Your source for dining etiquette and table service training materials



We hope you'll find these "tip pool" tips helpful. Check back occasionally for newly-added tips.

Use dining room-appropriate language when interacting with guests. Remember, females aren't "You guys" and "No problem" isn't the same as you're welcome. This is especially important with older guests who are used to more traditional service.

Always use a hand tray when carrying and serving beverages. Even if it's just one glass. The tray acts as an underliner to catch any spills and using it makes you look like a professional server.

Serve directly from the hand tray. Never put the tray down on the guests' table, or a nearby table, to serve. This is a sure sign of an unskilled amateur. If you're not confident in your tray-carrying abilities, practice!

Unsanitary handling of glasses is one of the worst and most common problems in restaurant service. You see it all the time: Servers putting their hands over the glass when serving a beverage or putting fingers inside glasses when clearing to carry several at a time. Glasses are a major conductor of germs and handling them in these ways is sure to spread infection.
To handle glassware properly: Keep your hand low on the glass; far below what we call the "lip line" (where a guest's lips will be or have been). Never put fingers or hands in or above the glass, whether serving or clearing.

Spheres of Influence    There are a couple of very important points in your contact with guests in your restaurant or on your property that can make or break the customer service experience. We refer to these as "spheres of influence." The first is an imaginary 20 foot radius that surrounds all employees. Any time a guest comes within this range, the staff member should smile and make eye contact. The second sphere is reached when the guest is within a 10 foot radius. The staff member should attempt to engage the guest in conversation: “Hi! How’s your day?”  “May I assist you in some way?” And remember, the guest always has the right of way. Never cut across a guest’s path or rush in front of him, no matter how busy you are.

What is "Pre-Bussing"?    Pre-bussing is another term for table maintenance -- keeping the table clean and clear of extraneous items throughout the meal service. All empty glasses, silverware and plateware from previous courses, straw wrappers, used beverage or other napkins and the like should be cleared before any additional food or beverages are delivered. This will keep the diners' table tidy and free of any materials they don't need to enjoy their subsequent courses. It's helpful to keep a beverage (bar) tray handy to collect these items. Keep in mind that if you're clearing used silverware, you'll need to replace it with appropriate utensils for the next course. And be sure to remove the breadbasket, butter dish, bread and butter plates and butter spreaders before dessert is served. Some restaurants will pull the salt and pepper shakers, too. But don't forget to replace them when you reset the table.

Give guests right-of-way     It’s a simple rule of common courtesy and might seem obvious, but when you’re hustling to get the food out of the kitchen, refill coffees and drop the check on table four, it can be easy to forget. When guests pass through the dining room, they should be given the right-of-way. Step aside and let them pass, regardless of how busy you are. It’s a sign of professional service to always put the diner’s needs first.  Here’s another, somewhat-related tip: Make it a practice to walk guests to their destination rather than just giving directions or pointing the way. In fact, you should never point in a restaurant. When necessary, always use an open-handed gesture to indicate direction.

Use guests' names whenever possible     People's favorite sound is their own name. Make an effort to learn your guests' names to personalize your service and interactions with diners. Hosts/hostesses, managers and supervisors should give servers guests' names (from the reservation book/sheet) when they seat diners. Servers can also pick up guests' names from credit card vouchers so you can thank them personally for dining with you. (Note: This also helps you to be sure that you're not returning Mrs. Smith's credit card to Mr. Smith!) There's a trend toward calling guests by their first names. I find this a little too informal and lacking in the proper respectful tone. Many of your older and more sophisticated diners will also frown on this practice. Knowing your regular guests' names can go a long way in creating "call parties" -- and increasing your income.

"The bald dude in the green jacket..."    Be extremely careful and tactful when writing descriptors of guests on your restaurant waiting list or guest checks. Hostesses often jot a description of diners on waiting lists so they’re able to locate them, if they’re in the lounge or restaurant lobby, when their table is ready. Remember, though, that guests frequently approach the hostess stand to ask about wait times and might take a look at your list to see where they stand. That’s why most restaurants have adopted the practice of announcing the name and size of the party -- “Davis, party of four” – and waiting for the group to respond. A national industry publication ran an item on a 55-year-old woman who was extremely insulted when an insensitive server wrote “older couple” on the party’s guest check. And we all know the story about the bartender who added the note "Fat Girls" to a customer's check. Using a seat designation (pivot) system will alleviate this problem. Much better to ask your busser to deliver a beverage to “seat 2 on table 4” than “the lady in the ugly red dress.”

Uniform Uniformity     Take a look around your dining room. Do you see any two of your staff members dressed exactly the same way? I'd almost bet money that you don't. Some have their shirts tucked in; some are hanging out. A few have their shirt sleeves rolled up. Are their aprons tied in the back or the front? Several have probably "personalized" their outfits with pins or other adornments. The purpose of a restaurant staff's uniforms is to give them a, well, uniform appearance. Your preshift meeting is the perfect time to catch any lapses in standards and to reinforce the importance of consistency in the way your team presents itself to your diners. And, of course, be sure that those uniforms are clean, pressed and in good condition.

Half-hearted Hospitality     That prix fixe special your restaurant is running seems like a great deal for the guest, doesn't it? But what about you, the server? Is that discounted dinner going to cost you in tips? Should you even bother to mention the menu to your customers? Yes, you should. When diners know a special is available and it isn't offered to them, it can leave a bad taste in their mouths even before they've tried the restaurant's food. No one wants to have to ask for a special or discount. It should be offered to guests graciously and enthusiastically. Remember... fifteen percent of that $20 dinner is a whole lot better than twenty percent of nothing. If a promotion is bringing people into your restaurant, that's your opportunity as a server to make them feel welcome and valued so they'll want to return. They might not be big spenders today, but they might just decide to have their next big birthday bash at your restaurant -- and ask for your station. Giving your guests anything less than the best service, regardless of your reasoning, is what I call half-hearted hospitality. And that's just unacceptable. Take a look here for some of my other thoughts on "half-hearted hospitality" and how to avoid it.

Taking Charge of the Table     As diners, we've all had the painful experience of being served by a timid waiter or waitress. Maybe it's their lack of experience or maybe it's just their personality. But your diners aren't going to have a great experience unless you present a skilled, confident, professional demeanor. The most important thing to remember is that guests are relying on you to be the expert -- to know your product, be able to help them make selections and serve them their meals skillfully and efficiently. Diners want to place themselves in your hands and let you guide them. To an experienced, knowledgeable server this becomes almost second nature. Feel you could use some "professional polish?" There's sure to be one or more servers at your restaurant that you can observe and pick up some pointers. Better yet, ask some of your more confident colleagues how they learned to take charge of the table. They'll be flattered that you noticed.

Be efficient -- save steps    Every good supervisor that I've ever worked for has instilled in me the credo, "Never go into the kitchen empty-handed." There's always something that needs to be carried to the side station, dishwasher area or bar. A bar tray can help you save steps. Using pitchers to do refills is much more efficient and sanitary than taking glasses back to the fountain. Learning the proper technique for carrying three plates at one time can help to make you more efficient. Learning a pivot system, so food isn't auctioned, can save you many trips around the table. Have checks ready to be "dropped"  before the guest requests it. Utilize these tips and save wear and tear on your body.

Going Solo    Do you remember the last time that you dined out by yourself? Were you greeted by the hostess with, "Party of one?" If this has happened to you, you know how it made you feel. Doesn't sound like much of a party, does it? Dining out solo can be daunting, especially in an upscale restaurant. Think about what you can do as a server to make this potentially uncomfortable meal memorable. If the kitchen is amenable, suggest an appetizer sampler instead of an entrée. This allows the guest to taste a variety of foods and preparations.  Make the guest aware of a few options of outstanding wines by the glass. And remember: This diner might be eating by herself this time but she could bring back a party of twenty the next. 

Bussers: An endangered species     With fewer and fewer restaurants hiring bussers these days, the important tasks that were once their responsibility are now falling on the shoulders of us, the servers. Who's going to keep water and other non-alcoholic beverages filled? Do bread and butter service? Maintain, clear and reset the tables? If we're conscientious servers, we are. And if your hostesses are pros, they'll pitch in too. Sure, it would be great to have a busser's help but we need to step up, work together and take care of these myriad "assistant server" duties so that service and, in the end, the diners don't suffer.

You're the expert     You've studied the menu.  You've (hopefully) had pre-shift samplings of both food and wine. You know the product and the preparations. So here's your chance to put that expertise to work. The guest is often looking for guidance throughout the meal. Use your confidence in your knowledge base to make suggestions. Walk new guests through the menu if they're amenable. Be conscientious not to always recommend the most expensive items. If you feel that there's room to improve your mastery of your restaurant's food and beverage offerings, ask your managers, your fellow servers or the chef to help bring you up to speed.

Don't go MIA* after guests pay!     Servers -- you own the table from the time the hostess hands-off the guests to you right up until the party gets up and you say goodnight. Anything less than giving them your full attention throughout the meal is shirking your responsibilities. We've all seen it happen: Once the guests pay their check, the server is *missing in action. Stops refilling beverages. Doesn't bother to buss the empty cocktail glasses and beer bottles. Doesn't check occasionally (or sometimes not at all) to see if the guests need anything else. It's as though, once the check's paid, those people cease to exist. Many of what could have been memorable dining experiences have been marred by server inattention once the check has been serviced. Don't give up on your guests; give them polished, professional service from start to finish.

Keeping your perspective on tips     As a server, the first thing we have to come to grips with is that our income is dependent on the whims of the public. Tipping isn't mandatory. It's a long-standing custom in the United States. When I was a server, I never looked at individual tips. I always figured it averaged out in the long run. If I peeked at a tip and it was really good, it pleased me. If I saw a poor tip, it would upset me and I'd lose focus on my other guests. And, in the grand scheme of things, what does it matter? I suggest you keep a log of your tips (as I did). At the end of the month, if you're happy with what you made, great. If not, it's time to look for a new job.

Be a special diet detective     So your guest is a vegetarian. That means she doesn't eat meat, right? But what about dairy? Eggs? And a gluten-free meal doesn't mean just leaving the bread basket off the table. You need to know how those soups and sauces are thickened and what's in the crust on that macadamia sea bass. Many desserts are probably off-limits, too. If a diner requests a Kosher meal, what do you need check with the kitchen? And never assume that no peanuts are being served to the severely-allergic guest -- some kitchens cook with peanut oil which can be just as dangerous. Be informed and be proactive to ensure that your restaurant's meals conform to your diners' dietary needs -- with no unwelcome and potentially hazardous surprises.

Are you annoying your guests?     As servers, we know those little things that guests do that get under our skin. But have you ever thought about those things that you do that tick-off your guests? A few things to think about:

Your verbiage -- "You guys." "Honey." "Dear." "No problem." "Do you need change?"

Your body language -- Eye rolls; impatiently looking around at your other tables; arms folded across your chest

Your physical actions -- Jumping in to (or interrupting) guests' conversations;  tapping on the table; kneeling down to take an order; putting your arm around the back of a guest's chair.
Ask a fellow server if he's spotted any of your idiosyncrasies, mannerisms or speech patterns that are potential tip-killers. Strive to improve and become as polished as you can be.

Encourage Sweet Endings     You just boxed up half of that senior couple's meal. The toddlers at table four have barely touched their lunches; their moms only ordered small salads. The construction workers at the counter wolfed down double cheeseburgers and fries. Nobody's going to want dessert, right? Don't be so fast to assume that! Many older people have a sweet tooth and will forgo part of their main meal to indulge in dessert. The youngsters might have been promised hot fudge sundaes if they ate their peas. Their mothers may have eaten lightly so they could share a slice of cheesecake. And what burly guy's gonna turn down house-made apple pie a la mode? Make it a practice to suggest dessert to each and every guest, both at lunch and dinner. We know of a restaurant that's made it a policy to give free dessert and coffee to their guests if the server doesn't offer them. If you're not making an effort to encourage a sweet ending to your diners' meals, you're missing out on a lucrative revenue stream.

There's gold in that silver hair    Surveys indicate that Baby Boomers (those born 1946-1964) spend more money in restaurants each year than any other consumer group.  The National Restaurant Association's Tableservice Restaurant Trends 2013 states that, "Frequent tableservice customers are more likely to be male, older, with higher income levels." So why not encourage those Boomers and seniors to spend their dining dollars at your place? Make sure some tables near the entrance are available for your older clientele and match their pace when walking them to their seats. Adjust the music volume in an area of the restaurant so they're able to hold a conversation. If possible, turn up the lighting a bit so they can see the menu and have a few pairs of reading glasses on hand. If you offer a senior discount or early bird special, be sure they know about it. Suggest that diners share an appetizer or dessert. The more you can tailor your service to your older clientele, the more likely they'll become regulars. And remember, increased age doesn't necessarily translate to decreased tips!

"Are you at leisure?"     Determine your dinner guests' time constraints early on in the relationship. It helps you, as the server, to better gauge the diners' expectations for the evening. My friend and mentor, Mr. Louie, always asked guests, "Are you at leisure this evening?". Their answer helped him to time the meal. If the guests had movie or theater plans, the order would be taken earlier, service expedited and the check ready for presentation as soon as dessert was either declined or finished. By asking a simple question in the appropriate tone, the guest knows that you are tailoring the dining experience to him.

Become a service professional, not just a server     Food and beverage employees (especially  front-of-house) don't always have as many opportunities as those in other industries to attend conferences or participate in professional development training. But that doesn't mean you don't have resources to improve your knowledge base and skills. Network with your fellow servers and managers -- and those at other restaurants -- to share information and professional tips. Challenge yourself to learn some "fun facts" about your menu or beverage list: Did you know that Eggs Benedict dates back to the 1890s? And what makes those tomatoes "heirloom," anyway? Attend industry wine tastings when you can. Check out online blogs (A shout out to Paul Paz's!) and foodservice trade publications. Be proactive about learning -- it doesn't have to be just a job!

Tools of the Restaurant Service Trade     A fellow waiter introduced me to the concept of the "goody bag." It was simply a small toiletry bag that he'd filled with items he believed he should have handy during service. These items were not only essential for him, but some that might make the guests' dining experience more enjoyable. They included:
• Pens - at least three distinctive (so you know which are yours when they all end up at the hostess stand), single action "click" style, not stick pens.
• Reading glasses and magnifiers
• Waiter's corkscrew
Wobble wedges to level tables
• Wine label removers
And for more formal dining service:
• Pen lights
• Table crumbers

Servers should have the appropriate tools to make their job easier and more efficient. Then have a few extras that show their concern for their guests.

Gestures of Genuine Hospitality     We enjoyed the housemade pita so much we told our server we planned to take the extra piece home for breakfast. Minutes later, she brought a bag to our table with two of the light, puffy breads. "I wanted to be sure you could both have one," she said with a smile. A small-ish Mediterranean chain offers a complimentary (and tasty) falafel as customers wait in line to place their orders. Pick up your vehicle at the valet stand at one of the most renowned restaurants in our area and you'll find cold bottled water and a personalized, hand-written thank you note from your server. Whether it's a small "freebie"; or a grander effort, these hospitable acts have a positive effect on your guests' dining experience. Take time to come up with your own gestures that will show your care and appreciation for your diners' patronage.

The Social Media Minefield     You've probably heard of a server who was fired for griping about a poor tip on social media. Or another whose job was in jeopardy for posting a celebrity's guest check with an overly-generous tip tacked on. Airing your grievances or boasting about an unexpected windfall via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram could put your livelihood at risk. Always be cognizant of the repercussions of your postings on your job and your employer's reputation. Be aware of your company's privacy and social media policies. On the flip side, always keep in mind that your guests have access to social media as well. Your interaction with them, whether good or bad, could be the subject of a post quicker than you can ask, "Can I refill that iced tea for you?"

When to Clear isn't Always Clear-cut   In traditional table service, plates aren't cleared until everyone at the table has finished eating. For the most part, this should still be the case. However, if a diner has made it clear that he wants his plate removed (either by pushing it away from him or by -- ugh! -- placing his napkin on the plate), go ahead and clear it even if his tablemates are still enjoying their meals. Some restaurants have adopted a policy of clearing plates as soon as each diner has finished as a way to  expedite bussing and maintain the appearance of the table. Casino restaurants, in particular, want bussing done expeditiously to get diners back on the gaming floor as quickly as possible. Follow your property's guidelines on clearing but always be sure to ask, "May I take your plate?" before whisking anything away from the diner.
Shake it off! (Inspired by a discussion about waiter nightmares on Ava Dubie's We're servers cause we love the money, STILL! 
We've all had 'em. Those dreams about a bad experience that occurred during our shift. I spoke with my friend Dennis a few weeks ago and he told me of his recurring nightmare. He was in the restaurant and it was slow so the manager sent the rest of the servers home. The  place (of course!) got swamped. He was in the weeds and couldn't get out. I haven't waited tables in a long time but I still have this nightmare: My friend, Tom, and I were left as the only team in a very upscale resort hotel restaurant. We were killed. I remember piling dishes on an empty table and just giving lousy service. We ended up with 72 covers, mostly at the same time. A guest wrote a complaint letter and we were reprimanded. This actually happened and every once in awhile it still haunts me in my dreams. I wake up in a cold sweat. How do you shake a bad night? Obviously it's not easy. Most of the time, I tried to concentrate on all of the guests that got good service, not the one who felt slighted or actually did receive poor service. You can't win 'em all. I'd come home after a bad night and meditate for 10 minutes to try to center myself. I had a heavy punching bag on my back porch that I'd go to work on. Because I lived far from other homes, sometimes I'd let out a primal scream. We're in the hospitality business and things won't always go the way we wish they would. We're only human. We make mistakes. As long as we're always trying to do our best, that's the best we can do!

Set the stage - even when you're closed    You never know who's going to see your dining room, even when you're not there. Maybe a meeting planner is checking out the facilities for a large group. Or a potential guest stops by to get a feel for the restaurant's ambience or to take a look at the menu. Obviously, there are times that you won't be able to reset for the next shift (if the carpet needs to be shampooed or the exterminator is expected) but, whenever possible, be sure the dining room is fully set and looking its best even when the restaurant is closed. This is especially important in rooms that are open and visible from other areas such as those in hotel lobbies, casinos or shopping malls. The more inviting you make things the more likely that guests will want to visit.

Beating that "Bah, Humbug" Feeling     Foodservice is one of those industries that doesn't take time off for the holidays. We all knew it when we got into this field and those of us who've been doing it for some time have learned to make the most of our unique schedules. Here's my advice . . . Take some time before you go to work to think about what's good about your job and the lifestyle you've chosen. Don't start a shift feeling sorry for yourself because you have to work. Remember, there are police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses and many others who are also on duty today. Plan a celebration for you and your family and/or friends a few days or a week later so you'll have something to look forward to. Use a relaxation technique to stay calm and focused. Familiarize yourself with the special holiday menu. Smile and remember that this is a day of celebration for your guests. Go above and beyond. If things aren't going well, count down the hours until the end of the shift. It will be over eventually. If all else fails, think of the extra tips you'll have once your shift is over. Happy holidays to all!

Guiding your guests' meal selections     When a guest asks you for suggestions, he's depending on your menu knowledge and previous experiences with, or tasting of, the dishes. The first thing you need to do is hone in on the guests' preferences -- "Are you in the mood for seafood? Or would steak be more to your liking this evening?" Once you narrow it down to a category, offer a couple of items that you've had good feedback on in the past or that you feel especially reflect the chef's style. A few things to keep in mind: Don't offer the most expensive menu items unless you truly feel they're the best choices for the guest. It will make diners feel like you're suggesting it more for your benefit than theirs. If a guest is torn between two options and you believe that one preparation is superior, be honest. "I'd go with the . . . ." And please don't ever answer with "I don't eat that." Or, "I hate mushrooms!"

What do YOU know???     When we train service teams -- especially those at upscale restaurants -- one of our modules is a game about menu ingredients and preparations (and sometimes their wine list). The goal is to give service staff additional knowledge about the items along with some history and "fun facts". Did you know that Maytag blue (no, it's not bleu) cheese is produced at Maytag Dairy Farms in Iowa, former home of the Maytag appliance corporation? Or that juicy, tender, heavily-marbled Berkshire pork originated in the English county of the same name? Béarnaise sauce was invented by a Paris chef in honor of Henry IV, born in Bearn, France. Take a look at your menu. What do you know about the specific ingredients and preparations your chefs have incorporated? If you don't know, Google it! As restaurants trend toward sourcing their ingredients from local producers, you'll have even more opportunities to become a more knowledgeable service professional.

Tips for serving tots     When a family is seated in your section, greet the child but don't fuss over him. Playing "peek-a-boo" while you're trying to work can grow old quickly. If a high chair is requested, be sure it's clean and in stable condition. Rather than allowing the guests to put a car seat on the floor (unsanitary and dangerous), either find a safe spot in the booth or see if you can devise a safe way to put chairs together so the infant seat can be placed on them. Move potential "problem" items like salt, pepper, sugar, candles out of the child's reach. While 2-year-olds today travel with their own gaming devices, it's still a good idea to have crayons and coloring sheets/books on   hand. Bring crackers or bread right away. Serve young children's beverages in small glasses (or, preferably, plastic) and don't overfill. Always bring extra napkins. Look to the parents to indicate whether they'll order for the child or he'll order his own meal. You might be surprised by what some children will order -- and eat! Ask a parent if you may bring the child's meal as soon as it's ready. And remember, for the child's safety and that of other guests, do your best to keep children contained and not running around the restaurant.

Is left really right?     We teach industry-standard, American- style table service in which food is served from the left of the guest and plates are cleared from the right. In European-style service, both serving and clearing are done from the right. Does it really matter which side of the guest the server is on? Not so much. Three important things to remember: 1) Be consistent! All servers in your restaurant should be serving and clearing from the same sides. 2) You should serve at the convenience of the guest, not reaching over anyone or interrupting a conversation. 3) You should always be moving forward around the table. If you find that you're walking backwards, change direction. And announcing, "behind!" isn't just for the kitchen staff. If you're in close proximity to anyone in either the dining room or the kitchen and they might not be aware you're there, let them know. Many potential accidents can be headed off with the use of that one simple word.

Competition can be a positive thing!     By the very nature of the position as tipped employees, servers can be competitive. But that doesn't always have to translate into a dog-eat-dog situation. Managers can and should create friendly competitions among the staff that boost morale, improve guest satisfaction and increase the bottom line both for servers and the restaurant. When the kitchen staff wants to move a particular item they'll often offer servers a spliff (no, not of the cannabis variety!). It's a small monetary incentive to sell that use-it-or-lose it dish. Contests can also be held for most positive feedback on guest comment cards. Or small prizes awarded for most appetizer, dessert or wine sales each week. Your POS can track the results. Why not offer a gift card for the most innovative idea to make guests' dining experiences memorable? Tailor these friendly competitions to your concept, menu, clientele and staff and you're sure to see positive results.

Eye contact in the iPad age     With so many restaurants, from casual to fine dining, bringing technology to the table, how do servers continue to interact with guests and not become merely food runners? Here are some ways you can add a human touch that a tablet can't match. Share your knowledge -- help guests make food and beverage selections based on your own experiences tasting menu items, wines, beers or cocktails. Remember, you're the expert. Know more about your guests than what's kept in a database. Ask about their vacation. Bring crayons and coloring sheets to the kids. Customize an order (with a go-ahead from the kitchen, of course)! A server at a large chain -- that uses tablets for ordering and payment -- recently did that for us and we appreciated it. Think up your own ways to engage and interact with your guests to supplement those "cyber servers." After all, guests aren't going to tip a tablet, are they?

Thinking outside your station     The area you've been assigned to serve during your shift should be your priority -- absolutely! But that doesn't mean you should build walls around those tables and laser focus on them alone. Walking through the dining room and see plates that need clearing? Go ahead and pick 'em up! Serving beverage refills? Take those pitchers to other tables in the area, too. And we should take a hint from those sushi chefs who shout, "Irasshaimase!" when you enter. Not that the entire service staff needs to yell in unison but if you're near the door when someone arrives, greet them. And say goodbye and thank you, even if the diners weren't in your station. Make an effort to mentor less-experienced servers, too. The more we can work as a team, the better the service we're giving our guests. Happy National Waiters and Waitresses Day on May 21st!

Be your own "mystery shopper"     I knew a hotel GM who would start each day by walking the property and noting what needed maintenance, repair or replacement. It was kind of his own "mystery shop" of the buildings and grounds. Here are a few things that we've observed and reported on during some of our recent restaurant visits: A dirty trash can in the middle of the dining room that servers walk by a hundred times a day but apparently never see. Burned out light bulbs. Broken tiles or torn carpet. Peeling wallpaper or missing paint. Dusty or greasy window sills. Cobwebs on chandeliers. Dust bunnies on ceiling fans. Wobbly tables or chairs. As a conscientious server who takes pride in your workplace, it's always a good idea to look at your dining room from the guests' perspective and point out any maintenance issues to management.

Older diners expect "Old School" Service      Many of you work in restaurants or dining rooms that cater to an older demographic. Baby Boomers (and The Silent Generation, before them) grew up in an era of more formal dining. They appreciate traditional, classic service. Here are some gripes that we've heard from friends and relatives of a "certain age": Servers not taking orders individually but, instead, standing at a fixed spot and taking all orders.  Servers not taking all the women's orders first. Servers bending or kneeling down to take the order. (Several women we know have no qualms about asking, "Young man, will you please stand up?") Servers clearing the table before everyone is finished eating. Yes, we know it's come to be expected, but older diners find it rude and pushy. Servers using terms of endearment -- calling guests "honey," "sweetie" or "dear." Try not to think of these foibles as a nuisance but as a lesson in "old school" table service!

Saying So-long to "No Substitutions"?     Last month, we offered some tips for serving baby boomers and older diners. So this month we decided we’d turn the tables and address millennials. As it turns out, the majority of younger diners don’t want to be served. They’re not frequenting sit-down restaurants with servers but prefer to pre-order (or use a kiosk) and pick up their own food at the counter -- or, in some cases, a "food locker". Apparently, the less face-to-face time with restaurant staff, the better. But one tendency that will confront both you and the kitchen is the desire to customize their meals. Okay, we know what you’re thinking: “The chef will kill me!” But for a restaurant to draw in younger diners, flexibility is the key. What does that mean for you as a server? You need to know the possibilities. What variations can be made from the dishes you’re offering. And what ingredients are in the kitchen that can be used to tweak a menu item to the guest’s satisfaction. Yes, it’s extra work for everyone. You'll encounter some back-of-house resistance unless everybody's on board. If it draws in a whole new generation of diners to your restaurant, though, isn’t it worth it?

Server Ethics     One of the most important characteristics you can have as a server is a good reputation. And it's not worth sacrificing that for a few extra bucks. Here are some ways that servers compromise their integrity -- things that you should avoid doing . . . "Floating" prices: Charging whatever the market will bear rather than setting a price for specials. Unauthorized comps: Never give anything away without your supervisor's or manager's approval. The "double bubble": When a gratuity is already added to the check but you neglect to inform the guests and are tipped a second time. The old brunch scam: When tickets don't have numbers and the same ticket is used multiple times so the server can keep any cash paid for meals. Keeping a "handshake" in a pooled room: A guest slips the server a tip (the handshake) and he or she pockets it rather than adding it to the pool. Adjusting the check: When a guest mistakenly totals the check at a higher amount, you increase the tip to reflect the difference. If tempted to pull off any of these unsavory acts, ask yourself, "Do I feel righteous about this?" I'm guessing your answer is no.

Reading those subtle signs     Anyone who's been a server for any length of time has learned the importance of "reading a table" to assess how to interact, serve and pace a party's meal. This goes well beyond guests signaling they're ready to order by closing their menus. Unless they appear to be conducting business at the table, diners dressed in business attire are more likely to want expedited service so they can return to work. Guests dressed up in the evening might have after-dinner plans so won't want to linger over a meal. With some practice, you can pick up the mood of the party through their response to your greeting or by their body language. Does the group seem more interested in chatting with each other than in looking at their menus? Give them some time. Is someone looking puzzled or scanning the room? They might have a question or need something. And if that couple who started out lovey-dovey is now arguing or someone's in tears -- keep your distance. The more observant you are, the better you'll be able to provide your guests with just the right dining experience.

Tips for Boosting Buffet Tips     When we train buffet staffs there's usually a lot of grumbling about the meager tips they receive. But when we ask them what service they're providing guests, it usually boils down to clearing used plates. While there's no denying that this is better than leaving a stack of dirty dishes on the table, there's so much more service they could provide. Offer to carry plates or trays for seniors, children or anyone who looks like they could use assistance. Replace guests' utensils regularly, especially when you see they've gone up for dessert. Nobody wants to eat their cake with the fork they used for their cod. Make sure guests have plenty of napkins -- and wet wipes, if there are foods that are eaten with fingers. Refill beverages using pitchers, or bring fresh beverages to the table. Offer to bring dessert. Make conversation with guests: "First time here? Be sure to try the . . . " Know what's on the buffet so you can answer questions. Thank your guests for coming. Yes, we know not everyone will leave a tip, but these few simple steps give you a much better chance of multiplying the tips you do receive.

When back-of-house has your back -- and vice versa     The most important thing any server can do is develop a good relationship with the kitchen staff. When they’re willing to help you out, your job is so much easier. Say the couple on table 4 is getting antsy for their meals. If your chef or cook is willing to put a rush on their order, you’ll all look great in the guests’ eyes. Talk with the kitchen, too, about ways that you can ease the pain of long waits for tables or long intervals between courses. A restaurant we mystery-shopped had an excellent policy. When the server noted that our order went into the kitchen after that of a large party, she brought us a small sorbet course between our apps and entrees. That smart move bought the kitchen an extra 10 or 15 minutes to get our order out. If there are typically long waits for tables, see if your kitchen team can come up with a simple, prepped-ahead amuse bouche that you can offer waiting guests. One chef I worked for kept inexpensive sparkling wine on hand and always had tiny hors d’oeuvres at the ready. That kind of hospitality turns what could be an irritating situation into a more festive and positive experience. And remember, the front- and back-of-house relationship goes both ways. Make sure your orders are correct; any special requests are obvious. Do what you can to make their jobs easier, too.

Elect to keep your opinions to yourself     With the upcoming midterm elections, chances are good that some of your guests might be discussing politics while they dine. Regardless of how strongly you agree or disagree with their opinions, don't share your thoughts. If you can't hold your tongue, walk away from the table until you're under control. A co-worker of mine was fired when he jumped into his guests' political debate. Stay away from  discussing any potentially "hot button" issue, be it immigration, religion or gender equality. Even seemingly innocuous topics like sports can be tricky if you and your guests have different loyalties. As a rule, conversation with guests should be polite and professional without crossing the line into overly-friendly. Never include yourself in diners' conversations unless specifically asked to participate. And even then, use tact and restraint.

Adding special to their occasions     It happens to us all. We fall into our routine at work and become jaded. We don't really see the restaurant experience from our guests' point of view. Yes, you're there to serve them -- and, hopefully, you're doing it well. But when was the last time you stopped to think about why your guests are dining at your restaurant? Their hopes and expectations? A restaurant service is a little like live theater, with us playing a pivotal role in the experience. We need to keep in mind that this is not an everyday occurrence for the guest. Maybe ita birthday, an anniversary, a graduation or other special occasion. Maybe it’s just a hard-earned night out with a significant other. By exhibiting genuine hospitality, being generous and welcoming and going that extra step for every guest, we show our true professionalism. And might just make someone’s day.

Write. It. Down!     If you're multi-time World Memory Champion Alex Mullen, I might forgive you for not writing down my order. But if you're one of us mere-mortal servers, there's no excuse. You might be impressed by your ability to put an order into the kitchen for a 6-top without ever jotting it down. But the guest who ordered medium rare and got well done or the one whose meal is dragging because you forgot it isn't going to be so dazzled by your supposed mental prowess. When we're slammed during service there are a million things we need to focus on to give our guests a positive dining experience. Ensuring that meals come out precisely as ordered shouldn't be one of them. So . . . write. it. down!

What's with the "finger hook"?

This time we're going to "turn the tables" (so to speak) and ask you to help us solve a mystery. Years ago, we started seeing people grip their forks with their index finger curled around the end. Since then it's become almost the norm. We've even seen advertising with someone holding a fork this way. We contacted Emily Post Institute to ask if they knew when or how this came about. Their reply: they've never seen it. Our best guess is that it evolved from the use of short-handled, disposable utensils on which your index finger naturally gravitates to the end. What's your thinking? If you hold a fork this way, we'd love to know how you adopted the grip. If you know someone who does, please ask them and post a comment. We've been wondering about this for years and would be excited to finally have an explanation (or several).

Don't take trash to the table!     We're all in favor of efficiency and saving steps. But a few weeks ago we, once again, saw a server continually carrying used plates and glasses from one table to another. Whether she was picking up more plates or talking to the guests she always had dirty tablewares in hand. Who wants to look at other diners' detritus while they're eating?!? Picture how unappetizing it would be for someone who'd just created what we refer to as "trash sculptures" (clearing everything from a table onto one beverage tray) to hold this mess just inches from your face while they do their check-back. If someone tries to get your attention en route to the bus station or dish area, let them know you'll be right back. Put yourself in your guests' place -- dirty dishes aren't a pretty sight while you're trying to enjoy your meal.

F&B: Make the pandemic productive     Our thoughts are with all of you, in the F&B industry, as your lives and livelihoods are affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s hoping that things will turn around sooner rather than later. In the meantime, consider using some of your unexpected (and possibly unwelcome) down time to learn a little more about your craft. Googling “tips for restaurant servers” brings up volumes of information on becoming more productive, increasing guest satisfaction, building check averages and, of course, increasing your tips. Obviously, many of you can’t put all of this new knowledge into practice at the moment. But once things are back up to speed, you’ll be all the more prepared to be the best front-of-house team member that you can be. Be safe . . . be well . . . and be confident that the industry will find its way through this.​​​

Server or host? You're actually both     When diners are seated in your section, you become, for the duration of their meal, a de facto host. Whether it’s a party of one or 20, it’s your responsibility to treat the guests in a caring and welcoming way. In his The Physiology of Taste, Brillat-Savarin stated, “To invite people to dine with us is to make ourselves responsible for their well-being for as long as they are under our roofs.” To paraphrase an old hospitality text, many special restaurateurs were born in hamlets or on farms. The simplicity, hospitality and honesty taught them in their homes were the fundamental principles used in their dealings with their customers. Conrad Hilton once said, “The thing I have liked best about the hotel business is the fun of being the host. I’ve always liked having people around me; people never fail to fascinate me. Take a cue from these respected hospitality professionals. Be a conscientious, considerate, generous host to every guest who enters your restaurant “home.”

Oh, the infractions we've seen!     We don’t eat in restaurants much these days as dine-in options are limited in our area. During our few experiences over the past few months, we’ve seen some abuses of PPE usage, sanitation and etiquette that have made us even less inclined to patronize our local foodservice establishments. Servers wearing masks over just their mouths and not their noses. Managers who think covering their lower faces with open, clear shields provides adequate protection. (According to the Center for Infection Disease Dynamics: "There is no evidence that face shields, that are open by design, prevent the inhalation or exhalation of viruses.”) Fast food workers wearing the same gloves while delivering food, handling cash and running the register. Guests who wear a mask into the restaurant but not when they get up to request something from the counter staff or server.  Servers spraying sanitizer directly to the table (rather than onto the cloth) so it wafts onto nearby diners. Packed bars with absolutely no social distancing. And please remember . . . Tables spaced six feet apart doesn’t mean diners are six feet apart.Yes, we know it’s extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient for all concerned. And it certainly takes the fun out of dining out. But please be super-conscious of your sanitation — and perceived sanitation infractions — both during your shifts and whenever you visit your favorite restaurants.

Need a hand up? Here's where to look.   For much of my career, I worked in fine dining. I thought I'd always have a job. People would always eat at upscale restaurants. How times have changed! The hospitality industry is facing a dire situation as a result of the current global pandemic. Due to indoor dining bans and restaurant closures in areas here in the U.S. and internationally, many in the service industry are suddenly unable to support our families and pay our bills. If you’re finding yourself in need of financial assistance, check out for a multitude of resources. Please know we’re thinking of you during these difficult times and wishing that there's hope on the horizon.

Happy 2023 to all in hospitality!   It's still not too late to make some new year's resolutions. Here are a few suggestions for those in the hospitality industry:

  • I resolve to do everything I can to keep myself and my guests safe and healthy. That means being extra-vigilant about adhering to your property's safety protocols before, during and after your shifts. Remember, calling out sick doesn't just affect your income, it can disrupt your co-workers' lives and the quality of service to your guests.
  • I resolve to find something positive about each shift that I work. Yes, sometimes that can be really hard when you're in the weeds or have to deal with customer complaints. But try to find a bright spot that will make your work more enjoyable -- even if it's just a smile or a thank you from one of your guests.
  • I resolve to provide my diners with the best possible experience by keeping my station clean and well-organized, ensuring they get what they order and anticipating their needs.

Return to EATiQuette Home Page

We welcome your inquiries about our publications and supplemental materials.
Please contact Barbara or David Rothschild at: 602.569.2051 or e-mail
LAST PAGE/SITE UPDATE: 01.23                                © David & Barbara Rothschild 1998-2023