What Does 'Auction It Off' Mean In Restaurant Jargon?

Posted on 21 Jun 2016 06:33

"I just had to auction off table four!" This is a strange thing for a waiter in a restaurant to say, isn't it? Are they saying they put the table up for sale and opened it up for bidding? Or, are they saying the incited a bidding war on the actual food?

Neither of course. To "auction something off" in restaurant language means that for whatever reason, the server had to verbally interrupt the guest to ask who ordered what dish. This usually happens because someone other than the person who took the order is bringing out the food, and the seat numbers were recorded incorrectly. If this happens often in a restaurant, its a sign of poor organization.

Just as important as remembering what restaurant guests ordered is remembering who ordered what! Since nobody can be expected to have a perfect memory in the midst of a chaotic restaurant shift, it is usually best to write down the seat number next to the particular dish that the guest seated in that position ordered.

If your waiter has to auction off the plates to your table, they probably screwed up. However, as often happens, when someone else brings out the orders, as during a busy shift, and they auction off the plates, don't assume it is your waiters fault. It could be the person bringing out the order simply didn't read the ticket.

Auctioning off tables is something that is taboo in the restaurant industry. A good restaurant staff knows that it is annoying to have your conversation interrupted by a waiter asking "Who had the medium rare steak?" However, you will often run across restaurants that do this as a matter of course, as if they just didn't get the memo.

At some very popular (and expensive) restaurants where reservations are hard to come buy and waiting lists are weeks or months long, "auctioning off a table" can become quite literal, as tables might be actually auctioned off during a charity drive or some other event.


  • auction it off
  • auction off a/the table
  • auction off the food
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