Food Service Vocabulary

Waiter picking up plates of food.
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Every worker in the foodservice industry is expected to have a base-level understanding of food service vocabulary to help them identify tools, responsibilities, rights, benefits, and elements of their jobs. Fortunately, the United States Department of Labor lays out 170 of these vocabulary terms in the "Occupational Handbook."

Terms included in this list are important for service industry workers because they help clarify a common understanding of each element necessary to delivering excellent food service and also lets employees know the legal means in which to discuss issues with particular elements of the workplace or management staff. 

The full list of essential vocabulary words for food service workers is as follows:

Addition Customers Maintain Retail
Alcoholic Demand Manage Room
Area Department Manager Run
Assist Diners Marketing Safety
Assistant Dining Meals Salads
Attendants Dishes Meat Sales
Baggers Dishwashers Menu Sandwiches
Bakers Drinking Merchandise Schedules
Bars Eating Move Section
Bartenders Employees Moving Select
Benefits Entry Nonfood Selection
Beverage Equipment Nonsupervisory Selections
Beverages Establishment Numerous Sell
Butchers Establishments Offer Selling
Cafeteria Fill Office Serve
Cafeterias Fillers Operation Service
Cash Fish Order Services
Cashiers Floor Orders Serving
Chains Food Oversee Shifts
Change Foods Package Shop
Checkout Fresh Patrons Smaller
Chef Groceries Perform Snack
Chefs Grocery Performance Specialize
Clean Group Place Specialty
Cleaning Growth Poultry Staff
Clerks Handling Premises Stock
Coffee Health Preparation Store
Company Hospitality Prepare Stores
Compared Hostesses Prepared Supermarket
Computer Hosts Preparing Supermarkets
Consumer Hourly Prices Supervisors
Consumption Hours Processing Supplies
Contact Increase Produce Systems
Convenience Ingredients Product Tables
Cook Inventory Products Tasks
Cooking Items Proportion Tips
Cooks Kitchen Provide Trade
Counter Kitchens Purchase Train
Counters Level Recipes Training
Courtesy Line Register Variety
Culinary Local Replacement Waiters
Customer Longer Required Waitresses
Restaurant Workers

The Importance of Knowing Proper Vocabulary

Working in the food service industry often offers young workers their first exposure to the idea of corporate speak and jargon used in the workplace to simply and make communication uniform across the full market, from larger companies like McDonald's to locally owned diners in rural America.

For this reason, it's important that employees understand the basic difference between common phrases in the industry as well as how to properly refer to stages of preparation, tools for handling food, economic concerns of the business, and day to day operational tasks like training and hours.

What may be more important to note is that when it comes to legality and contracts, these terms have very strict definitions according to the government, so if, for instance, a contract says that "Training is unpaid," and a person winds up "training" for three weeks, they're essentially providing free labor, but have agreed to such in their contract — knowing these types of words, especially in a legal context, can help protect new employees.

Jargon and Colloquialisms

That said, another key element to a successful career (even if short-lived) in the food service industry hinges upon teambuilding and understanding the language of the workplace, even in a less professional and technical way. 

Because food service relies on a team of individuals, from the line cook to the waiter, the hostess to the busboy, employees of dining and food service establishments often form familial bonds with one another and develop their own jargon and colloquialisms to communicate with one another secretly, even in front of patrons of the establishment.

Understanding the legal, technical, and colloquial vocabularies of food service are essential to being successful in the field because most of this industry relies entirely upon interaction not only with the customers but with coworkers as well.