On the Line / Operations / What Does 86 Mean?

What Does 86 Mean?

The term "86" started in the early 1920s during prohibition. Now, it's a term you'll hear in almost every restaurant across the country.

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Working in a restaurant comes with learning restaurant slang and jargon – and 86, or 86’d, is one of the most popular terms you’ll overhear in any bar or restaurant. 

But what does 86 mean? And where did it come from? Here are a couple of ways that restaurants use the term “86”, and how it is used in most restaurants. 

What does 86 mean?

86 is a commonly used term in restaurants that indicates an item is out of stock or no longer available to be served to guests. This happens often, especially with seasonal, special, or limited-availability items, and it could also indicate that an inventory item has gone bad. 

When a dish on your menu is “86’d”, it usually means that the main ingredient used to make that item is sold out and that the item needs to be made unavailable in your the point of sale and online ordering menus. 

For example, you might only make a certain amount of ham and cheese croissants every morning, because they are expensive and time-consuming for your bakers. At 11:00 AM, your back of house staff flags to the front of house staff to “86 ham and cheese croissants.” 

Where does the term 86’d come from?

The term 86 has been used in restaurants for many years. There isn’t one agreed-upon answer on the origin, but the first known restaurant usage comes from a speakeasy in the early 1900s called Chumley’s — located at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village. When police showed up to shut the bar down during prohibition, guests were allegedly told to “86” or immediately leave the area, and the term stuck. 

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What to do when an item is 86’d

You don’t want to deal with a disappointed customer who ordered a sold-out item. Once you 86 an item, you’ll need to spread the message across the front of house, as well as all ordering systems, including any online ordering or delivery platforms. 

Your point of sale should allow you to 86 items easily, with the touch of a button. With Toast, you can easily 86 an item directly on a Toast device, and that takes it off of all integrated platforms at once — no more worrying that your online ordering customers will put in an order for an out-of-stock item. 

How to prevent having to 86 menu items

86-ing items is inevitable – no matter how prepared you are. There are ways to mitigate the risk, however, by planning and having great inventory practices. Here are a few places to start. 

Choose your inventory management system 

Whether you’re using a par inventory sheet or investing in an automated restaurant inventory system, decide on a process and stick with it. Proactive management is key here, allowing you to stay on top of your ingredient needs and develop a system that works for your restaurant. 

Invest in the right technology 

If you decide to go the automated route (instead of computing everything by hand), find an inventory management system that integrates directly with your POS. That way, you can track sales, usage, and leftover inventory all in one place, saving you time (and money!). 

Keep (some) extra inventory in stock 

While this isn’t a long-term solution, it’s a good idea to keep a little bit more inventory than you think you might need. This especially helps with items that tend to go quickly, and are particularly popular menu items, or specials of the week. 

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The term 86 is now ubiquitous, and you’re likely to hear it at almost every restaurant and bar across the country. And while it’s a helpful term, it’s also one you want to avoid having to use most of the time – by planning ahead and building an inventory management system that works for your restaurant. 

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