A fascinating thing about the culinary world is its slang. Ever wondered what ‘Eighty-Sixed’ means in the restaurant world? You are about to find out!
Owing to the boundaryless nature of the hospitality industry, the slang knows no particular root language either. Stand in the middle of a busy restaurant, and you will hear the chef shout “On the fly”, and hear the wait staff complain about “campers” or being “in the weeds.”
This is when you start doubting your language skills, your industry knowledge, or even your hearing skills for that matter. This piece will start by educating you about popular slang terms. So next time you see another man standing in the middle of the restaurant wondering, you know how to help out.
For this piece, we focus on the term “eighty-sixed”. What it really means, when can you use it, and where did it come from – we learn all that you can about the slang.
You will not only hear the term in restaurants but also often in the news. For example, in 2018 there was a lot of noise about White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders being eighty-sixed (86ed) from a restaurant in Virginia. It is even referenced in TV shows (for instance, in Sherlock Holmes – the one played by Jonny Lee Miller), where he recounts in the show a story claiming that customers would be thrown out of the back door of the bars (or the speakeasy) that had the address 86 on it.
So, let’s get to know a bit more about the term 86ed and its origins.
Table of Contents
How Did It All Start?
Learning about its origin often helps make sense of these unusual, or you can also say random words. For eighty-six, we, unfortunately, do not have a confirmed story, but rather multiple tall tales of the origin of the term.
All of them interesting enough to take notes on and adhere to memory.
- During the depression era, a soup pot could hold only 85 cups of soup. Hence, when the pot got empty – they would call it the “86th soup”.
- Some say it could be from the Chicago train line or the New York train line. Both the Chicago train line and the New York line would end at the 86th street stop. This is where the train conductor would have to kick off the passed out drunk passengers who were sleeping away.
- One of the suggestions is that it comes from the measurements of a grave. A standard depth of a grave is 8 feet long and 6 feet deep.
- There are some sources that suggest that the term originated at Delmonico’s Restaurant in NYC. Number 86 on their menu was a steak, the most popular item on the menu and one that often sold out
- Another genius guessed that it comes from the liquor laws in New York City. Code 86 makes it illegal for bartenders to serve their customers, signaling that they already had enough.
- Others also reference it to military usage. When the soldiers and veterans wanted to speak about missing soldiers, they said that their buddies are 86ed. Something akin to the old “MIA” (missing in action) or “AWOL” (absent without official leave).
Even though we do not know the exact story of how it became a lingo, we can see common threads in all these stories. Although the origin of it is unknown, some sources say that it was first referenced in print in 1933, in a column called “On Broadway”.
It was written by Walter Winchell, where he gives out some “soda-jerker” lingo and mentions that “Eighty-sixed” means all out of it. Walter goes on to reveal that 81 meant a glass of water, 13 means a drifting boss, and so on.
So maybe this theory of the soda enthusiasts using codes could be the one, but I guess we will never know.
What Does It Mean?
You might have guessed by now from the stories, but eighty-six is used in two references.
- When you are out of something listed on your menu, it could be because you are missing a primary ingredient, or because it is sold out (this usually happens on a business evening of service), or also because you removed it – but whatever may be the reason, the situation is called eighty-six.
- It also refers to a situation when you want a particular customer out of the premises. As harsh as it sounds, you might find yourself in such a situation, for instance, when someone is drunk or abusive, or does not keep up the dress code of your restaurant or the likes of it. This is when you must 86 this customers.
Some More Fun Facts
If you are really enjoying the stories behind the origin, there are some more less popular ones for you below:
- It is the standard height of the door frame, which people were being kicked out of.
- It is also the floor of the Empire State Building where people jumped and committed suicide.
- 86 was used as a code by print media many years ago. When they wrote 86 on the bottom, that indicated that the copy had to be thrown out due to errors.
- Back in the days when New York was quite a bit rougher, the 86th precinct was one of the worst. Cops would be overworked there. So, as a threat to keep the cops in line, their sergeants would always say, “behave or you will be 86ed.”
A Step Ahead Mastering the Restaurant Lingo
Maybe you are wondering the same as me, that if 86 means running out of something or someone, does 68 means it is back! Well, it is not that commonly used, but maybe it could be made a common lingo.
It always starts with one, you go first! So go ahead, and start using more of these restaurant lingo terms. Maybe make your own and share it within the culinary world!