. It is where servers come in to pick up food or to ask questions. It is where things are plated, finished, and then taken to guests. It is where absolutely everything in the kitchen happens and thusly it is a very volatile place in space and time. There is an urgency on the line you will only see matched in ER trauma rooms. The difference between that space and a kitchen line? ER rooms are air conditioned.
The Pass – This is a specific section of the line where plates are finished and then passed to servers who then take them to customers. If we yell, “It’s in the pass.” That means the food is ready to go out. It is also referred to as The Window. The term Window comes from the early era diners where a small section the size of a window was used to pass food from the kitchen to the front of house.
“Dying in the window” – This term means that food is in the window, ready to go to the table, and nobody is running it. Food in the window has a very narrow shelf life to be able to go to the customer after it’s plated before it gets cold, rests too long and over cooks, or simply wilts and looks unappealing.
Running Food – To run food simply means to take it to the table and give it to the person who ordered it.
Runner – One who runs food. If the kitchen yells “I need a runner,” that means your food is about to die in the window and it has precious few seconds left before it goes from a beautifully articulated plate of the best ingredients, to a great soggy mass of wilted greens, broken sauce, and over cooked meat. If you hear a bell ring repeatedly or the shout of a chef saying “I need an (expletive deleted) runner, right (expletive deleted) now or (sentence redacted with expletives deleted)!”, it means somebody better be taking some food somewhere soon.
On the fly – Usually the call of a server. It means that they as a server forgot something, or you as a guest realized you needed something that you wanted on your plate but neglected to mention until you got your plate. It is the job of any great kitchen and front of house staff to make sure you get everything you want, exactly when you want it, in the precise way you wanted it. It’s why we call it the service industry. When we forget something or you forget something, we want to get it to you as quickly as possible and so we say we need that out on the fly, which means give it wings and get it out of the kitchen as quickly as possible.
As a warning, do not read this and tell your server you need something “on the fly” in an attempt to be cute or feel that you are in the know. What you see as cute will grant you a smile and when the server is below stairs with the kitchen we will all ridicule you and make fun of you for thinking you belong to a club that you do not. It’s not personal, it’s Kitchen.
Below Stairs – In the days of the early French kitchens, and English kitchens as well, the kitchen itself was always in the basement. This was done because all the coal was stored in the basement and that’s what you kept the fires burning with, that or lumber depending on the era. So any kitchen, or kitchen staff, was a quietly kept secret hidden away in a basement so you could host your luxurious dinner party with all the best bits of food on display and never have to interact with the motely bunch who prepared that food and was consequently covered in grease, sweat, soot, and fat all day.
Times have changed, and we are no longer hidden in basements, or below stairs, but usually on display. People like to see where their food is coming from nowadays. Despite that, we still refer to our work area as below stairs, out of respect for the men who slogged away in the bowels of the great Edwardian mansions inhaling the greasy black smoke that sent them to an early grave at the average age of 38.
Fired – Fired does not mean that one is terminated in the kitchen world. It simply means that the food that was holding on the ticket line waiting to be prepared is now ready to finish its process of becoming your meal and can be “fired” or finished, and sent to the diner.
“Sell, sell, sell” – This phrase is actually unique to Chef Travis, and he has carried it with him through quite a few of the fine dining landscapes he’s been in. After the food has been fired and when it is plated and every single attention has been paid to each detail of the plate, it gets sold to the customer. Meaning the server will take it from the kitchen to the table. When that plate has been finished, Chef Travis will call “Sell, sell, sell!” To let the service staff know it’s time. It doesn’t mean we’re looking to rake in a million bucks or fleece the customer with overpriced food and miniscule portions as it does in some kitchens. It simply means that it’s at its peak of beauty and flavor, and it’s ready to be served to the customer that asked for it.
There are a myriad of other terms and as they are bandied about in this blog please feel free to ask, or to add your own examples. If you hear a term called in another kitchen and you’re curious about its origins, ask us on Facebook and we’ll let you know, or it may even inspire another blog. Each job has its own language, and one learns that language as they immerse themselves in said job. The beauty of this piece is that you don’t have to burn yourself or cut yourself, you don’t have to stand in heat of 114 degrees, you don’t have to put in a 14 hour day standing on solid stone with your arms buried in scalding dish water as the smell of wood smoke fills the air. You get to live out the best parts vicariously and learn the language without the hassle. So I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy this blog as it progresses and learn a few words to impress your friends at your next dinner party.
And above all…(expletive deleted)!!!