English for Restaurant Staff: 200+ Essential Vocabulary

Think of a restaurant worker.

You probably pictured a chef. Maybe you imagined a waiter or waitress.

But there are so many other jobs in the restaurant industry! In this post, we will cover the jobs of waiters, hosts, bartenders, managers, cooks and bussers.

For all of these jobs, knowing English is a huge advantage. English for restaurant staff varies by job type, but overall it’s formal, polite, fairly simple and worth learning!

Below, you will find information for each job type, common phrases, study resources, additional vocabulary for restaurant workers and even how to practice this type of English!


English for Restaurant Staff Positions

1. Waiter / Waitress

Waiters and waitresses are some of the most visible employees of a restaurant. They take food and drink orders, serve dishes and beverages and just generally help customers get what they want.

As a waiter, you’ll see and speak to many customers every day. Good English skills are important! There’s plenty of repetition in this position, which you’ll learn quickly as you work.

This job is also one of the easiest to practice for, since you’ll find waiters in nearly every restaurant you visit. You can also collect some menus from your favorite restaurants (or online) and learn the different kinds of dishes you might have to serve.

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Common phrases:

Study resources:

  • Here’s a useful list of sample conversations you might have as a waiter or waitress.
  • Before you go to a real restaurant, you can watch this video to know what you should expect to hear. This is also a good place to learn how to present yourself as a waiter. (Hint: You need to be polite and courteous.)
  • Here’s another great video that teaches basic restaurant and waiter vocabulary.
  • Waiters also have to speak to the staff in the back of the restaurant. Some of the terms you might need for that can be found here.

2. Host / Hostess

The job of a host or hostess is to greet and seat patrons (customers). A restaurant host greets the customers with a smile, speaks politely and sometimes takes reservations.

A host also needs to be tactful (polite in a subtle way). For instance, if there’s a long wait to be seated, it’s the host’s job to let the patrons know they’ll need to wait—without making them angry about the wait.

Good English and a genuine (real) smile are important for this position!

Common phrases:

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Study resources:

  • What makes a great host? This article explains some of the most important qualities a restaurant host should have.
  • How do you politely say “no”? This page teaches the difference between polite and impolite English.

3. Bartender

A bartender’s job is to mix and serve drinks. Most places require a special license to be a bartender, since you’re often serving alcohol. Because of this, not every restaurant has bartenders.

A bartender needs to know many different liquors and cocktails (mixed drinks). It might also be a good idea to brush up on your small talk, as some customers really like talking with the bartender.

More expensive restaurants might also have a sommelier, which is someone who specializes in fine wines. The phrases used by a sommelier are very different and specific to the wines they serve.

Common phrases:

Study resources:

  • This page has a guide to the vocabulary words a bartender will need to know.
  • What kinds of drinks should you know as a bartender? Here’s a list to get you started.
  • What should you talk about as a bartender? Some top bartenders share their tips in this easy article.
  • If you want to specialize in wines, here’s a list of vocabulary words related to wines.

4. Manager

The manager is in charge of making sure the restaurant runs smoothly. They make many important decisions (choices). As a manager, you will need to give clear instructions to everyone involved, and step in to help if a customer has a complaint.

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As a manager, it’s helpful to know professional and business English, while still being able to connect in casual, less formal English. That’s because the manager’s job requires them to speak to patrons, employees and professionals in the field.

Common phrases:

Study resources:

  • When a customer has a complaint, the manager often gets called in to handle the problem. This article provides steps for resolving issues with customers.
  • Want to see those tips in action? This video has some examples of a manager responding correctly to a customer’s complaint.
  • Of course, your job as a manager isn’t just to deal with complaints. In this video, a number of managers speak about their jobs and what it takes to be a manager. You can find some great business vocabulary in there, too!

5. Cook / Chef

You guessed it: The cook cooks! There are different kinds of cooking positions, each with their own name and experience requirements. Cooks and chefs have their own lingo too—vocabulary that’s only used by them.

The type of vocabulary you’ll need may vary depending on the kind of restaurant you work at. There are a couple of phrases and restaurant vocabulary words that you’ll find anywhere, so it’s a good idea to start there.

Common phrases:

Study resources:

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6. Busser

Not every restaurant has a busser, but they can be a huge help to the rest of the staff. A busser’s job is to clear tables and refill drinks.

The busser also helps keep things moving at a fast pace, so that customers can move in and out of the restaurant at a steady pace (speed). Thus, bussers need to know how to be polite to customers.

The normal amount of time for patrons to stay at their table varies by country, so be aware of these cultural differences. For example, in the United States, a busser might clear plates from a table as soon as the plates are empty. However in Spain, patrons often have long, relaxed meals, and they usually stay at the table to talk long after they’ve finished eating.

Common phrases:

Study resources:

  • This article speaks about the importance of bussers, and why they shouldn’t be overlooked by restaurants. It’s a long, somewhat complex article, but the bottom portion has some useful tips on how to be a good busser.
  • What else does a busser do? This page describes all the potential job responsibilities of a busser.

More English Vocabulary for Restaurant Workers

Here are some common and useful terms used by restaurant staff members:

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How to Practice Restaurant English

As an employee in a restaurant, your most important concern is communication. You need to understand and be understood.

You may have already noticed that the English used by restaurant staff can be repetitive. This is great news for you! Learn the most often repeated phrases and words, and you’re already halfway there.

Here are some ways you can practice using English restaurant vocabulary:

  • Role play. All you need is a friend to practice speaking with! Role play is when you pretend to be someone else, or you pretend to be in a certain type of situation.

    So, grab a friend and choose your roles. If you’re hoping to be a waiter, for instance, you can pretend to be the waiter and your friend can be the customer. You can also role play with a fellow student, a teacher or even a Skype tutor.

  • Go to a restaurant. If you already live in an English-speaking country, just go visit a restaurant! Keep your eyes and ears open, and you’ll hear plenty of phrases and vocabulary repeated by the restaurant staff.

    If you visit an open kitchen restaurant (where you can see the food being prepared), you may even get to hear some “back of the house” English. Take your notebook with you and write down any phrases you hear often but don’t know.

    If you don’t live in an English-speaking city, check out areas that are tourist-heavy. The tourism industry often uses English, and any restaurants in tourist hot spots are likely to have English-speaking staff. (If your waiter is a native, ask them to speak English to you!)

  • Watch restaurant TV shows. To get a look into the back of a restaurant, you can watch restaurant shows. TV shows like “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Restaurant: Impossible” take you inside the restaurant business in a unique way.

    These shows not only teach you the English you might use in a restaurant kitchen, but they also show you what it’s like to work in one. (Of course, you probably won’t have a famous cook yelling at you as you work!)

  • Watch culinary travel shows. You can “visit” restaurants all over the world by watching culinary travel shows. By watching “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” for example, you can travel across the United States and hear the way restaurant staff members speak in different parts of the country.

If you want to watch authentic English videos that have helpful learning tools, you can check out FluentU. This language learning program uses real English videos—like music videos, talk shows, vlogs and more—to teach you the language.

Remember that the English you’ll need is a bit different for each type of restaurant job. Choose a focus: Which job do you plan on applying for? What country do you want to work in?

Prepare for the position that you’re applying for now—even if you want a different role in the future. The rest of the learning will be easier once you’re actually working in a restaurant because you’ll be immersed in (surrounded by) restaurant English.


English for restaurant staff is really just a certain type of professional English.

And learning it gives you the option of working in the tourism industry in any English-speaking country, where the other staff and customers might not speak your native language.

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So no matter what restaurant career you decide to pursue, you can use this resource guide to get you started!

And One More Thing...

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