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English for the Food Service Industry

By Kenneth Beare, Guide

Most food services and drinking places workers spend most of their time on their feet-preparing meals, serving diners, or transporting dishes and supplies throughout the establishment. Upper body strength often is needed to lift heavy items, such as trays of dishes, platters of food, or cooking pots. Work during peak dining hours can be very hectic and stressful.

Employees who have direct contact with customers, such as waiters and waitresses or hosts and hostesses, should have a neat appearance and maintain a professional and pleasant manner. Professional hospitality is required from the moment guests enter the restaurant until the time they leave. Sustaining a proper demeanor during busy times or over the course of a long shift may be difficult.

Kitchen staff also needs to be able to work as a team and to communicate with each other. Timing is critical to preparing more complex dishes. Coordinating orders to ensure that an entire table's meals are ready at the same time is essential, particularly in a large restaurant during busy dining periods.

Essential English for Kitchen Staff

Top 170 Food Service English Vocabulary List

Kitchen staff includes:

Food preparation workers

Speaking about what you are doing


I'm preparing the fillets, can you get the salad ready?
I'm washing those dishes right now.
Tim's boiling the broth and slicing the bread.

Speaking about what you can do / need to do / have to do


I have to finish these orders first.
I can refill the ketchup jars.
We need to order more eggs.

Speaking about quantities


How many bottles of beer should we order?
There's a little rice left in that container.
There are a few bananas on the counter.

Speaking about what you have done and what is ready


Have you finished the soup yet?
I've already prepared the vegetables.
Frank has just taken the potatoes out of the oven.

Giving / following instructions


Turn the oven up to 450 degrees.
Slice the turkey breast with this knife.
Do not microwave the bacon!

Essential English for Customer Service Staff

Customer service staff Includes:

Hosts and hostesses
Waiters and Waitresses OR Wait persons

Greeting customers


Good morning, how are you today?
Welcome to Big Boy Hamburgers!
Hello, my name is Nancy and I'll be your wait person today.

Taking orders


That's one bacon hamburger, one macaroni and cheese and two diet Cokes.
Would you like your steak medium, rare or well done?
Can I get you some dessert?

Ask questions


How many people are there in your party?
What would you like with your hamburger: fries, potato salad or onion rings?
Would you like anything to drink?

Making suggestions


If I were you, I'd try the salmon today. It's fresh.
How about a cup of soup with your salad?
I'd recommend the lasagna.

Offering help


May I help you today?
Would you like a hand with your jacket?
Should I open the window?

Basic small talk


It's great weather today, isn't it?
How about those Trailblazers? They're doing really well this season.
Are you from out of town?

Video focusing on restaurant phrases and vocabulary (from a customer's and wait person's point of view.

Practice Dialogues for Service Staff

Taking an Order

A Drink at the Bar

Food service job description provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.