Lunch Counter Lingo and Diner Slang

I have a bit of an admission. I love the hokey parlance of diners from long ago, who ordered food with colorful plays on words. No less than H.L. Mencken discussed the linguistic flourishes of the diner back in 1948, and even then he considered it past its time, relegated to “waitresses and countermen who glorify third-rate eating-houses.” According to John Mariani, it his book The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, notes that these turning of the phrases go back as far as the 1850′s, and have left us with a slew of terms we still use today, such as “BLT”, “Stack”, and even “Shit on a Shingle.”

I can remember sitting at a diner with friends and making up nonsensical phrases akin to this practice. We’d sit and shout out phrases like “Sleeping Baby Chicken and Drown it!” (eggs benedict) or “a glass of raw butter!” (Milk). Good times. We surely annoyed the staff, but hey, we were twenty and likely a bit less than sober.

Anyway, here’s a list of some of the terms as documented by Mariani.

  • Adam and Eve on a Raft – Two poached or fried eggs on toast.
  • Adam’s Ale – water
  • Alive – raw
  • All the Way – A sandwich made with lettuce, mayo, onion, and butter.
  • All the Way – Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ice Cream.
  • Angel Food Cake and Wine – Bread and Water
  • A-pie – Apple Pie
  • Axel grease – butter
  • Baby – Milk
  • Belch Water – Seltzer or soda Water
  • Birdseed – Cereal
  • Bossy in a Bowl – Beef Stew
  • Bottom – Ice Cream added to a drink
  • Bowl of Red – Chile con carne
  • Bow-wow – Hot Dog
  • Break it and Shake it – Add an egg to a drink, typical for milkshakes, creams, and seltzers.
  • Breath – Onion
  • Bucket of Hail – Glass of Ice
  • Bullets – Baked Beans
  • Bun Pup – Hot Dog
  • Burn it – Well Done
  • Burn it and let it swim – An ice cream float with chocolate syrup drizzled on the ice cream.
  • Burn one – Put a Hamburger on the grill.
  • Burn one – Add Chocolate.
  • Burn the British – Toasted English Muffin
  • Busfare – Tip/gratuity
  • Canary Island Special – Vanilla Soda with Chocolate Ice Cream.
  • Carfare – Tip/gratuity
  • Cat’s Eyes – Tapioca
  • CB – Cheeseburger
  • China – Rice Pudding
  • City Juice – Water
  • Clean up the Kitchen – Hash or Hamburger
  • Coke pie – Coconut Cream Pie
  • Cold Spot – Iced Tea
  • Coney Island – Hot Dog
  • Coney Island Chicken – Hot Dog
  • Cowboy – Western Omelet
  • Cow Feed – Salad
  • Cow Juice – Milk
  • Creep – Draft Beer
  • Deadeye – Poached Egg
  • Dog Biscuits – Crackers
  • Dogs and Maggots – Crackers and Cheese
  • Dough Well Done with Cow to Cover – Buttered Toast
  • Draw One – Coffee
  • Echo – Repeat the Order
  • Eighty-One – Glass of Water
  • Eighty-Six – A customer who is no longer to be served at the restaurant.
  • Eighty-Six – A menu item which is no longer available.
  • Eve with a lid on – Apple Pie
  • Fifty-Five – Root Beer
  • Fifty-One – Hot Chocolate
  • Filet – Serve with Ice Cream
  • First Lady – Spare Ribs
  • Five – Glass of Milk
  • Fly Cake – Raisin Cake
  • Forty-One – Lemonade
  • Frenchman’s Delight – Pea Soup
  • GAC – Grilled Cheese Sandwich (Grilled American Cheese)
  • Gentlemen will take a Chance – Hash
  • Go for a Walk – To Go
  • Gravel Train – Sugar Bowl (The sugar was more likely to be cubed than not)
  • Graveyard Stew – Milk Toast
  • GroundHog – Hot Dog
  • Hamlette – Ham Omelet
  • Harlem Soda – Chocolate Soda
  • Hemorrhage – ketchup
  • High and Dry – Plain Sandwich with no condiments
  • Hold the Hail – No ice
  • Hops – Malted Milk Powder
  • Hot Cha – Hot Chocolate
  • Hot Spot – Hot Tea
  • Houseboat – Banana Split
  • Ice the Rice – Add Ice Cream to the Rice Pudding
  • In the Alley – Order as a side dish
  • Irish Turkey – Corned Beef and Cabbage
  • Jack – Grilled Chese Sandwich
  • Jack Benny – Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Bacon
  • Java – Coffee
  • Jerk – Ice Cream Soda
  • Joe – Coffee
  • Looseners – Prunes
  • Lord’s Supper – Bread and Water
  • Lumber – toothpicks
  • Maiden’s Delight – Cherries
  • Make it Virtue – Add Cherry syrup to a cola soda
  • Mama – Marmalade
  • M.D. – Dr. Pepper
  • Mike and Ike – Salt and Pepper
  • Moo Juice – Milk
  • Mud – Chocolate Ice Cream
  • Mud – Coffee
  • Murphy – Potatoes
  • Natural – 7up. Based on the craps dice roll of 5 and 2, a “natural”
  • Noah’s Boy – Ham
  • No Cow – No milk
  • On the Hoof – Meat cooked Rare
  • On Wheels – To go
  • Pair of Drawers – Two cups of Coffee
  • Pittsburgh – Toast.
  • Pittsburgh – Meat cooked black on the outside and nearly rare on the inside
  • Put out the lights and Cry – Liver and Onions
  • Radio – Tuna-fish-salad Sandwich on Toast
  • Roach Cake – Raisin Cake
  • Sand – Sugar
  • Saturday Nights – Baked Beans
  • Sea Dust – Salt
  • Shoot it Yellow – Add lemon Syrup to a soda
  • Shoot one from the South – An additional shot of Cola Syrup.
  • Sinkers and Suds – Coffee and Doughnuts
  • Squeeze One – Orange Juice
  • Stretch One – Cola Soda
  • Sweet Alice – Milk
  • Through Georgia – Add Chocolate Syrup
  • To the Left – Lemon Syrup, customarily set to the left of the cola syrup.
  • To the Right – Cherry Syrup, customarily set to the right of the cola syrup.
  • Twenty-One – Limeade
  • Vermont – Maple Syrup
  • Warts – olives
  • Whistleberries – Baked Beans
  • Wreath – Cabbage
  • Yum-yum – Sugar
  • Zeppelins in a fog – Sausage in Mashed Potatoes