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Does your staff suffer from “menu mispronunciation?

Mispronouncing words does not make one a bad person. (One might even become president.) "Not everyone has a family background that gave them the advantages of hearing words like . . . ‘autodidact’ passed around with the silver butter dish at the dinner table," blogs Geoffrey Pillum ( "Some, nonetheless, buckle down and improve themselves by reading books, and when they come upon a new word for the first time in print, they [venture] a plausible pronunciation." In working out in the mind a suitable pronunciation, words are sometimes mangled, some hilariously so. But when delivered by servers tableside, these gaffes may not seem so amusing to your clientele.

Santé’s readers have likely mastered the tricky words. But what about your front-of-house staff? You don't want your troops giving your operation a less—than—perfect image. Here are some categories that introduce slips of the ipsissimis verbis.

The Roman Omen

Italian is dangerous because "c" or "ch" can be pronounced like "k." Bruschetta (bru-SKET-ta) is a dish that captures the flavors of ripe summer tomatoes, fresh basil, and sometimes garlic on slices of bread. A friend of mine, newly returned from living in Sicily, was admonished while dining in an American-based Italian-cuisine chain, the young server insisting that the correct pronunciation is "Bra-shet-ta." Oh, shet-ta. Other blunders asunder, it is "ES"-presso, not "EX"-presso. This is not being picky, only correct.

It’s Greek to Me

A server tells me about the chef's special salad, containing "calamari" olives. Though not squeamish of squid, I do hope that he meant the special Greek olive from Kalamata. "‘Saganaki’ is not sushi. It is a Greek version of fried cheese with the emphasis on the third syllable," remarks Dallas restaurateur and El Centro College Restaurant School Founding Professor C. "Gus" Katsigris.


Let’s cut to the chaise. Bouillabaisse is pronounced on the last syllable as "base," not "baze." The same server offering "calamari" olives conveyed that the chef could substitute "Nikwase" olives. I suspect that he meant niçoise (nee-SWAHZ) olives from the Provence region of France (but also grown in Italy and Morocco).

Pronouncing French wines correctly may be even more challenging. Champagne, anyone? Moët is pronounced with a hard "t" at the end, almost rhyming with poet. Veuve, with poetic license, rhymes with love. Beware, Burgundy. Fixin (Fee-zeng), the northernmost commune in the Cote de Nuits, is a neighbor of another mispronounced commune, Vosne-Romanee (Vone Ro-ma-nay), the "s" being silent. And say it isn't so to garble Echezeaux (Es-sheh-zo).

American Pie

Menu mispronunciations are not limited to foreign wine and food words. Take, for example, the wine category "Meritage." It should rhyme with "Heritage." It is not "Mer-i-TAHJ." I was once in a well-respected restaurant that boasted a cheese cart, and the server offered me a slice of "artesianal" cheese from Vermont. Unless that cheese flowed forth from an underwater spring, I suspect that he meant the cheese was "artisanal"---made in small batches by an artisan.

Hungarian Wrapsody

Many cutting-edge restaurants serve, by the glass, the magnificent Hungarian dessert wine Tokaji Aszú (pronounced toh-KAY ah-SOO), ranked in sweetness by the number of "Puttonyos" in the mix. Observes Joel Riddell, KGO Radio San Francisco producer of "Dining Around with Gene Burns,” "Realize that if your staff member pronounces this word as puttana, they have just used the Italian word for “slut" in their after-dinner soliloquy.”

Who ever said that restaurant work was easy? Correct your staff’s pronunciation during training so your guests don’t hear “menu mispronunsion.” 

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