Providing great service in a restaurant isn’t just about ensuring the customer gets their meal on time, or smiling as you take their order. It’s also about the little actions you take throughout their time in the venue.
Everyone has had a bad experience while dining out – whether the server was clumsy or rude, the food wasn’t quite right, or the atmosphere was a little off. As a server, it’s your job to make sure that your customers have an amazing experience, from start to finish – and that’s where good etiquette comes into play.
So, what exactly is etiquette, and what basic tips will help you provide customers with the best experience possible?
Etiquette guidelines will change from venue to venue; they’re likely to be a little more casual at a local pub than they will be at a fine dining restaurant. But there are a number of basic tips that will be expected across the board – and we’re here to help you remember them!
1. Put a smile on your dial
It’s the number one rule of customer service: be as warm and inviting as possible when greeting or talking to customers.
Nobody wants to deal with a grumpy server, and one of the most memorable elements of a customer’s experience is the service provided. Be cheerful, but don’t fake it too much – some customers will see right through that.
2. Keep the chit chat light
This is where your best judgment needs to be on display. Does the customer seem like they want to chat, or should you just seat them and leave them be?
If they want to chat, keep questions light – how their day has been, how the weather is outside. Try not to bring yourself into the conversation too much.
3. Wash your hair
Okay, we’re only half-joking on that one. Your physical appearance is almost as important as your demeanor in representing the venue. Whether you have a formal uniform or stick with the classic black jeans and t-shirt combo, it’s important that you look presentable.
There’s no need to go over the top; just make sure that you iron your shirt, look neat and clean, have your long hair tied back, and haven’t just thrown on a pair of flip flops to come to work.
4. Get your spoons in order
For many venues, setting the table will occur before a customer is seated. Some venues will just offer up basic cutlery and side plates, while others will have a full silver service set up.
When laying out your cutlery, forks go on the left, knives and spoons on the right. If you have multiples, remember that the guest will start from the outside and work their way in. If your table is set with wine glasses or extra cutlery and the guest doesn’t require them, remove them after you take the customer’s order.
5. Know your menu
Remember; this is your home ground! Make sure you know the menu and the specials, and can explain dishes to customers where required. Ensure that you are across key ingredients to advise customers with allergies or diet preferences on appropriate dishes.
If you aren’t sure, politely let the customer know that you’re going to confirm it for them – and go and have a quick chat to the chef.
6. To the left, to the left
If you work in a fine dining restaurant, it’s likely that you’ll be guided in your initial restaurant server training on the best serving etiquette for that particular venue.
As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to serve from the left: that is, changing cutlery, laying down food, and serving drinks.
The theory behind serving from the left is that the majority of customers will be right-handed, so you will be less likely to interrupt their movements as you serve.
7. Check your hand placement
When it comes to pouring a glass of wine, laying out cutlery, or placing plates of food down, the way you hold an item is far more important than you may think. No customer wants to end up with your fingerprints on their glass or fork!
Hold wine glasses by the stem as you pour, and if you have the skills, pour while holding the bottom of the bottle. Lay out cutlery holding the handles, and try to only touch the rim of a plate or bowl.
8. Keep an eye out
There is nothing worse than dining at a restaurant and not being able to catch a server’s eye to ask for another drink or the bill.
As soon as you seat a customer or group, remember that you are in charge of their wellbeing while they’re in your venue; be attentive but not overbearing, and ensure that they know you are approachable and available.
9. Chill out on clearing up
When you work in a busy establishment, it’s easy to think in terms of what needs to come next – but that isn’t how your customers are thinking.
Don’t start clearing plates until everyone at the table is finished, and always ask if the customer wants another drink or dessert when you do start clearing.
10. Money, money, money
It is never good form to bring out the bill before the customer asks for it. Even if their plates are cleared and they seem to be nursing their final drinks, hold back on handing it over.
If your venue settles the bill at the bar or front desk, make sure you let your customers know at the end of their meal – but assure them that there’s no rush.
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