Restaurant workers need to communicate effectively in a fast-paced work environment to perform their duties efficiently. There's no time or room to write out full menu descriptions on guest checks, so it's crucial that all item abbreviations are clearly understood by both kitchen and floor staff, such as STF, LG or EZ. It varies by establishment, company policy, theme, concept and product line, but there are several common menu abbreviations universally used in the restaurant industry.
Rule of Thumb
A general rule of thumb is to use initials whenever possible. Items or directions with only one word are represented by the first two to three letters or a combination of three to four letters that phonetically sound out the full word. For example, CN represents chicken noodle soup, SA represents sausage, STF describes the word "stuffed" and OTS alerts the chef to serve something "on the side." The term "86" informs all restaurant staff that an item is out of stock, as in "86 the prime rib."
Beer, Wine and Cocktails
Beers and wines are typically referred to by brand name. When a beer brand is followed by LT it means a lite beer. There are different abbreviations for wines as well, such as CAB for cabernet, MER for merlot, ZIN for Zinfandel and CHAR for chardonnay. First initials are used for well liquors such as vodka, rum, gin, tequila and whiskey (V,R,G,T, W). Initials are also used for popular cocktails such as screwdrivers (SD), tequila sunrise (TS) and acronyms for gin or vodka martinis (GMART, VMART). OTR stands for "on the rocks" and UP for "straight up." Any of these abbreviations may be followed by the brand name of a particular liquor.
Many restaurants offer the same items in different sizes or served with different sides. Correspondingly, several types of course description abbreviations are used. SM and LG are used to distinguish small and large. APP is typically used to indicate an appetizer item. Entrees served a la carte are often preceded or followed by AC, while the full dinner portion — including sides, soup, salad, dessert — is labeled with a D. Side dishes are often distinguished with SD, as in "SD rice."
Most restaurants use acronyms and abbreviations for food items as well. When ordering pizza, servers use TH to indicate a thin crust or P for pan (thick crust). Some common pizza topping abbreviations include SA for sausage, P or PEP for pepperoni, ON for onions, GP for green peppers and GO or BO for green or black olives. Generally HB represents a hamburger and CB a cheeseburger. Spaghetti and mostaccioli are referred to as SPAG and MOST. Some common sauce abbreviations are MS for meat sauce, MAR for marinara and ALF for Alfredo.
Kitchen staff also rely on modifiers to ensure that food is prepared and packaged correctly. Servers indicate how well meats should be cooked with R for rare, M for medium, MR for medium rare and WD for well done. SOS means "sauce on the side." EZ after a food name means the chef should go easy on that ingredient, while HOLD means to omit it altogether. An order that takes priority might be labeled OTF for "on the fly" and TG typically means "to go."