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How to be a good server: Top 10 server etiquette tips

Posted by Ana Cvetkovic on Aug 2, 2019 5:00:00 PM
Ana Cvetkovic

Did you know that there are almost three million waiters and waitresses in the United States alone? Anyone can be a server, but it takes a lot to stand out as one. 

Whether you’re new to the restaurant industry or just need to refresh your skills, follow these 10 serving tips to make a lasting impression on customers.

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While you may just want to know how to be a good server, you’ll quickly elevate yourself to employee-of-the-month status by following these serving tips.

1. Look presentable

Make a great first impression on your customers by looking your best. Your outfit should match the restaurant’s concept. If you work at an upscale place, dress the part. If you have a uniform, make sure that it’s clean (no stains!) and ironed. If you work at a country-themed barbecue joint, pull out your plaid and cowboy boots. 

It is also important to pay attention to your hygiene and grooming. Ensure that the only thing that customers smell is their delicious food, and not you. Keep your hair clean and neat; customers won’t appreciate stray hairs falling onto their plates! If you like to sport long nails, make sure that there’s no dirt underneath them.

When you make an effort to look your best on the job, you’re showing respect towards your customers and your employer.

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2. Be familiar with what you’re serving

Know your menu! Try as many dishes as possible so that you are able to make recommendations to customers. If it’s not possible for you to try everything on the menu, collaborate with other team members to get notes about dishes that they’ve tried and you haven’t. When you are knowledgeable about what you’re serving, you’ll come off as an expert guide instead of a salesperson.


3. Take allergies and dietary restrictions seriously

Take food allergies, lifestyle diets, and dietary restrictions seriously and ask diners the severity of their intolerance to certain foods. 

For example, while a customer who chooses to follow a gluten-free diet would be fine with eating fries, a customer with Celiac disease would not eat fries in order to avoid cross contamination. Most restaurants have a single fryer, which means that there could be traces of gluten on fries that are prepared in the same oil as breadcrumb battered chicken fingers.

Take a server training course on food allergies to ensure the safety of your customers. In the meantime, if you don’t know what’s gluten-free or dairy-free on your menu, double-check with someone who does know. 

In addition to food allergies, servers will encounter questions about lifestyle diets. With vegan diets on the rise, it’s important for servers to understand the difference between vegan and vegetarian diets. For example, a “veggie burger” may be vegetarian but not vegan if it contains milk or eggs. Brush up on the specifications of popular diets so that you’re ready for whatever comes your way.

If a dish would have to change dramatically in order to accommodate a dietary restriction, let the customer know what to expect before placing their order. It’s always good to give customers alternate options than to give them what they didn’t want or expect. Communication with customers and kitchen staff is key when it comes to dietary restrictions.


4. Be present, but don’t hover

Diners don’t want to spend their meal with you, they want to enjoy the company of their companions! Be friendly and build a rapport with customers, but don’t try to befriend them.

Stay in the vicinity so that you can see if customers need you, but don’t linger too much. Give customers enough space to enjoy their meals.


5. Refill water frequently

I was once at a restaurant that was so busy that I had to share my glass of water with my friend because I couldn’t get the server’s attention to ask for a refill. Don’t put your customers in this situation.

Keep an eye on water levels so that you can refill when appropriate. When you do this, be as non-intrusive as possible. There’s no need to announce your presence or stop a conversation to refill glasses.


6. Don’t reach!

Avoid reaching across the table to serve guests or refill waters. Not only is it rude and disruptive, but you could also knock something over and stain a customer’s clothes. Always walk to the customer’s side to place a dish down or pick it up.


7. Don’t auction away dishes

When you bring food to the table, don’t say the name of a dish and have customers raise their hands to claim it. Jot down which seat ordered which dish so that you can deliver each item to the correct person. This simple gesture elevates your level of service - and could help increase your tip.


8. Serve from the left

When serving dishes, stand to the left of each diner and place dishes down on the table from the customer’s left side. The theory is that most diners are right-handed, so serving from the left is less disruptive.

If you need to brush up on tableside etiquette, an online server training course can help you learn how to be a good server in no time.


9. Don’t bring the check until customers ask for it

When you bring customers a check before they request it, you run the risk of making them feel rushed. Don’t bring diners the check until they ask for it.

If your shift is ending before a table has paid and you want to warn your customers of your disappearance, tell each of your tables that your shift is over and let them know who will be taking care of them for the rest of their meal.

Make customers feel comfortable taking their time after a meal.


10. Split checks

Splitting the check has become increasingly popular since millennials made a habit out of dining out with friends. Save yourself and your customers time and a headache by asking if a check should be split before you bring it over.

This technique will ultimately result in more tips for you because you’ll be able to turn over more tables by bringing out the check as requested instead of going back and forth to your POS several times to print out the check and process payments.

As a rule of thumb: if the table looks like a date or a family, one person will probably pay the entire check. If the looks like friends enjoying a meal together, they’ll probably want to split the check.

Practice makes perfect, but a cheat sheet can help! Print out or take a screenshot of these serving tips to review before a shift to learn how to be the best server at a restaurant. To gain more in-depth knowledge on how to be a good server, take an online server training course.  


Learn essential server skills from table service fundamentals to front of house essentials. Sign up today and get the first 10 day's FREE! 


Ana_Cvetkovic Ana Cvetkovic is a freelancer and content producer for 7shifts. She is also the CEO of BLOOM Digital Marketing, a Philadelphia-based creative marketing agency that helps the hospitality and tourism industries reach new audiences online.


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Topics: Hotels, Hospitality staff, Restaurants, Bars