What does 86 Mean in Restaurant Jargon? (2023)

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By EricT_CulinaryLore

(Video) Chef Slang: 86'd

The number 86 is used as a verb in restaurant jargon. This usage has also found its way into common parlance. When you86’dor you are told to86 it, in a restaurant, it can mean a couple of different things.

For more unusual words seeAnother Word A Day: An All-New Romp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English.

To86a menu item might mean that it is temporarily unavailable, usually because a primary ingredient has run out. For example, if the special of the night is sea bass and the kitchen is out of sea bass, the wait-staff might be told to “86 the sea bass.” This tells them to let the customers know that the sea bass is no longer available. Yes, the past tense is 86’d. “What happened to the sea bass?” you ask. “The sea bass was 86’d.”

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Here’s a hint to waiters: Never tell your customers that you have “run out of something.” Let’s say that the kitchen is out of scallops. Say, “the scallops have sold out.” The former makes it seem as if the kitchen, and by extension, the restaurant is mismanaged and someone failed to order enough scallop. The latter makes it seem as if business is booming and the scallops were popular and tasty.

86 doesn’t only mean that the kitchen is out of an ingredient, it also means to “get rid of something.” So, if something has gone bad and a kitchen staffer is told to “86 it,” this means to throw it out.

Origin of 86 in Restaurant Lingo

It is not known for certain where this lingo began. It is such a ubiquitous part of restaurant jargon that it would be hard to trace it accurately. A couple of possible origins are suggested by the Culinary Institute of America1:

  • 86 may come from the depression era when soup pots held 85 cups of soup. When the pot was empty, “86 soup” was called out. This one seems like a bit of a stretch, but anything is possible.
  • Like many terms, it may have originated with sailing vessels. Before garbage can be thrown overboard (gotten rid of) the ship must be at 86 fathoms in depth.
  • It may have originated from a Chicago train line for which the last stop was stop 86, or the end of the line. This is also claimed to have been a New York line. At the end of the line, stop 86, the conductor would have to eject the drunk passengers, who had fallen asleep and failed to debark at previous stops. He86’d them.
  • A very likely origin is the lingo ofsoda fountains. Soda jerks had codes and jargon for almost everything, most of it quite colorful, but some of it as simple as numbers. During the 1920’s, 55 meant root beer, 99 meant the boss-man, 98 meant the bossman’s second in command (who was also called “pest”). It is not suggested how 86 was used, and if it was used the same way as it is used today.
  • It may possibly have come fromdiner slang, but there is no evidence to suggest this.
  • The hotel and bar industries also use the term, but to refer to ejecting someone from the premises, as in an unruly guest or an over-intoxicated patron. Bar and saloon culture suggests its own origin stories for 86. One claim is that it comes from the Old West, where, when a bar customer had become drunk and disorderly, the bar would serve him a drink with 86 percent alcohol by volume, or 172proof. That is very, very strong, and would basically knock the trouble-maker out. He had been86’d. In other versions, the intent is a bit more benign. Since alcohol served was usually 100 proof, the over-drunk patron would be served a slightly weaker 86 proof. This makes little sense, of course, as the 86 proof liquor would be quite enough to keep him drunk and get him drunker.
  • Another claim is that the number comes from sections of the liquor laws. For example, local code number 86 in New York makes it illegal for bartenders to serve drunk patrons. So, a patron that had had his fill was 86’d. This makes a bit of sense and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were correct.
  • An additional bar claim is that the term came from the addresses of famous bars on the East Coast. Perhaps the bar most frequently mentioned isChumley’sbar at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village, New York. In the television showElementary, Sherlock Holmes, played by Johnny Lee Miller, recounts this unlikely story, claiming that the back door of Chumley’s had the address 86 written on it and unruly customers would be thrown out the back door, thus “86’d.” The actual address of the bar and former speakeasy, however, was 86 Bedford so there is no reason to believe that the back door should have special status. Regardless, this story is poppycock because the term was already in use before the bar ever opened.

86 is to ‘Bury it Six Feet Under’

It has been suggested that the standard depth of a grave used to be 7 feet 2 inches underground, or 86 inches total. So to 86 something was to bury it.

Various Other Origin Stories for 86

In a stretch, theF-86Sabre fighter, since it had so many “kills,” has been suggested as an origin. Some other possible origins given below. The problem with most of these is that it is so unlikely that these would have found their way into common parlance, or even common restaurant and bar parlance. Others are just plain silly. There are a few that may have some credibility.

(Video) what does it mean to 86 something on set? This is Film Terms Translated.

  • Referred to the standard height of the door frame you were being kicked out of.
  • Referred to people jumping off the 86’th floor of the Empire State building to commit suicide.
  • Came from a shaving powder in the Old West called “Old Eighty Six,” a pinch of which would be placed in a trouble-makers drink, to send him running from the saloon with a case of the runs.
  • Camera lens filters which were numbered by their opaqueness, going up to 85. The nonexistent 86 filter would be completely opaque, not allowing any light through.
  • Old-time newspapers used number codes at the bottom of teletype sheets to indicate what was to be done with the copy. 86 would mean to be discarded, 86 was printed at the bottom.
  • Referred to the 86th precinct in New York city, where cops were sent when they weren’t cutting the mustard. The precinct was in a rough neighborhood and the cops were extremely overworked. Nobody wanted to be 86’d so just the threat was enough to get them to behave.

Is There an Opposite for 86?

Although this is nowhere near as common, the term68is sometimes used when a menu item is once again available. No need to explain this one, it’s just 86 in reverse an probably has no other origin than the obvious reversal of the numbers to mean the opposite. When you get some scallops in after they had been 86’d, you “68 the scallops,” or put them back on the menu.

Resources

1. The Culinary Institute of America. Remarkable Service:. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.

2. Garg, Anu. Another Word a Day: An All-new Romp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2006.

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FAQs

What does 86 mean in a restaurant? ›

The American term “86” means to eject a person from a restaurant, bar or any other type of venue and is slang among those who work in hospitality. Generally, a person who was “86'd” indicates that they are no longer welcome on the premises.

What does 86 mean in slang? ›

The term 86, or eighty-six, is an American English slang term used to indicate that you should halt or nix something. The term is used primarily in restaurants and bars in regard to items on their menu (including their dessert menu options).

What does being 86 from a bar mean? ›

Eighty-six or 86 is American English slang used to indicate that an item is no longer available, traditionally from a food or drinks establishment; or referring to a person or people who are not welcome in the premises.

Where does the term 86 come from in restaurants? ›

Eighty-six is slang meaning "to throw out," "to get rid of," or "to refuse service to." It comes from 1930s soda-counter slang meaning that an item was sold out. There is varying anecdotal evidence about why the term eighty-six was used, but the most common theory is that it is rhyming slang for nix.

What does 68 mean in a restaurant? ›

In the restaurant industry, 68 may be used as a code meaning "put back on the menu", being the opposite of 86 which means "remove from the menu".

What does 85 mean in a restaurant? ›

For instance, they read that a score of 71–85 was labelled “Needs Improvement” and meant that inspectors had seen multiple violations, usually including several high-risk ones.

How long can you be 86 from a bar? ›

“And when you are 86ed, 86 usually lasts for a year,” Bozovic says. “So if that person tries to come back, they tell them, 'Sorry, you're not allowed in this establishment for the next year. '”

Where did the term 86 d come from? ›

Origin of To 86 Something

In the 1930s, many restaurants used 86 as shorthand code for “we're out of this item.” In this sense, the phrase hasn't changed much from its original use. In 1933, newsman Walter Winchell published a column where he referenced the term in a “glossary of soda-fountain lingo.”

What does 86 mean in the biker world? ›

Supposedly, during Prohibition, when they were a speakeasy and were raided by the police, the workers would sometimes yell out "86!" meaning to leave the bar via the 86 Bedford Street entrance. (There are about three entrances to the bar, plus a hidden exit.)

How long can you be 86 from a bar? ›

“And when you are 86ed, 86 usually lasts for a year,” Bozovic says. “So if that person tries to come back, they tell them, 'Sorry, you're not allowed in this establishment for the next year. '”

What does 99 mean in a restaurant? ›

Doe opened the doors of his first 99 Restaurant in at 99 State St. in Boston. Doe's wife, Shirley, presented him with a horseshoe for good luck and he hung it around the 99 numerals on the brick fa ade, "to hold the good luck in." The horseshoe became one of New England's familiar food service logos.

Where did the term 86 d come from? ›

Origin of To 86 Something

In the 1930s, many restaurants used 86 as shorthand code for “we're out of this item.” In this sense, the phrase hasn't changed much from its original use. In 1933, newsman Walter Winchell published a column where he referenced the term in a “glossary of soda-fountain lingo.”

What does 86 mean in the biker world? ›

Supposedly, during Prohibition, when they were a speakeasy and were raided by the police, the workers would sometimes yell out "86!" meaning to leave the bar via the 86 Bedford Street entrance. (There are about three entrances to the bar, plus a hidden exit.)

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