A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 13, 2013
SOS (sauce on the side)

“SOS” is a famous distress signal. In restaurant lingo, “SOS” means “sauce on the side”—that is, sauce on the side of the plate and not directly on top of the food.  “‘S.O.S.’ (sauce on the side)” has been cited in print since at least 1994.


New York (NY) Times
The Great American Food Fight
By Fran R. Schumer
Published: April 24, 1994
CONSUMED Why Americans Love, Hate, and Fear Food. By Michelle Stacey. 237 pp. New York: Simon & Schuster. $22.
(...)
One explanation, and it points to a major flaw in “Consumed,” is that America’s eating habits aren’t as monolithic as Ms. Stacey assumes. Surely the people driving waiters crazy with their demands for steamed artichokes “S.O.S.” (sauce on the side) aren’t the same people driving up McDonald’s sales.

Google Groups: rec.food restaurants
djk
Jun 10 1995, 1:00 am
(...)
Clearly you have never worked in a restaurant.  Yes, if a customer orders his meal SOS (sauce on the side) and the kitchen goes ahead and puts sauce on it anyway, the server should tell the chef that the dish must be redone.

Google Books
The Fourth Star:
Dispatches from Inside Daniel Boulud’s Celebrated New York Restaurant

By Leslie Brenner
New York, NY: Clarkson Potter
2002
Pg. 28:
After that, two sole, one SOS and one tartare, no caviar, main course.” SOS is kitchen shorthand for sauce on the side.

Google Books
Turning the Tables: Restaurants from the Inside Out
By Steven A. Shaw
New York, NY: HarperCollinsPublishers
2005
Pg. 50:
All night, shouts of “SOS” (sauce on the side), “All Meat” (no vegetables), and “Veg. Entree” (a vegetable plate) can be heard in the kitchen.

Google Books
Diners, Drive-ins and Dives
By Guy Fieri with Ann Volkwein
New York, NY: HarperCollins
2008
Pg. 102:
Shouting out orders: “I’ve got a pork chop combo with slaw, make it hot just like this lady, please. Sauce on the side, SOS.”

Google Books
Remarkable Service:
A Guide to Winning and Keeping Customers for Servers, Managers, and Restaurant Owners

By The Culinary Institute of America
Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons
2009
Pg. 152:
SOS: sauce on the side

Boise (ID) Weekly
Phil: The Little Man Who Makes My Life Hell
POSTED BY RANDY KING ON MON, MAR 1, 2010 AT 6:00 AM
(...)
The other day, Phil barked out “five fish tacos; one New York, rare—no salt, light pepper, sauce on the side and a side of steamed vegetables—two salmon and a chicken Caesar salad.”
(...)
“Bullshit,” I say. “Phil didn’t say nothin’ about a New York SOS [sauce on the side].”

The Back Burner
A Glossary of Restaurant Lingo, Slang & Terms
by Heather Turner on March 19, 2012
(...)
COMMENTS
Seth May 19, 2010 at 6:11 pm #
Nice list. Here’s some additions.
(...)
SOS–sauce on the side

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Sunday, January 13, 2013 • Permalink