75 Spanish Restaurant Phrases and How to Use Spanish to Unite Your Restaurant Team

By: Dahlia Snaiderman

9 Minute Read

May 08, 2019

Kitchen Team "ArbSep07 010" by p_c_w is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The restaurant industry attracts immigrants from all over the world for many reasons, but the ability to work while learning English – instead of having to wait to find a job until you’re completely proficient – is a big draw. 

Bilingual people all know the feeling of getting stuck between words. You’re chugging along, speaking your second, third, or maybe fourth language, when suddenly everything comes to a halt and your mind draws a blank as you search for the right word. When you’re among friends or family, it can feel embarrassing, but if you’re at work, you may feel even worse. 

Now imagine feeling that discomfort hundreds of times a day, with it magnified by being fluent only in your native language. This is how many Spanish-speaking restaurant staff members feel. 

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that those who identify as Hispanic or Latino make up 25.9% of the restaurant industry across the United States. More specifically, they are:

  • 34.7% of cooks

  • 27.9% of dishwashers

  • 26.2% of food prep workers, cafeteria attendants, and barbacks

  • 25.9% of chefs and head cooks

  • 16.8% of management (“first-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers”)

According to the Pew Research Center, 62% of Latinos in the U.S. speak English or are bilingual. They also reported that Spanish is the most widely spoken non-English language in the US, with over 60 million people speaking it across the country. 

Working in back of house doesn’t require fluent English, so as long as you can take directions and cook or clean, you can make a living and build a career as you rise through the ranks. In some cities, it’s also perfectly possible to work front of house without speaking much English, but for obvious reasons, it’s more of a challenge. 

The famous front and back of house divide that stems, in large part, from pay discrepancies, a difference in skill sets, and the traditional personality types you see working in one restaurant position over another, can be further exacerbated by language barriers. If your front of house staff only speaks English and your back of house communicates in Spanish and Spanglish, there’s a much lower chance that friendships will form naturally across teams. Miscommunications, incorrect orders, and other day-to-day issues in a restaurant can also be caused by staff members being unable to communicate comfortably.

The solution? Teach your English-speaking staff some Spanish, and teach your Spanish-speaking staff some English, says Henry Patterson, Senior Partner of restaurant consulting firm Rethink Restaurants. Start by pushing yourself and the other members of your restaurant’s management to use common Spanish phrases or phrases that would be the most helpful to Spanish-speaking staff members. 

Learning a language is tough, but if management is willing to be vulnerable and try to improve their Spanish, it makes the environment more friendly to language errors. “Our attempt to speak Spanish, which in my case is pretty feeble, is entertaining to our Spanish speakers – and more than that, I think it gives them permission to struggle with English,” says Patterson.

How to Create An Inclusive Environment for Bilingual Restaurant Staff 

1. Build Bilingualism Into Your Training 

It’s important to train your staff regularly, not just when onboarding a new staff member. 

You can train your staff to understand all sides of the business, including customer service, leadership skills, anti-harassment training, health codes and best practices, and even food or wine tastings all contribute to staff happiness and fulfilmentHowever, if you’re training your whole staff but only half of them are getting the full picture as a result of a language barrier that’s easily overcome, there’s more work to be done.

When Patterson introduced an open-book management model to his staff, he realized that in order to have every staff member completely understand the financial side of the business, a workshop in English wouldn’t cut it. They hired an external person to come in and give the training in Spanish as well. 

He said the Spanish-speaking staff were thrilled. “It was crazy. They were so much more avid students than the Anglo group. … The fact that we did the whole thing in Spanish was a really clear [sign of] respect to them.” 

Besides conducting on-the-job training in both English and Spanish, consider teaching your English-speaking staff some basic Spanish, and your Spanish-speaking staff basic English. Encourage a language exchange where you pair up staff members who want to learn each other’s languages. This approach promotes an inclusive work environment where all are respected, validated, and heard – regardless of their native tongue. By having your English-speaking and Spanish-speaking staff work together, you can help team members forge stronger bonds, helping your staff work together as a cohesive unit when delivering memorable dining experiences night after night. 

If your budget is tight and you can’t hire anyone externally to give workshops in Spanish, consider asking a bilingual staff member to help out with a training you’re giving and reward them with an employee benefit like overtime pay, PTO (paid time off), the section of their choosing for the next month, or no sidework. 

2. Hang Informative Posters in Both Languages

You probably already have labor law compliance posters hanging in your restaurant’s office kitchen and locker room – if not, getting them should jump to the top of your to-do list, because in many states, it’s required by law to display them

Workplace compliance posters serve many important purposes, from highlighting common ways to avoid cross-contamination to informing workers of their rights. It’s crucial that every employee – regardless of their native language –  understands every word on these posters. 

Many states provide Spanish and English versions of workplace compliance posters – look through the state by state list here.  

You can find additional workplace safety posters here that pertain to different areas of the business, from refrigeration regulations to prevention of communicable diseases in the kitchen; many are available in both English and Spanish. 

Here’s another link where you can find posters in English and Spanish specifically related to allergies — scroll about halfway down the page to the Free FARE Educational Resources section. 

While you’re at it, Dot-It advises if you use weekday stickers for labelling prepped food for the fridge, get bilingual ones. 

3. Learn Indispensable Vocabulary

The average person knows 20,000-35,000 words in their native language, so taking the time to learn the following 75 crucial restaurant terms in Spanish isn’t a huge undertaking. 

Above all, respect is the most important part of bilingual workplace training. Mocking another team member’s accent should not be tolerated; if you’re unsure of how to say something, respectfully ask instead of just assuming. 

If you’re wondering about pronunciation: In Spanish, the emphasis is almost always on the second last syllable of a word, unless there’s an accent that indicates otherwise. For example: cuidado is pronounced cui-DA-do, filoso is pronounced fi-LO-so, resbaloso is pronounced res-ba-LO-so, but lácteos is pronounced LÁC-te-os. Note that typically, “io” ends up counting as one syllable, so sucio is pronounced “SU-cio”. 

Here are 75 key restaurant terms in Spanish:

  1. Cuidado - Careful, be careful 

  2. Caliente - Hot

  3. Resbaloso - Slippery

  4. Listo - Ready

  5. Filoso - Sharp 

  6. Aqui - Here, can be used like “behind”

  7. Atras de ti - I’m behind you

  8. Rapido - Quickly  

  9. Limpio - Clean

  10. Sucio - Dirty

  11. La alergia - Allergy


  1. La cena - Dinner

  2. El almuerzo/lunch - Lunch

  3. El desayuno - Breakfast

  4. La botana - Appetizer

  5. El plato principal/plato fuerte - Entrée, main dish 

  6. El res/buey - Beef

  7. El pollo - Chicken

  8. El cerdo - Pork 

  9. El pescado - Fish

  10. Los mariscos - Seafood 

  11. Las verduras/vegetales - Vegetables

  12. La pasta - Pasta

  13. La harina - Flour

  14. El trigo - Wheat

  15. Los productos lácteos - Dairy products

  16. La leche - Milk 

  17. La crema - Cream 

  18. El queso - Cheese

  19. Las nueces - Nuts

  20. Los cacahuates - Peanuts

  21. Las semillas - Seeds

  22. La soya - Soy

  23. Los huevos - Eggs

  24. La salsa - Sauce

  25. La masa - Dough or batter

  26. La levadura - Yeast 


  1. La cocina - Kitchen

  2. El baño - Bathroom

  3. El comedor - Dining room 

  4. El closet - Closet 

  5. El casillero - Locker

  6. El candado - Padlock 

  7. La oficina - Office

  8. El refrigerador - Refrigerator

  9. El congelador - Freezer

  10. La despensa - Pantry/dry storage


  1. El cuchillo - Knife

  2. El plato - Plate

  3. El horno - Oven

  4. La parilla - Griddle/grill

  5. La toalla - Towel

  6. La cuchara - Spoon

  7. La cucharadita/cucharilla (regional) - Teaspoon

  8. La cucharada - Tablespoon

  9. El tenedor - Fork

  10. La lana / la plata / el dinero - Money 

  11. El efectivo - Cash 


  1. Corta - Cut

  2. Rebana - Slice

  3. Lava - Wash

  4. Prepara - Prepare

  5. Limpia - Clean

  6. Guarda - Put away

  7. Coce - Cook (as in cook it until medium-well) 

  8. Fichar / marcar tarjeta - Clock in or out


  1. Un momento - Hold on a second, wait a moment

  2. Donde está ____ - Where is ____

  3. Pásame ____ - Pass me ___

  4. Se acabo ____ - We’re out of ____

  5. Puedo ____ - Can I 

  6. Perdon - Sorry

  7. Ahí te va - It’s coming

  8. Espera - Wait

  9. Me tengo que ir - I have to leave

Empathy is Everything

In a recent interview for The Garnish, a podcast for restaurant people by Toast, Danny Meyer said

“How in the world can you possibly be in a business that is about making people feel better, when there could be people in your own company that don't feel good about coming to work, or feel that there are double standards, or feel that there are different sets of rules for different people based on power, gender, race, etc.” 

Having and showing empathy for everyone on your staff will inevitably lead to a happier, more cohesive team, contributing to a stronger workplace culture overall, and a more successful restaurant. A big way that you can show you care is by making an effort to speak the languages of your employees and making them feel comfortable in practicing their English at work. Creating a bilingual environment where diversity in languages is welcomed will make your restaurant an even better place to work.  

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