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Joshua Weatherwax

86 Meaning: What Does 86 Mean and Where Does It Come From?

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If you've ever seen a television show with Gordon Ramsay in it, you've probably heard the term 86 thrown about. Maybe you've even heard it in wine movies.

So what does 86 mean in a restaurant? And why does chef Ramsay yell it so much?

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It's actually one of the most commonly used terms in the foodservice and hospitality industry. It has both a foh meaning and meaning to the back of house staff. So, understanding restaurant terms and restaurant slang like this is an important part of managing a bar or restaurant.

Read on for a brief overview of the term 86, where it came from, and how to use it, even in the top 25 Michelin Star restaurants.

What Does it Mean to 86 Something?

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 in different menu types (including their dessert menu options). However, it can also be used to indicate that a person is not welcome at the establishment.

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What Does 86 Mean in a Restaurant?

In a restaurant, 86 means to no longer make or serve a given item. This is often done for a few reasons:

  • Supply issues. Many small restaurants or bars may run into issues with their inventory. When there are not enough ingredients left to make a popular dish or drink, they'll have to 86 it. This prevents customers from ordering it and then getting upset. Investing in perpetual inventory bar inventory software like BinWise Pro can help them avoid this problem. It provides a real-time inventory count, letting owners and bartenders intelligently adjust their plans on the fly. You can change what dishes you offer, boost the best celebrity wines to cover for another best seller, run a new special, or set up a happy hour to sell excess stock
  • Poor quality. When the quality of the ingredients of food and drink being made is not up to par, it's better to 86 them. For example, if a batch of wine has become corked (or it's been through oxidation) and can’t get sold, it will need to be 86’d. Luckily, BinWise Pro’s Corked Wine Report not only automatically 86es the wine, it sends each vendor a report to request either a credit for the corked bottle (for all wine bottle sizes), or a replacement. This will ensure you don't upset customers with dissatisfying fare. An unhappy customer hurts your bottom line, and they will let their friends and family know about their experience. Customer satisfaction is key when running a restaurant or bar. 
  • Focus on other items. Sometimes a restaurant or bar (perhaps a cocktail bar) will want to push a particular item (perhaps for bar promotions). Likely one that can drive a higher restaurant profit margin. To do this, they may choose to temporarily 86 their less profitable items (to boost bar profit margins). It will force customers to order the items preferred by the business and can increase their revenue. If this is common in your business, menu engineering would be a better way to achieve this goal. Even better, BinWise Pro’s Smartview Report calculates the profit margin, pour cost (with cost percentage), and more for each item on the menu down to their ingredients (including cocktail ingredients). This lets you better plan and adjust your menu for maximum profit.
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Where Did 86 Come From? Origin of the 86 Meaning

The exact origin of the term 86 is unknown, but there are a number of theories.

Here are a few theories on where 86 came from:

  • Early 1900s restaurants. The most likely explanation for the term is that it was developed in the restaurant industry around the 1930s. It's well-documented that the term was common kitchen slang of the era indicating that the kitchen was out of something. It later grew to become a more general restaurant lingo term that also meant to cut someone off. Likely due to a lack of money, a rude attitude, or because they were drunk.
  • Prohibition-era bars. Another possible origin is a New York City Prohibition-era speakeasy called Chumley's. The bar was located at 86 Bedford Street. Legend has it that crooked police would warn the bar of an impending raid. The bartender would then 86 the customers, or kick them out, so they wouldn't be arrested. You won't see that on a contemporary list of bartender duties.
  • A term for death. A more morbid theory is that the term comes from the grave. The dimensions of a grave in particular. Since most standard graves are 8' by 6', there is a belief that there may be a correlation. Today, the term has taken on a connotation outside of the kitchen, referring to rejecting or discarding someone. This has further fueled the idea that this is the origin.
  • Adapted from whiskey. The last theory comes from the idea that it is an old bartending term. Until the 1980s, whiskey generally came in 100 and 86 proof options. If a customer began to show signs of drinking too much of the 100 proof, they would be 86'd. In this case, they weren't ejected, just served the lower 86 proof whiskey.
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Did We 86 Your Confusion?

Now that you know all about the term 86, you can use it in your own restaurant or bar. It's a quick and effective way to let your kitchen staff know not to make something. It also lets your front of house team know not to sell it, to make for better customer service.

For further guidance on the lingo you'll need to know, check out our wine tasting terms guide. Once you've mastered the slang, you'll fit right in with the team!

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