Serving Etiquette: Tips for Every Intern   

No matter the size or dining style of the restaurant you intern in, proper serving etiquette is  always a must. While the hotel or country club you’re interning may have certain protocol various dining or cultural events, the basics of serving etiquette never waver.

Be Observant, Not Intrusive

Depending on the guest, setting, or situation, there is a fine line between attentive and intrusive behavior. Obtrusive behavior is any type of behavior that puts the guest in an awkward situation. Lingering beside a table waiting to be ‘needed’ is an obtrusive act. Conversely, refilling a beverage before a guest asks is a positive form of serving etiquette.

Ladies First

While some cultures serve the head of the house first, serving etiquette in most American restaurants calls for the lady of the house to be the featured guest. Ladies should always command a server’s attention and be served in a non-intrusive manner. Serving the head of the house or host of the table after the ladies is completely acceptable.

No Eating or Drinking

It is never appropriate to chew gum, eat food, or drink while in the middle of dinner service. This is not only rude, but it also violates food safety regulations.

Correct Posture

Good serving etiquette does not include slouching, leaning, or kneeling at a table. Poor posture is indicative of poor service and will not create a pleasing experience. When talking to diners or guests, stand up straight and remember to smile.

Speak Clearly

A clear, authoritative voice is a good indicator of someone who knows what they are doing. As a server, this type of commanding voice shows you’ve studied the menu, you know what drinks pair well with each dish, and you have a clear understanding of how to serve your guests. This will ultimately create a warmer, happier environment for diners.

Serve from the left

One commonly known serving etiquette is to serve food from the diner’s left side. This unspoken rule allows for fluid movements during dinner service.

Clear from the Right

Another well-known serving etiquette tip is to remove plates, stemware, and silverware from the right side of your guest. Following this protocol lessens the chances of spilling foods or knocking plates.

Ask Before Clearing Plates

Serving etiquette calls for servers to use silverware placement as an indicator of whether a diner is finished with their meal. However, this ‘rule’ is not as well known in smaller restaurants or casual dining settings. No matter what style restaurant you find yourself working, always ask your diner if you can remove their plate before reaching for it.

Pay Attention to the Plate

If you’re clearing a plate that has not been touched or has an abundant amount of food remaining, it can be an indicator that something is wrong. It’s important to find out if your guest didn’t like the food or if something else prevented them from eating.

Watch Your Reach

When serving or clearing food, never reach across a guest. This is considered a rude gesture and can damage your diner’s experience. Make a point to pass and pull from an unobtrusive position.

Holding Stemware

When holding or passing wine glasses, goblets, or flutes carry them by their stem. Doing so prevents the heat from your palms to transfer to the cold liquid inside. This rule also applies to passing iced beverages. Making a point not to touch the rim of a person’s drinking glass is good serving etiquette.

Table Service

Clean tables and linens are a good indicator of a restaurant’s cleanliness. If table linens are in use, they should be free of stains, wrinkles, and holes. For less formal dining, tables without linens should be free of smudges, sticky residue, and moisture.

Table Setting

In formal dining settings, placement of every knife, plate, and goblet play a key role in the dinner service. A properly trained server should understand when to remove excess tableware and when to bring needed utensils.

In less formal settings, plates, silverware, and drinkware to arrive to the diner at various times. In any setting, having a clear understanding of expectations and serving etiquette will play a key role in overall diner experience.

Scent Sensitivity

Good serving etiquette calls for an unobtrusive display of the powerful aromas from an array of foods. An overpowering perfume or cologne permeating from a server can put a damper on a diner’s ability to enjoy the scents surrounding them. As a server, try to keep your perfume or cologne use to a minimum.

Hand Hygiene

Hygiene is the epitome of great service. Any diner will find disgust in a server with filthy nails or hands. As a server, be sure to present nails that are tasteful in both length and cleanliness to impart a better dining experience to your guests.

Serving Etiquette

Cultures across the globe vary greatly when it comes to serving food to others. It’s important to take note of the different culture expectations in every setting you encounter. This will not only allow for a smooth service, it will also create a memorable experience for your guests.


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