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Restaurant talk: "marking" a table?????

OK................. so we're really busy one afternoon and a young, culinary academy trained chef I now work with asks me if a table has been "marked". She gets pretty annoyed when I tell her I have no idea what that means.

She says that to "mark" a table means to set place settings on it (ie- napkins, utensils). OK...........................

I Googled "marking a table" and found that at least this one restaurant (and one other online source)uses the term with that meaning: http://winedirectorsdiary.com/?p=1137 I also found reference to servers leaving some visible object on a table to call attention to it for some reason - which could relate back to place settings, I guess.

My question......................... how common is this usage?? I've never worked in a restaurant (the wine bar I work in is slowly becoming one), but I've never heard the term used that way before. The situation made me feel like I SHOULD know the term.............. hence the angst.

While we're at it, if anyone knows why in the world the word "marked" would be preferable to, say "set"............ please chime in. Sounds a bit pretentious to me, but I can be a bit sensitive.

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  1. Been around for years, and as long as since I was in high school.

    As to the history or origins to the term? No idea.

    But I find nothing pretentious about it, however.

    1. I, too, am a cul school grad. In my restaurant years, never heard of it.

      1. It's very common. I've also heard laced as the table being completely reset for service. Plus the term monkey dish for the small bowls typically used for side sauces or vegetable.

        1 Reply
        1. re: holypeaches

          "monkey dish" -- the first time I heard those words, I had been on the job for about 6 months as sales secretary (back in the day when admins were called secretary) at the catering company I still work at. I had no clue as to what it was. Now, it's second nature to call it that, and I can't think of any other term so specific. We have other small bowls, but none that would work like monkey dishes.

        2. The difference between "Marking" and "Setting" is that marking refers to items needed for a course that is yet to come. Setting (Or flipping) a table refers to returning a table to it's original mis en place before a guest sits.

          Marking is also used universally for anything that is supposed to be on the table i.e. marked with wine/bread/etc.

          It's also meant to help communicate with the expo on the line in the kitchen. Often, when a table is ready for their next course, a "mark" of some sort is drawn on the ticket.

            1. Waitressed for years in fine dining and Mom & Pops. Have never heard the term before.

              10 Replies
              1. re: Nanzi

                So......... Any thoughts on the lack of universality re use of the term? Geographic? Training/Education? Some degree of pretentiousness?

                1. re: Midlife

                  It's not pretension just because it's not universally used from greasy spoons all the way up to Noma. Every industry develops colloquialisms to communicate repeated and frequent tasks effectively. When you work in a company that uses them on a daily basis, it sometimes works its way into your everyday language with those not in your industry. It can take a person off guard when someone doesn't know what you're talking about, especially when the entire point of this method of speaking is to be more efficient with one another's time.

                  1. re: plaidbowtie

                    Interesting to compare your take with that of Isolda below. You'd have to know more about the specific situation and people to know why I feel the way I do. This was a wine and packaged food store that is slowly morphing into a restaurant. Only the two "chefs" have resto experience and they seem unnecessarily impressed by that. A quick nose count in this topic shows a sizable number of folks who've worked in the trade yet don't know the term. To assume co-workers know it, when they know there's no experience, is just not 'nice'. Just getting it off my chest I guess.

                    1. re: Midlife

                      I wasn't there, so Im certainly not defending the chefs, because for all I know it could have been done in a pretentious way. My point was just that it's easy for "work speak" in ANY field, (not just F&B) to leak into "home speak." Ask just about any server if they've said "behind you" in the supermarket when walking behind someone, and the answer will be yes, much to their embarrassment.

                      Marking may not be universal, and it may not be common in all parts of the country/types of restaurant, but it IS common in others. The fact that it exists and not everyone knows about it is just a fact of life.

                      It's also worth noting that "marking" is generally a Front of House term, not a back of house term, since line cooks generally don't give forks to people. Therefore, culinary students/those that work in kitchens might not be as exposed to it.

                      ETA: if I'm comparing my response to Isolda's- I would find the response of having someone's work compared to a dog urinating more pretentious than a slip of the tongue.

                      1. re: plaidbowtie

                        I meant this response: "Sounds like you work with a bunch of insecure boneheads!" ;o)

                        To help with some perspective here, some of the 'staff' never works the hours when there is 'real' table service and I (personally) have never been given the slightest but of instruction on who is supposed to do what or even on 'what' is. So......... for a young 'professional' (perhaps 40 years my junior) to demand to know if a table had been "marked"...... then seem annoyed when I didn't recall what that even meant, let alone being clear as to whose responsibility it would be.......... well, it has obviously gotten my nose more that a bit sideways.

                        1. re: plaidbowtie

                          I agree within each industry or business there are acronyms and word speak utilized for efficiency. The proper reaction should have been take a moment to teach no one knows everything.

                          1. re: plaidbowtie

                            i am not a restaurant person, but as i have watched numerous cooking competition shows, i have found the phrase "behind you" very useful in my non-restaurant life.

                            1. re: ritabwh

                              I never thought of "behind you" as restaurant jargon, though I used it often enough working in a restaurant in a previous life, I've used it in other circumstances long before any sort of restaurant initiation. I never recall hearing the term "marking a table," though we always used "two-top" and "plating" of food (a term I cannot stand, however useful as shorthand).

                            2. re: plaidbowtie

                              I was commenting on the fact that the chef was rude enough to imply the poster was stupid for not knowing the term, rather than simply educating her on its meaning, as a secure person would have done. There is never an excuse for rudeness.

                              And my remark about the dog marking was one I'd have been tempted to make, but would not have made. There's a difference between being tempted to do something wrong and actually doing it. Sometimes the thought of doing something is sufficient to make a person feel a little better.

                      2. re: Nanzi

                        The term 'behind you' was not used where I served. 'At your back' was the term used for the same thing.
                        This was in New Jersey, btw.

                      3. Can't comment on the term since I've never heard of it, but I will comment on the behavior of the peeved chef. It makes no sense to get annoyed when someone doesn't know something. The easiest way to correct someone's ignorance is to simply tell them what they need to know, without the attitude. Making someone feel stupid is never educational.

                        I would have been tempted to say, "Marked? Oh, I'll have my dog come in and take care of that later."

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Isolda

                          Well....... unfortunately that kind of 'attitude' is all too much part if the territory in this place. Kindof wears on you after a while.

                          1. re: Midlife

                            Sounds like you work with a bunch of insecure boneheads!

                        2. I'm in the Bay Area near SF and it is the term we use at the restaurant I work at .

                          1. The young culinary trained chef needs to stay in the kitchen tend to that area.

                            1. It might be interesting to have a dedicated thread on restaurant jargon. I had breakfast a few times in a Manhattan joint where I kept hearing the servers yell their orders "A whiskey down" and "A cider down" (could there be that many people drinking at 8AM?). Then one of them translated: down = toast, whiskey=rye, and what sounded like "cider" was "a side [order] of".

                              1. As the OP here I'd like to see if anyone has any information as to where the term "marked" came from with reference to having setups done on it.

                                I think one of the reasons I reacted the way I did in this was that the term gave me no clue as to what it meant, except that it meant 'something' should have been done. I felt that I was being held responsible for not doing whatever it was, and it was awkward having no idea what that was.

                                I still think it's pretentious for someone to assume that others know the proper 'jargon'. It was as if I was being spoken to in a foreign language for no apparent reason. Why is the word 'mark' used here?????

                                23 Replies
                                1. re: Midlife

                                  I kind of explained this in my original post-

                                  Often in a multicourse meal- all of your courses are rung up under one ticket. This ticket is on the rail with the person who is the expo, coordinating what goes where. Of course, there are probably a million different ways it can be kept organized, but often a slash or something similar is marked on the ticket in marker when the table is ready for their course.

                                  As to it's definite origins, honestly, why does it matter? It's no more important of a term from 86, calling a table that seats two a "2-top," or calling silverware wrapped in a napkin a rollup.

                                  1. re: plaidbowtie

                                    Thanks for that info. Actually, my interest in the origin is more about how exclusive the term might be to specific education/experience levels in the trade. "86" is a good example of a term that no one could begin to understand without knowing it's meaning, whereas "2-top" is pretty self-explanatory and "rollup" is at least graphically relatable.

                                    I was trying to find some way to determine how widely the term was used to help me assess whether my co-worker is "marking" her own territory through exclusive vocabulary meant to give her some level of apparent expertise or authority. We work together only one shift a week; otherwise I work alone. Her other shifts are at busier periods and she works with 4 other people at those times. As I sometimes find with some people, I think she has trade smarts but lacks some practical common sense. If you need someone else to do something in a routine why not just tell them or ask management to be sure everyone knows their responsibilities in different scenarios???

                                    Anyway, I digress into my own personal issues.

                                    1. re: plaidbowtie

                                      i've worked almost 25 years in fine dining, and like plaidbowtie, know the term well. it's much quicker than asking is table 42 reset with a steak knife and new fork? vs. is table 42 marked?

                                      if it was common terminology in the little fish bowl of your co-worker's school, imagine her surprise when you had no idea what it meant? she assumed it was universal.

                                      i can't speak to her demeanor, but have worked with my share of snotty, fresh-out-of-culinary school grads, lol.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        Thanks htn. Universal? ;o]]]]]

                                        Actually, I'd have to ask how the word "marked" specifies exactly what is needed on the table (ie- the steak knife and fork)? In this case she had seated the party and took their order while I was busy with other parties. The only way I could have known what they'd ordered (leading to knowing what to "mark"), or even if I was the one who needed to "mark", would have been for her to have told me. She may have a routine for that with the people who work with her there on busier shifts, but I never do................. so I feel even more lost in the 'mushroom closet'. Seems as if there should be some basic coverage guidelines that would be shared with everyone. Oh, well, life goes on.

                                        1. re: Midlife

                                          I understand the dilemma, especially since you did not know the order.
                                          In the future I would try to access the ticket, someone or a computer know what to prepare. Alternatively make sure everyone has the appropriate fork plus both a regular and steak knife. If they have to much silver who cares? Then proceed with service and afterwards ask them to clarify what the proper action should have been.
                                          I know that doesn't solve how you were spoken to, however it won't be the last time.

                                          1. re: Midlife

                                            sounds like you need some sort of system in place, so that everybody can work together for every shift.

                                            some places the person taking the order hands a chit to the back-server, who will then clear and mark, and there is no question as to what is needed on the table because the b/s can see the ticket. dunno if you guys have printed chits or hand-written dupes? it's pointless to be bringing over extra silver "just in case", and it's lousy service when a guest lacks a soup spoon or clean fork and hot food is on the table.

                                            obvz, better communication and sop's are needed. do you have a manager with whom to express your frustration?

                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                              This place is not that sophisticated and should be very simple. Actually it's a wine bar but the cooking staff sees it as a real resto. That's not bad really. Shows pride. Problem is 90% of the hours of food service are with the same tight group. I'm in the 10%. There's no manager and the owner is very picky about service but not big on instruction. Used to have periodic staff meetings but hasn't in over a year. I get to puzzle it out myself, hoping not to 'offend' with 'dumb' questions. Ugh!

                                          2. re: hotoynoodle

                                            What's wrong with "is table 42 set?" Just curious.

                                            1. re: Bkeats

                                              Exactly my point. Especially when you know the other person (as well as the venue) are not at whatever 'level' that trade-speak exists. Maybe just lack of common sense, maybe meant to 'mark' territory.

                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                I didn't think of this (It's been a decade since I managed restaurants, so Im a tad rusty) but the phrase was also worded in an incomplete way. HYN reminded me of this actually (thanks!)

                                                When it was used under my direction, it was always amended- i.e. "Can you mark 16 for a fish leading ribeye?" or something similar. aka- Put a fish set on seat one, and a ribeye set on seat two. Still not totally obvious, but it's a little closer to the mark (hah) as to how the phrase should be used. Sounds like that cook is learning new jargon and excited to use it.

                                                1. re: plaidbowtie

                                                  I understand the need for jargon. Plenty of it in use in my business. But its use comes up because there is no standard word that applies in every day speech for the concept that is meant to be conveyed in a word or two. When I see the example of how "mark" is used here, I can't think of how it improves or is changed from just say "set." Jargon for the sake of jargon leads to miss-communication. I guess this chef will soon ask Midlife to deploy (recall that thread?) the comestibles to the table that's been marked.

                                                  1. re: Bkeats

                                                    I mentioned this upthread, but in my experience, "mark" implies putting mis en places down for an upcoming course, "set" implies wiping/retablecloth-ing (not a word, I dont care)/setting the initial silver set for a new table.

                                                    ETA: Marking also implies that the expo has been informed somehow that the table is ready.

                                                    1. re: plaidbowtie

                                                      I don't want to confuse this any further, and I DO tend to be a bit OCD, but these definitions of 'mis en place' refer to kitchen prep for food, not table setting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mise_en_....

                                                      I suppose having everything 'prepared' and 'in place' has the same intent. It's just that this is about simplicity, I think, not more 'trade talk'. ;o]

                                                2. re: Midlife

                                                  in my neck of the woods, "all set", means finished. as in "are you all set with that?" "are you all set?" and then the bill gets dropped. asking if table 42 is "set" could lead to confusion as to their stage of dining.

                                                  i'm not the only person in the thread who knows the term and i've worked in many restaurants over the years, where it has been common. the tray for silver is called a "marking tray" and common opening sidework is to polish silver for the marking trays. for those of you who don't use this term, what do you call those trays? or do you just carry re-set silver over in a jumble in your hands? ;)

                                                  also, if the co-worker in question most often works with staff other than the op, they must also know the term since she used it so freely?

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    Thanks for all the valuable input htn. The co-worker does work with another trained chef during the hours I'm not there, so I'm sure it's their 'language' at work. I think youth can sometimes manifest itself in somehwat naive assumptions about what others know or don't and, in this case, there's also probably a desire to emulate a more experienced 'other' co-worker.

                                                    What's pretty funny about this is that we have two trained chefs working in a venue that is really just a small wine bar which gets busy a total of 10 -12 hours a week. I'm thinking this will change as we've just expanded the space. With no more than 3 or 4 active tables at a time, when I'm there, it's pretty simple. That's partly why I found the use of 'trade talk' to be pretty much unnecessary. I'm just going to place a full 'set-up' (knife, fork, spoon - all plastic BTW ;o], napkin) when I can.............. regardless (unless I have more specific info)............. just to be safe. This is just small-plate bistro food.

                                                    1. re: Midlife

                                                      youth can manifest itself in all sorts of ways that i, as an old, find unpleasant. :)

                                                      1. re: Midlife

                                                        What you will learn (if you're doing it "right") in the restaurant biz, is that consistency is everything. One does not pick and choose when the language of the business is used or not based on the level of business in that particular moment. That's a far too subjective way of seeing things i.e. what you think is slow may not seem slow to me or vice versa. One doesn't switch the terminology on and off at will. You use it ALL the time to create synergy and consistency. Otherwise, you're just a bunch of amateurs going through the motions.

                                                  2. re: Bkeats

                                                    Set for what? A new table to sit down? For starters, entrees, dessert? Set is far too general and generic, hence the term "mark" is set aside to denote preparing a table for their next course.

                                                    1. re: luckydoghappydays

                                                      I think a lot of the discussion here is, how is saying "is the table marked" ANY better than saying "is the table set". There is not extra information there.

                                                      1. re: DGresh

                                                        But there IS extra information in each statement. "Set" means that the table is ready for a new party to sit. "Marked" means that the existing table is ready for their next course. Do you say that you're "parked" when you're actually "driving," or do you use a different word for each action?

                                                        1. re: luckydoghappydays

                                                          So....... In the specific case in my original question, this is a wine bar, not a fine dining restaurant. The party had been seated and glasses of wine served. They'd ordered a cheese plate to share. As I learned...... "marked" referred to placing napkins, utensils and small plates. Tables are not 'pre-set' with such things there. Does that change anything for you insofar as terminology goes? The question to me came, from the kitchen, just prior to the cheese plate being served.

                                                          I might add that the chef was working alone in this very small place, and I had come in after she'd served the wine and taken the cheese plate order. Prior to the arrival of this chef (the first to be assigned during the day, as food service was very new there), no one who worked days was in any way a restaurant professional.

                                                          1. re: Midlife

                                                            I would say that in this case, it's the term "set" that doesn't apply as the place you work doesn't set the tables with utensils prior to seating the guest. So yes, I think "mark" is the correct term. The cook's nasty attitude toward someone new to the business is what's out of place....yet not surprising.

                                              2. re: Midlife

                                                FWIW, I've learn something from both you & plaidbowtie just reading along.

                                              3. Sounds like someone learned a word in culinary school and wants to practice and impress people by using it.

                                                For the record never heard of that expression either.

                                                1. I vote pretentious, where ever used and by whom.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: RedTop

                                                    It's not pretentious, it's just a word that has a practical meaning in the restaurant business. Service at a restaurant that runs efficiently is like a well oiled machine. These terms are necessary for differentiation of different actions, not to sound cool or pretentious.

                                                  2. Pardon me if I echo statements made by others, but "marking" is a simple differentiation from "setting" as these imply two different actions. To "set" a table is to make it new and ready for the next guests to be seated. To "mark" is to prepare the table for their next course i.e. "Is table 4 marked for entrees?" It's a very common term and has been used at all of the restaurants I've worked at over the past 20 years, from supper clubs to fine dining.

                                                    For those who have supposedly worked "fine dining," but have never heard the term......you've never worked fine dining.

                                                    And it's not "pretentious" as some have implied in this discussion. It's a word that denotes a specific action, just as most businesses have their own special language for certain actions. When y'all hear a carpenter use the word "notch" or a nurse use the word "drip," do you find those terms pretentious as well?

                                                    1. I've worked in a number of restaurants and never heard that term used that way. But it's been twenty years since I worked in restaurants, too.

                                                      1. On a related note "Midlife."

                                                        Since you are new to the restaurant business, I have some words of advice for you.

                                                        First, sensitivity will get you NOWHERE in the restaurant biz, and especially with kitchen crews. They will eat you alive if you react with sensitivity to each conversation like this one. Fair or not, it's the nature of the business. Restaurants, in general, are filled with younger people, drunks, drug addicts, and emotionally immature folks. Not all of those who do the work are this way, but many are.

                                                        Second, it sounds to me like you don't enjoy your job at this particular establishment very much. If I were you, I'd make my way to a different place with nicer people.

                                                        Third, since we're talking about terminology of the business.....nobody calls restaurants, "restos."

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: luckydoghappydays

                                                          nobody calls restaurants, "restos."


                                                          except people on chowhound.

                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                            I have worked and dined all over this country.....and I have never heard anyone refer to a restaurant as a "resto." Hilarious!

                                                            1. re: luckydoghappydays

                                                              Good thing we're having a convo about it, then. Totes important.