Steps of Service – The Basics

Every 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 the 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 you’re 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 (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 are 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 dessert 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 dessert and coffee or tea. Take everyone’s order and punch it into the P.O.S. then set them up accordingly (milk, cream, sugar, dessert 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.

Thanks and have a great day!