We´ve all encountered them. Some of us may have experienced the situation first hand. If nothing else, we know of them, have been out with them, before, after, or during their escapades, and I am sure have implemented our share. Yes, the customer who causes such a commotion that the only alternative is to spring into code 86 action.
It is no strange coincident then, that the items on the menu that the house has run out of are also labeled with the famed number. They too, are gone. Yes, 86 has become a universal code for gone. And it pertains to entrees, appetizers, desserts, and frequently, customers.
According to lore, the origin of the term goes as far back as Delmonico´s Steak House. Owned by the Delmonico brothers, Giovanni and Pietro, the menu boasted over 100 items. The Rib Eye Steak, also known as a Delmonico, was item number 86. According to lore, this item sold out rapidly almost nightly, hence it was 86´d.
Another rendition of how the term was given birth has to do with the New York State Liquor code. Article 86 of that code define when someone should not legally be served in places that sell alcoholic beverages. In this reference, 86 refers to cutting off the close to inebriated customer before all hell breaks loose.
Finally there is claim that the reference captured its meaning from the dimensions of a grave. Let´s not venture there.
The choice of which tale to believe and pass along if ever asked, and who came up with the term is your personal option. You probably wouldn´t be 86´d for being incorrect. And, which one we use when we go into code 86 action, is a matter of personal preference.
I have always enjoyed the New York State Liquor Law reference. It fits the picture of the obnoxious, bombastic chap, slurring his words and drooling on the bar while he so aggravates the female companion of another, who by happenstance is perched next to him. It is also the one, I am sure, Jack O´Neil had in mind the many times he came close to 86-ing the group of roisterers I was associated with in Manhattan when we crossed the line at J.G.Melons.
I do, however, enjoy the Delmonico Brothers´ reference when used to describe an entrée or appetizer shortage in the kitchen. The image- a 100 item menu, that large elegant steak house, the waiter screaming, "Nobody said a word about 86ing rib eye" – just seems appropriate.
There has always been a grand feeling about the term. It´s one of the classic culinary conditions which stimulates adrenaline. And whether a culinary professional or customer, everyone understands the meaning of the term, even if it´s origin is shady.
The school of thought on whether I is wise to enact the term is also up for discussion. Is it wise to run short of an entrée? Some claim it helps sales of the item the next time. Others maintain it ruins reps and makes people angry.
But so angry that they must be 86´d? Possibly. Fuses are getting shorter and tolerance of inadequacies whether stages or not, seem to have dropped to an all time low.
So the question that I would enjoy having answered is simple, Has the double 86 ever been initiated on one customer in one night?
Has the well mannered customer ever ordered from the menu, been told the item of choice had been 86´d just moments earlier and realizing his graving is going unfulfilled, snapped due to high expectation causing an 86 implementation on themselves because of dining room disruption?
Let´s hope we never 86, 86.