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Learn the Common Foodservice Lingo Used in Kitchens Across America: Why Do Restaurants Say 86, Cupcaking? (And Other Curious Etymology)

Learn something new every day.

Why do restaurants say 86?

Restaurant workers say 86, or 86’d, because a menu item is no longer available. The idea here is this: rather than saying something is out of stock and cannot be ordered within earshot of customers, restaurant workers instead communicate through numbers or specific jargon to say what needs to be said, regardless of who hears it. As a restaurant, you don’t want to communicate low stock of anything. If you’re out of something, it could signal to a patron that you do not have what it takes to be a successful restaurant.


This is heavily disputed. From textbooks to songs, the term 86 has roots across industries and even centuries. 

The Great Depression: Large soup pots held 85 cups of soup. If you were the 86th person, you’re out of luck and hungry.

The Military: The F-86 fighter jet was a Korean War plane. When the pilot shot down an enemy aircraft, it was said to be 86’d.

Bartending: Back in the day, the Old West bartenders served 100 proof drinks. When a patron grew a tad unreasonable, the bartender instead served 86 proof alcohol. 

Look, we could keep going here. But the short of it is this: nobody really knows where the term 86 originated from. What do we know? Not much. At Memphis Ice, it’s clear there are well over 86 possible ideas as to where the term came from. Maybe it had something to do with the beginnings of the global ice trade. Who knows!

An overview of five words commonly used in restaurant lingo

Look, restaurants love their jargon. It’s how they have to communicate to keep patrons happy and food flowing. There’s a lot of lingo to pick out and pull apart. But we thought these five terms were snarky enough to dig into. 

Camping: A great way to frustrate even the most patient and courteous servers. Camping refers to two or more seated patrons who don’t order anything! No bear repellent needed.

Deuce: Simply put, this is a table of two. It has nothing to do with the bathroom so get your head out of the plumbing. 

Cupcaking: Instead of tending to the bar, the bartender instead focuses all of their attention on attractive patrons. 

POS: This refers to a restaurant’s point of sale system. It has nothing to do with the quality of that point of sale system, however. We’ve also heard this term tossed around quite a bit here and there, although for the life of us we just can’t figure out why.

Kill it: Don’t worry, the customers are safe. The “it” in Kill it is a patron’s meat, generally steak. They’d prefer it overcooked to the point of no return. Hey, the customer’s always right—even if they are oh so wrong. 

So, there you have it. Next time you’re in a restaurant and you hear “That POS is a real deuce. Kill it,” you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing it’s just about some foodstuff.

Why do restaurants use industry lingo to communicate?

It all comes down to speed. Do you have any idea just how fast a successful restaurant needs to be to serve patrons and turn a profit? The answer is blisteringly fast! The average restaurant worker juggles multiple responsibilities at once, regardless of their title. To save time and serve faster, restaurant workers use industry lingo to convey large quantities of information in a short amount of time. 

Never 86 ice by partnering with Memphis Ice

Picture it: you’re a dedicated server writing down the biggest drink order of your life. Big drinks mean bigger tips. You’re elated. You rush to the kitchen to submit the order. The bartender reaches for the ice scoop and opens the under-counter ice machine. That’s when tragedy strikes. 

There is no more ice. 

The ice machine is slow, poorly maintained, and when it does make ice, it usually has some weird after smell. Instead of bringing your patrons their drinks, you’re stuck waiting for an ice machine that will never produce ice as fast as you need it to. Your patrons are frustrated. You’re afraid you’ll lose that big tip, and the drink orders keep piling up all across the restaurant. 

If only you had a faster ice machine with a rental plan that includes routine maintenance. That’s where Memphis Ice comes in! With our powerful line of under-counter ice machines, restaurants never need to worry about slow ice or extended service times. You’ll never have to 86 ice when you partner with Memphis Ice. 

Discover the ice machine rental program your restaurant’s been missing. Or, contact one of our dedicated service experts to chat about your next ice machine. It’s what we do best.

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