Jun 15, 2022
A Step-by-Step Guide to Restaurant Table Service
Good restaurant design is about achieving equilibrium between the food, service, and design - in effect, telling a complete story. 

- David Rockwell

Running a restaurant business is no child’s play. The competition in the F&B industry is intense and with 80% of restaurants closing within 5 years, getting the service right is important to stay in business. The secret behind a successful restaurant business lies in the balance of these 3 things:

  • Good food
  • Stellar service
  • Creating memorable experiences

Good service makes all the difference

Believe it or not, servers are the face of your restaurant. When it comes to deciding where to dine, customers today are spoilt for choices. But don’t forget great food, location, and ambiance, can be ruined in minutes because of terrible service. Good service, however, can get your customers back even if other parameters are just about average. As a restaurant owner/manager, encourage your servers to:

  • Engage in meaningful conversation with guests.
  • Understand their underlying needs and make a personal connection.
  • Speak intelligently about various dishes on the menu
  • Give personal recommendations on what to try
  • Suggest which starter will pair well with a particular drink.

These are a few soft aspects to ensure a good restaurant table service. Now let’s delve into a step-by-step process of serving drinks and food the right way!

Table setting

Table setting at a restaurant can broadly be divided into three styles:

  • Formal
  • Casual
  • Basic table

Let’s walk you through each of the styles one by one

Formal table setting

A formal table setting is used in fine-dine full-service restaurants and formal events such as state dinners, black-tie weddings, etc. The setting uses a lot of glassware, silverware, and flatware as these are meant for a six-course meal, including an appetizer, soup, salad, bread, main course (meat or veg), and dessert. 

Steps to set up a formal table setting:

  • Place a clean, ironed, crisp tablecloth.
  • Place a serving plate in the center of the place setting.
  • Place the bread plate to the top left of the serving plate, followed by a butter knife on top of the bread plate with the blade facing down and the handle towards the right.
  • Place the dinner and salad folk on the left side of the serving plate, the salad fork on the outside, and the dinner fork on the inside.
  • Place the dinner knife, salad knife, soup spoon, and teaspoon on the right side of the serving plate from the inside out. 
  • Make sure that all flatware is evenly placed.
  • Next, place the dessert spoon above the serving plate horizontally with the handle towards the right.
  • The water glass goes above the dinner knife.
  • Next goes the white wine glass below the water glass, slightly to the right.
  • The red wine glass is slight to the right above the white wine glass.
  • A cup and saucer are placed above the soup spoon to the right.

Casual table setting

More popularly known as an informal table setting, this kind of setting is popular in contemporary casual restaurants. The setting is designed for three-course meals. 

Steps to set up a casual table setting:

  • Place a serving plate in the middle of the table setting.
  • Place the bread plate to the top left of the serving plate. 
  • The butter knife goes on top of the bread plate with the blade facing down and the handle towards the right.
  • On the left side of the serving plate, place a salad fork outside and a dinner fork inside.
  • On the right side of the serving plate, place the dinner knife, soup spoon, and teaspoon inside out.
  • The water glass has to be placed above the dinner knife.
  • The wine glass should be placed to the right of the water glass.

Basic table setting

A basic table setting is suitable for any restaurant or cafe. This is the table setting used in diners, cafes, breakfast places, family restaurants, and a placemat or a coffee cup. 

Steps to set up a basic table setting:

  • Lay a placemat.
  • Place the serving plate in the middle of the placemat.
  • Place a napkin to the left of the plate.
  • Place the fork on top of the napkin.
  • Place a knife to the right of the plate.
  • Place a water glass above the knife and slightly to the right.

Other aspects that require attention

Presenting the menu

  • Always present the menu from the left-hand side of the guests.
  • Stand to the left side of the guests to take orders.

Handling the glassware, silverware, and flatware

  • Use a service tray when setting or clearing the table.
  • Place and pick stem glasses by the stem or base of the bowl.
  • Pick the plates by the rim or edge of the plate. 
  • Pick the silverware by the neck and not the handle.
  • Always place all the cutlery and crockery 2 inches away from the table’s edge.
  • Cup and saucer always go on the right when served with the meal.
  • Bread and butter plate on the left side.
  • Knife and cutlery on the right side.

Serving water and drinks

  • Pick the water glass by the stem from the table and bring it to you before pouring the water.
  • The wine glass stays on the table, and the label of the wine bottle should face the guest.
  • Slightly twist the wrist when pouring to avoid any drips or spills.

Food service rules

  • Bread and butter are served from the left side.
  • Beverages (alcohol/mocktails) should always be served from the right-hand side.
  • Serving the food from the platter onto a guest’s plate should be done from the left side.
  • Pre-plated food should be served from the right side.

Clearing the table

  • Pick the table from the right and then stack the silverware onto the plate
  • Never stack anything on the plate when it is on the table
  • Clear the dinner and bread plate before serving dessert
  • Pull the dessert cutlery down

Post-meal coffee service

  • Coffee service is always done with a service tray
  • Place the coffee service items (cup, saucer, and spoon) on the table

Other finer aspects

  • Ladies should always be served first; the oldest lady on the table to be served first
  • If someone is hosting a dinner, their glasses will be filled after their guest
  • Hold the serving bowl or plate with your left hand and always serve food with the right hand

By following these step-by-step guidelines for restaurant table service, you can ace the art of table service and ensure customers always keep coming back to you.

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