If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know that the industry speaks its own language. Really, it’s not so different from regular English (although there’s probably a lot more cursing). There are a few key phrases that make it easier to work in such a fast-paced environment. When there’s little or no time for pleasantries or politeness, you say goodbye to “please” and “thank you” and replace it with “Yes, Chef” and “heard!” To keep yourself safe, you learn to announce your presence at every moment, shouting “behind,” “hot,” or “corner” as you move through the environment.
It’s abrupt but also effective, and I often wish this lingo existed out in the outside world. Wouldn’t it make the world a better place if these five phrases could only be incorporated into regular English?
BehindWhy waste time with the wordy “excuse me” or “beg your pardon” when the word “behind” will suffice? This one, simple word announces your presence to prevent collisions in tight spaces. It also keeps you from getting stabbed with sharp knives or covered in boiling hot sauce, which is always a plus.
In the outside world, I want to use “behind” all the time. When someone stops suddenly on the sidewalk – “Behind!” When I want to blast by someone standing idly on an escalator – “Behind!” It causes immediate action, and I like that.
CornerUnfortunately, it’s impossible to design a restaurant without all those narrow hallways and treacherous corners. That’s where “corner” comes in. When you find yourself carrying a tray of dirty dishes or a hotel pan filled with hot food, all you need to do is shout “Corner!” at the top of your lungs and you’ll be guaranteed safe passage.
In the outside world, “corner” would be extremely useful in the grocery store (especially North City Market at 5 p.m.). The end of the aisle is so congested and you have those bulky carts to consider. Instead of running into someone, wouldn’t it be nice to say “corner” as you approach so they would know to get out of your way?
86’dI’ve heard a ton of different stories for the origin of “86’d” so I won’t even try to explain how it got its name. When it refers to a menu item, it means that it’s no longer available – either you’re out of an ingredient or the entire dish, but you can’t make it anymore. It can also be used to refer to a person when you’re refusing service or ejecting someone from the building.
You never really want to run out of food, so it’s always a little disappointing to 86 something, but it does convey an appropriate sense of finality. It would be nice to use the phrase anytime you don’t want to make an exception – like how I can’t meet you for pizza because I 86’d carbs from my diet (a phrase you will never, ever hear me say). Or if you wanted to break up with someone by 86’ing your relationship (so they wouldn’t beg for you back). There’s no arguing about it because it’s already done.
Heard This is by far my favorite kitchen saying. The expo tells you about an order in – “Heard.” A coworker tells you how to adjust the seasoning for a dish – “Heard.” The produce order just came in and it’s your turn to put it away – “Heard.” It means “I got it” and “I’ll get right on that” all at the same time.
I pretty much want to say this everywhere, all the time. It’s the ultimate way to receive feedback (especially the criticism-based kind) without coming off as defensive or offended. When you use “heard,” you acknowledge what the other person said without having to formulate any kind of real response. Perfect for those times you find yourself seeing red!
In the weedsIt’s almost impossible to stay out of the weeds on a busy weekend night or when you’re understaffed. It communicates “I’m busy, overwhelmed, have too much to do, and am frantically trying to do x, y, and z – so either help me or get out of my way.” It also gives everyone a heads up that you probably won’t meet your deadlines, so expect that order to be delayed.
This phrase is a pretty easy one to use in any real-life situation where you’re struggling to stay caught up. Too many finals in one week – you’re definitely in the weeds and can’t go out for drinks (although you might, anyway). Your boss expects you to multitask in an inhuman way – being in the weeds means she has to pick and choose which tasks she actually expects you to accomplish. If it meant what it did in the restaurant, everyone would understand exactly where you’re at when you use it.
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York-style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to Chapstick. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.