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In The Weeds: Restaurant Glossary

October 13, 2009
It’s late.  I’ve just eaten at the new restaurant Julian, owned by James Beard award-winning chef Celina Tio.  My review will follow in an upcoming column.  For now, I offer a lesson on some common restaurant jargon.

Pooling (pooh-ling) verb.

Sometimes by choice, more often by restaurant policy, pooling refers to the practice of working as a team with other servers and splitting the tips.  A typical server section consists of three to five tables.  When one or more of those tables is pushed together with other tables to accommodate a large party, a server may find herself “pooling.”  It can be a 2-way, 3-way, 4-way, or even a dreaded 5-way pool.  In general, the more, the less merry.

While restaurants have standard “specs” on when and how to do things, every server works differently, which can make pooling dicey.   You may be yoked with a lazy server who lets you shoulder the burden while he pops pharmaceuticals in the walk-in.  Or worse, you may be partnered with the training-manual-obsessed veteran who verbalizes her disappointment to management when your coffee service takes longer than the corporate standard of three minutes.  Communication is key.  A few simple words between good servers allows one to take an order for a 12-top while the other crumbs a deuce and frames* a four-top for salads.  Conversely, over communication can cause an irresistible desire to plunge the nearest fork into an eyeball . . . yours or your co-worker’s.  While entering an order for 35 guests with special requests, hearing your pooling partner chatter on about how he filled the waters on table three and brought extra napkins for the recently engaged woman on table 11 is enough to make you stop and say, “Congratulations.  You, my friend, embody the meaning of service. Now moooove along for Christ’s sakes.”

*Frame/Framing – placing the correct flatware for the next course on the table

86’d (ate-ee-sixt) verb.

I’ve only ever heard this term in a restaurant, but it could be applied nicely to real life.  It means that an item has been exhausted or is no longer available.  For example, “Halibut is 86’d.  No new orders.”  It can also refer to a guest who needs to be cut off or a server who has been fired.  “Mr. Smith is 86’d.  Somebody call him a cab” or “CJ was 86’d for writing her blog.”

In real life, it could be used as a less awkward way to talk about death.  Instead of pausing while trying to decide between the words “die” and “pass on,” we could say “When did he get 86’d?”

My research points to many different possible origins for the term. Some say 86 originated at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City. Number 86 on their menu was the bone-in ribeye and the most popular item. It often sold out. From there 86 became shorthand for being out of an item.

Or it originated in soup kitchens and breadlines of the Great Depression. The standard cauldron would hold 85 cups of soup. Thus the 86th person was out of luck.

EC (eee-see) noun.

EC stands for Employee Cocktail.  It is sometimes referred to as an EM (Employee Margarita).  After a long night or tough table, servers will often order an EC from the bartender.  This is usually given as a verbal request to a friendly bartender who hands it over the service well in a water glass to avoid management suspicion.  Servers are required to drink it to the bottom within 4 seconds to avoid trouble for the friendly bartender.

Service Well (servus-wel) noun.

The two feet of linear space at the end of a bar where servers pick up drinks for their tables.  Don’t stand in it.  It’s annoying.

Open Door Policy (open door policy) neither noun nor verb. imaginary invention.

This means, literally, that every manager’s door is open to every employee. The purpose of an open door policy is to encourage open communication, feedback, and discussion about any matter of importance to an employee. An open door policy means that employees are free to talk with any manager at any time.

Riiiiight.  ODP’s are all the buzz these days.  But can anyone really go above their boss’s head to talk about something of importance with the boss’s boss?  Come on.  Do HR people think we really don’t know how workplace hierarchy works?  If I complain about my boss to his boss, I’m done.  Let’s agree to let this one go already.

Campers (kamp-urs) noun.

Diners who won’t leave after eating and paying their bill.  Servers have ways of dealing with campers, which include refilling waters and coffees incessantly, clearing every item off the table, and “crop dusting” (passing gas while walking by the table.)

Covers (cuv-erz) noun.

Covers are the number of guests seated with each server.  A hostess’s job is to keep this number relatively even between servers on a nightly basis.  In my experience, 20 percent of hostesses grasp this concept.


3 Responses to “ In The Weeds: Restaurant Glossary ”

  1. Desirynn on October 14, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    I love your blog and read it pretty regularly. I’m a part time Hostess and part time server and I found out that once the ODP actually gets started it’s kinda nice, though it may just work at my work because we have a server turned manager.

  2. sommelier on October 19, 2009 at 6:56 am

    hey cj its adam working at julian, so be nice hon.

  3. Chad on November 14, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Amen on the ODPs, CJ. They need to be 86′d. I must say to Desirynn, you are lucky it has worked out and are not the norm. Our ODP does not work at all because we hire from with-in (meaning former waiters now are on power-trips as the new manager). Such is life.