waitressing tips - serving food to guests

Knowing how to be a good server requires understanding server etiquette. If you can master the manners of the dining room, you’ll get more done, be more effective, and earn more tips.

The following server tips and tricks for waiters and waitresses will have you on the right foot, server etiquette wise.

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  1. Be pleasant. Greet everyone who enters warmly.
  2. Don’t refuse to seat three guests just because the fourth isn’t there yet.
  3. Be attentive, but not intrusive. Constantly scan the dining room, and if a guest needs attention—even if they’re not at your table—either help them or say you’ll send their server immediately.
  4. Your job is to help. Never say “I don’t know” to a guest’s question without immediately following up with “… but I’ll find out.”
  5. Be patient, and choose your moments. Never interrupt a conversation; wait for a lull to list the specials—and always include the prices. Don’t clear any plates until everyone is finished.
  6. Inform guests if the restaurant is out of something before they read the menu and order a dish you don’t have.
  7. Always bring all appetizers, entrees, and desserts at the same time. Never leave one guest hungry while everyone else is enjoying their food.
  8. Serve from a guest’s left, using your left hand, and clear from their right, using your right hand.
  9. Cutlery crossed in an X means a person isn’t finished with their plate. If the knife and fork are parallel, the guest is finished and you may remove their plate (assuming everyone else is also finished).
  10. Never touch a customer for any reason—especially if you’ve spilled something on them.
  11. If you ask a patron how their meal was and they say something isn’t right, fix it.
  12. Never blame a co-worker for something that goes wrong, whether the hostess, the chef, the busboy, or the weather is at fault. Just fix it.
  13. Don’t draw attention to the fact that a newly arrived guest may be dining alone. Ask if they have a reservation and if not, whether they would like to sit at the bar.
  14. Be discreet. Don’t have audible conversations with coworkers in customer earshot, or eat or drink where customers can see it. Don’t gossip about guests or co-workers within guest earshot.
  15. Never touch the rim of any glass. This means handling wine glasses by their stems (and silverware by the handles).
  16. Don’t let a wine, beer, or spirits bottle touch the glass you’re pouring into. Bottle dust and dirt is not a flavor enhancer.
  17. If someone orders a drink “straight up,” that could mean one of two things. Find out if they mean “neat”—served from the bottle at room temperature—or served chilled. This is because “straight” can mean a neat pour of dark spirits, while “up” and “straight up” typically describe a white spirit that is chilled with ice (shaken or stirred) and strained into a glass (typically a cocktail glass) e.g. a martini. ?
  18. Never reach across a guest to serve another guest.
  19. Avoid bumping into tables or chairs.
  20. Never clear a plate full of food without asking what was wrong. Something clearly was wrong.
What are your best server tips and tricks?

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Written by   |  
Mitchell Hall is a writer and editor living in Boston, MA. Originally from New Zealand, growing up he spent nearly ten years greedily imbibing the spirit of hospitality as a kitchenhand, waiter, and barman.