What does it mean when your dinner has been 86’d?
Just like diner lingo was once widely used as an easy way for diner staff to communicate, the restaurant industry in general has its own language. Naturally much of it is related to cooking and ingredients, but also to the organization of a restaurant and kitchen.
A few examples of terms that are unique to restaurant language includes “on the fly” and “in the weeds.” In a kitchen when someone says they needs something “on the fly” that means right now or immediately. For example if something has been forgotten from an order that needs to go out, the chef may call out, “I need those fries on the fly!” When someone says they are “in the weeds” that means they are busy and having having a hard time keeping up.
Another very popular term from restaurant language is “86.” This is used in several different ways in restaurants and bars. If a person has been “86’d” from an establishment, that means they are no longer welcome there, usually due to their bad conduct or behavior. Someone might also use the term as a way of saying to leave something off of a dish, such as “cheeseburger, 86 the onions.” Perhaps the primary way of using this term is when the restaurant is out of something, be it an ingredient or an entire dish on the menu as in, “86 the lamb chops.”
There are several theories on the origins of the term 86. One of the most popular suggests that the term came Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York in the late 19th century. The restaurant had a numbered menu and item 86, the house steak, was very popular and frequently ran out. The kitchen staff started referring to other items that were not available as “86’d.” Another popular theory says that at one time a New York state law called Article 86 detailed when patrons were too intoxicated and could no longer be served alcohol. And yet another theory says that the term came from soda fountains which used a number system to distinguish different items. Number 33 was a cherry Coke, 19 meant banana split, and 86 meant the item was out of stock.
While the exact origin of 86 may never be known, it is an important term in restaurant language and surely will continue to be used in kitchens around the country.