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A Few Things To Remember:
Please remember to ask for their orders in the proper sequence. It’s polite and, if they are accustomed to it, it’s what they expect. If there are guests of honor and they are known to you, start with them. After that, or if the host has not made the guests of honor known to you, the order is as follows: eldest lady to youngest lady, eldest man to youngest man. It is also considered proper to start with the guest of honor and move around the table in an anti-clockwise fashion. This goes for everything done at the table including; serving drinks, food and clearing plates.
Clearing plates, the dilemma: Proper etiquette and what’s proper to the people you are serving can be two different things. Proper etiquette dictates that you should clear the plates when everyone at the table is done with the course. Many people feel their plate should be cleared when they are no longer eating from their plate. To find out what they think is the proper time you have to do a little sleuthing. When the first person is done with their plate you can ask, “May I remove your plate?”. This will let you know what is considered appropriate for the rest of the guests. From that point on simply remove plates when appropriate. If you work in a high end establishment always wait until the table is done eating before removing plates, it’s proper.
Another point is, speaking of proper etiquette, the position of flatware denotes whether or not they are finished eating. Finished position is: used flatware grouped together and place on the right hand side crossing the center of the plate.

Which side to serve and remove from? Unless you are serving from a platter or are placing or removing side dishes from the table (which should always be done from the left side) you should serve and remove from the right side of the guest.
Appetizers are just that – appetizers. They whet the pallet and make them hungry. An appetizer also gives them something in their stomach if they are drinking alcohol. Drinking on an empty stomach is seldom a good thing for the holder of the liquor license. Salty appetizers make them thirsty too - hey - I’m just pointing things out here. Use the information however you want (maybe another drink?!?).
Food Service is really Food Sales, don’t forget that! The more food and drinks you sell, the more money you take home at the end of your shift! Remember you make a percentage of the total sales at the table. Higher percentages are one thing, higher sales are another and both increase your bottom line.
To this end let’s talk about “sales speak”. When I say sales speak I mean the words you use to describe things not how you go about getting your guests to order more items. Descriptive phrases are important, adjectives are important and specifics are required if you want to push your sales to a higher level.
I’m not suggesting you use the glowing, flowery terms you would hear or see in an advertisement for, say, a funeral home. I do mean you should be using words like: crispy, golden, smooth, tart, sweet etc. In addition to this you should attempt to paint a picture in the mind of the guest. Question: What is the shrimp dinner? Answer: You get eight shrimp and a potato. This answer is dull, drab and unappealing. On the other hand, “Oh, let me tell you about the shrimp, it’s one of my favorites. We start with large shrimp, peeled fresh daily. They’re hand breaded with a light coating of bread crumbs. We fry eight of those morsels to a golden brown and serve them with your choice of accompaniment. I like mine with the white cheddar mashed potatoes but you might prefer a baked potato, sweet potato or maybe some French fries.” Which sounds better to you?
In addition if your restaurant serves another shrimp item which is higher in price this is a great chance for an up sell… “If you like shrimp you might want to consider the Shrimp Alfredo. It has the same shrimp; instead of being fried they’re sautéed in garlic butter. The shrimp is served on a bed of our fettuccini, which is made fresh daily and tossed in our signature Alfredo sauce. It’s a truly fantastic entrée.

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Back To The Service
When you return with the drinks, if there was any interest in an appetizer now is the time to check and see if they have found something they like. If they have found something, of course take the order and get the kitchen started on it. If they have decided against an appetizer ask if they have any questions about the menu you could answer or if they would like a little more time with the menu.
You notice the menus are closed, or they are talking more or you actually asked if they were ready to order and it’s time for the entrée order. This is where your menu knowledge will allow you to shine. You’ll be able to answer questions easily and without thinking.
You will be able to suggest other menu items. They may want you to suggest a wine which will complement their meal. Whatever it is, your preparation will show here.
Just like with the drinks, don’t rush the choices. Allow them to hear what it is you are saying instead of having to decipher what the items were in the list you rattled out. You know exactly what the restaurant offers, they do not. List salad dressings the restaurant offers and the choices of accompaniments accordingly.
Remember, when describing items use specifics and adjectives. Paint a picture for the guest with your description. If you have favorites don’t be afraid to tell them what they are. If you have alternate suggestions be open with the guest about them. After all, you are their guide to a wonderful experience and their host at the restaurant.
Order Has Been Taken
Now what you do all comes down to timing. Being familiar with the preparation times is required at this point. You don’t want to rush your guests but you don’t want them to take up your table forever either. In a formal setting, multi-course meals can take hours. Your trainer will inform you as to how to course your meals if this is the case.
If they have appetizers you need to allow for them to finish those, and maybe have a slight break before the salad is served. Most dinner houses have kitchen staff that knows the importance of fast salad preparation. Also you can “hold” the salad for a couple minutes if required. It’s not a hot item (usually) and can therefore withstand a short wait.
When to place the entrée order is most important. Often the correct time is to place the entrée order and the salad order at the same time. If it’s not a single entrée always base your timing on the entrée with the longest preparation time in the order.
Serving The Table
You served the appetizer and removed the plates before the salads were brought to the table. You served the salads and removed the salad plates. Each time you passed the table you checked the drinks and refilled as needed. You have made yourself available for requests, looking at your guests as you pass by their table is often enough for this, it shows them you are available to them.
You know it’s time for the entrées to be ready due to the fact you have a sense of how long it takes to prepare the items. You have been watching the “window” (where they are passed from the kitchen to the wait staff) and see that they are starting to be given to you. Now is the time to step up to the plate and be a great server. Always attempt to be at the window when they are being given to you so you can serve hot food. While they are being given to you is a great time to be sure they are actually as you ordered them. For the most part, kitchen staff is great about plating food as you ordered it however; even the best make a mistake once in a while. You are the final check before the meal is served to the guest. The guest told you what they wanted and it is up to you to make sure they get what they want. Be sure items wanted are cooked as requested; proper temperature for steaks and other meats. Special requests are as requested; no this on that, extra this on the other thing, crisp this, plain that etc.
Everything is as requested and it’s time for the entrées to be served. Serve them in order and when everyone has a plate ask if there is anything they may want at this point. As you work in the restaurant you will learn what kinds of things are most typically wanted. It could be condiments; ketchup or hot sauce or ranch for fries or maybe there are sauces offered at your restaurant which are popular. Whatever it may be; now is the time to see what they may want. In my opinion, unless it’s something odd, if the guest has to ask for something I have failed. It is my job to anticipate their needs.
Checking Back
Have you ever cut into a steak, expecting it to be medium rare only to discover that it’s as rare as rare can be? If you have, you know how long it seems the server took to return to the table to see how everything is. Keep this in mind, check back very shortly after you have served the meal. Just after everyone has had a chance to assess their entrée is when you should stop by and ask if everything is to their liking. You should check back again after everyone has had a chance to taste their meal. This is another point at which there could be cause for a change of meal for the guest. It’s not only good for the restaurant but it shows the guest you actually care about their experience.

Everything is going well and your guests are enjoying their meal. Checking back half way through will allow them to let you know if they want anything else. This can be done when you are refilling drinks or you can simply stop at the table and obviously assess how things are. You don’t need to say a word; they will let you know if they require anything.
The entrée plates have been removed and now it’s time to offer dessert. Your trainer informed you as to what is proper for the restaurant. You will either have a dessert cart, tray or menu. The use of the cart and tray are obvious as is the menu. If it’s the menu you will be using be sure to present it to the guests instead of assuming they do not want dessert or in hopes of turning the table more quickly. Offer after dinner drinks if appropriate or coffee if that’s all that’s available to offer. Remember, anything you sell the guest increases your salary, it’s as simple as that.

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