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Steps of service – The basics

Steps of serviceEvery business has a set of procedures or guidelines whether it be written or verbal to make the day-to-day operations flow smoothly. With restaurants, despite the fact that every place is different and has their own set of rules or policies there is a basic blueprint for the steps of service.

This is my sequence I use when it comes to serving a table of mine.

  1. Greet your guest(s)
  2. Take a drink order
  3. Deliver the drinks
  4. Tell features or specials (optional)
  5. Take food order
  6. Deliver the food
  7. 2 bite check
  8. Clear the table
  9. Take dessert and coffee/tea order
  10. Drop the bill
  11. Thank your guests as or before they leave

So let me break it down for you.

(please remember that these steps are the steps I, myself take when serving tables in my current serving jobs. This will give you an idea of what is involved when serving tables. If you need additional information, have any questions or want to know something specifically within this post then please don’t be shy to ask)

Greet your guest(s)

I like to give my guest(s) a minute to settle in and get comfortable before I go over and say “Hello”. That being said it’s very important you don’t take too long before you make your first contact with them. My belief is that you should greet your table within 1 minute, 2 minutes at the absolute maximum. If your unable to get to that table in time then either get another server to start them off or even ask a manager to help you out.

Take a drink order

I like to start by asking the table whether they are ready to order drinks, or if they need a minute to settle in, this gives them the option without cornering them into making a panic decision if you just asked “What can I get you to drink?”.

Remember to ID anyone ordering alcoholic beverages if they look underage or if your unsure if they are of legal age.

Deliver the drinks

It’s important after you ring the drinks into the P.O.S. (P.O.S. stands for Point of Sale and is the computer you input your orders into) that you get their drinks to them as soon as you can, if you’re busy and you do this then it buys you a little time (as they now have something to occupy them) until you can get back to them for their food order.

Tell features or specials (optional)

Not every restaurant offers features or specials but I find the best time to tell your table is either as your dropping off their drinks (to give them some other options to think about while they’re checking out the menu and while their focus is on food) or not long after you have.

Take food order

Pull out that notepad/order pad because it’s about to get used (see the importance of a notepad in the previous post  “What to do on your first day”). If you want tips or tricks on taking orders I will write a separate blog post in the not too distant future to cover this (the post “6 tips for time management has now been posted). After you have written everything down and repeated the order (The importance of this is also covered in the above mentioned blog post) then go right away and ring in the order.

Deliver the food

When I drop food off to my table (unless a food runner or another server has taken the food to the table)  I make sure to name the dish as I’m putting this down. This way if something was wrongly ordered it is picked up right away (hopefully it shouldn’t have been because you wrote everything down right?) but sometimes mistakes are made and this way you can work on rectifying it immediately.

2 bite check

2 bites or within 2 minutes, this is the rule I go by for doing a “quality” check on your guest(s) meals. If everything is good then offer more drinks if necessary or if they have everything need then you can be on your merry way to deal with your other tables.

Clear the table

There’s two different ways to go about this and it generally comes down to the “policy” or “guideline” of your employer. There is a debate about this topic on whether you clear your tables plates as they become empty or if you wait until everyone has finished their meal.

I like to wait until everyone is finished because if someone can’t finish their meal or would like to share with someone else at their table then this makes it a whole lot easier for them to offer it around without having to share one plate and one set of cutlery.

(once again it comes down to the standards and procedures of the particular restaurant your working in).

Take desert and coffee/tea order

Once your table has had a little time after you have cleared their meals and let them digest and chat a little, head on over and offer desert and coffee or tea. Take everyone’s order and punch it into the P.O.S. then set them up accordingly (milk, cream, sugar, desert spoons/forks etc). If they don’t order anything then go to the next step.

Drop the bill

Unless someone had specifically asked you to bring the bill directly to them, when dropping it off at the table try to place it in the middle as best you can. This way it gives your guest(s) the option to jump right in settle up, or to just sit on it for a while without feeling obligated to settle up right away.

(be sure to continually check to see if the bill is ready to be paid, don’t repeatedly go up and ask but just keep an eye on it from a distance and when it’s ready then go on over).

It’s crucial you don’t make the table wait because you could have done an amazing job throughout their whole dining experience but if their last impression is having to wait 15 minutes to pay a bill then all that work has gone to waste, not to mention your tip will probably struggle because of this. You should only give a bill when it has been requested, sometimes guests will change their mind and maybe order a dessert or have another drink.

Thank your guest as or before they leave

These people have taken the time to come and dine in the restaurant you work in which pays your wage and your bills so a simple thank you is the least you can give back to them (apart from the amazing service). This will leave a positive last impression on them and is the last thing they remember when they leave the restaurant.

Service should not stop after your guest(s) pay their bill.

I’ve seen some servers do an amazing job with a table only to suffer in the end because after the guest(s) pay their bill they just leave them be until they leave. On occasion a guest may want a glass of water or perhaps order some take out to bring home with them but if no one is around to help them out with that then they feel neglected.

Please feel free to comment or add your opinion to this post below.

Thanks and have a great day!


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20 Comments to “Steps of service – The basics”

  1. Sophie Morin says:

    Hi! Just found your blog today and its amazing! it’s not my first time serving, but I will be back on the job Sunday and the nerves are getting the best of me. A few questions, when dropping the check, is there a professional way of asking if the check is split or all together? Also, I’ve had trouble with a few ladies who just like to sit and chat for an hour before ordering and I would check back every so often and they would brush me off and I felt like I was really bothering them, how can you tell when they will linger? My biggest fear is waiting too long to check my tables or not waiting long enough because I don’t want the tables to feel rushed. Sorry for such a long post! Any tips for nervous returning servers would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Nathan says:

      Thank you Sophie!

      It’s all good to be a little nervous, I’m sure you’re not the first person to feel like this at a new job ;P. Just relax and remember that you’re just talking with people, and making sure their experience with you runs smoothly.

      When you’re being trained take notes if you have to, ask questions on anything you are unsure about (just don’t ask the same question 3 or 4 times) and absorb everything. Get a little prepared by reading through the menu and taking note of anything you see that you would want to ask a question about, same with the drinks menu/wine list.

      You will be fine, if you have worked as a server before it will all come back to you and you will rock it.

      People who linger are a tough one, especially if your restaurant is on a wait list, but the reality is you can’t exactly ask the guests to “hurry up” or “you have to go”. What I like to do with people taking their time, after I check back a second time to see if they are ready to order, and they aren’t, I say to them:

      “Rather than me constantly harassing you (with a smile), You’ll see me walking around this area, whenever you’re ready just give me a little wave and I’ll come on over”.

      It does sound a little tacky (getting a guest to wave to you when they are ready and all) but this allows me to focus on my other tables, and it saves them from sending me away every time I go interrupt them. I make sure that I do maintain a presence in my section (because I told the guest I would be around) and don’t disappear out the back for long periods of time. All it takes from here is some eye contact, when they are ready they will be looking for me and 9 times out of 10 there won’t be a wave, just the eye contact and body language is enough.

      Hope this helps in some way Sophie. Best of luck for Sunday, just relax and be yourself!

      Also I wrote a post a while back which may help out too:

  2. Mina says:

    Hi, Nathan, thank you so much for posting your blog to help out servers out there who need advice and pointers. I’m 29 years old, going to college and trying to secure a job in a restaurant. I was very fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to train at my new restaurant considering I told the owner up front when I handed in my application that I had 0 experience in the restaurant industry. So far I trained for 4 days, 2 days a week. I made a couple mistakes, but not a lot and nothing too bad, except one when I didn’t properly process a check, they had a card and cash and didn’t not ask them exactly how they wanted to pay, I made the biggest mistake by assuming and not asking. I just asked so you’re paying with a card and cash. the customers did not specify the details of their payment because I wrongly assumed the wrong thing. the manager/my trainer saw this and without a doubt I made a bad impression because I told her like I knew exactly how those customers wanted their check to ne processed. Anyway, sorry for writing so much but this job is very important to me because I’ve always wanted to get my foot in the door of this industry but first o got to secure this position first and to do that, I’ve to to prove to them in the next 2 shifts that I am capable of being a server. 2 more shifts and I believe that will determine if I can stay or leave. they didn’t say exactly that if I fail, then its over but that was the feeling I got.

    I won’t be able to work my next or last 2 shifts until 6 days. I’m very nervous because they said I should know everything by the time I work my 6th day/shift. I’m doing everything but running the good. there are no hostess’ nor busboys, so the servers do almost everything but cook the food and wash the dishes.
    Plus, servers don’t get their own stations or tables, thell all work together and help every table. the tips are all shared.

    I still have to learn to be faster, do more multitasking, and be more efficient when it comes to time.

    I was wondering if there was any advice can you give me for a first time server in this situation and if that mistake I mentioned earlier about not processing the payment correctly and neglecting to ask the customer about it. I’m afraid this mistake might cost me losing the opportunity of being a permanent mekbr of this team.

    • Nathan says:

      Hey Mina,

      Firstly we are only human, and as humans we make mistakes. This however is only a minor hiccup which honestly has no damaging effects. Communication is a vital no only a situation like this, but for many other scenarios in a restaurant.

      Don’t beat yourself up about this, just make sure in the future that if you are not 100% clear on something all you have to do is ask a question to find out what you need.

      Best of luck.

  3. Ginette says:

    Hello Nathan

    In the years of serving , I find that there’s alot of people that is hard to pleased. No matter what you say or do , they will find something to complaint about. I find that sometimes too , that when you do your steps of service accurately , they will still complaint that the server has only been to the table twice. How many times in your opinion , that a server should be doing check backs ?
    I for one , when I go out to dine , I do not like servers doing check backs more than twice , then it just a nuisance. I also find that complaints are most done by women customers. Have you ever encountered that ?

    • Nathan says:

      Hey Ginette,

      For me, I will do check backs for all courses (appetizers, mains, dessert) just to make sure everything is good.

      Apart from that I look for body language or drink levels from a distance, then approach them if I feel that they may need me.

      It never hurts to walk by tables and look for eye contact without having to approach them. If someone needs something, then eye contact will let you know.

  4. singmomunite says:

    I found your page a few minutes ago and I am hooked. I just want to say thank you so very much this page is such a big help. I’m a single mom, student, blogger and tomorrow starting back as a server after eight years. My nervousness is calming more and more as I rad through your page. Thank you so very much again.

  5. These are tips that not only high end restaurants should follow but even the smaller places that seemingly serve just about everything. The more you put customer service and customer care into your business, you’d have more loyal customers talking positively about you and recommending you to other people. Now that’s business.

  6. Courtney says:

    Is there other things you can say besides just walking away after you ask if everything is good and they reply, “Yes.” or “Everything is good.” I feel like walking away seems so awkward to me.

    • Nathan says:

      Hey Courtney,

      Most of the time after I check in on a tables meal and they tell me all is good, I like to say something like “if you need anything else then don’t be shy to let me know”.

      In my opinion that covers all bases with that table and you won’t have to go back constantly to “harass” them. But be sure to keep an eye out on empty plates/glassware and take the appropriate actions.

  7. Nathan says:

    Thanks Paul, you da man.

  8. Carl says:

    Hi, I started working at a restaurant yesterday. I am so happy to find this blog. Thank you so much for putting this up. It’s helping me a lot!

  9. Ryan B. says:

    Been serving for 4 yrs with practically no training, just thrown into it. After my last job being thrown in as service manager/ head server, I realized I had no idea what iI was doing but I was nice and smiled. I quit due to feeling taking advantage of, but now I have an interview at one of the nicest Greek restaurants in town, and this blog just added so many notes to my study guide. Thank you sir! You should look into getting a book published or something

    • Nathan says:

      Hey Ryan,

      I hope everything goes well at your interview, and I’m glad that you were able to get some useful info out of the blog.

      Who knows? maybe one day I’ll put something together and try to get it published. We’ll just have to see :).

      Let me know how it turns out with the Greek restaurant.

  10. irfam says:

    thank youu

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