What '86' Means At A Restaurant

You're dining out with your peeps, and a harried hostess walks past and mutters in a hushed tone to a passing server, "Turn and burn the campers on 46, we're in the weeds" to which the server replies, "I'm slammed, I need a comp on 32 and the kitchen is buried." You then hear the expo in the open kitchen yell, "Fire two hockey pucks, I've got three burgers all day, two pucks, one bleeding, drop fries, I need that steak on the fly," to which the cook replies, "Copy, 5-out on burgers, steak has wings," and you are thinking you've wandered into an alternate universe. What is this language they are speaking?

It's restaurant lingo, which, much like a football playbook, needs to be absorbed by the service staff if they are going to successfully navigate the playing field of restaurant land. Some restaurant adages are code words that individual servers and cooks use among themselves, but many terms are necessary to the successful operation of the establishment as a whole. "86" is one such term, and if you hear a restaurant worker say "86 the beef special" and you've just ordered the beef special, you're about to be disappointed, as the beef special is no longer.

'86' bad behavior!

The term "86" originated at the soda counters of the 1930s, per Merriam-Webster. If they were out of the vanilla soda, "86 vanilla soda" would reverberate through the place. No one is exactly sure why the number 86 got attached to being sold out of something. According to Mental Floss, some theories include reference to an 86th Street exit during prohibition, the alcohol content of whiskey, or the size of a standard grave. Its usage is mostly attributed to the fact that it rhymes with "nix," as in, "nix the fish, we're out." In the 1950s the term shifted to being used as a verb, as in, "86 (get rid of) the drunks at the end of the bar."

Some restaurant lingo changes with the tides, some stays the same. One restaurant concept that had been a pillar of the business was "the customer is always right," but, as customer entitlement has reached an all-time high, per Food and Wine, restaurants are starting to push back against allowing coffee to be hurled at a barista or allowing staff to be berated or abused. According to The Food Institute, some venues have resorted to posting "Be kind or Leave" signs on their doors. Treating a server, barista, or drive-thru attendant with respect should go without saying, but in the era of hard-to-find workers in the hospitality industry, not doing so could likely get you "86ed" from your favorite food place, so let's all remember to be kind, okay?