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Steps to being an effective server

Updated on December 29, 2013

Being a server in a restaurant can be a stressful and tiring job. Organizing your steps and creating a routine can make you an effective server. Attitude is important. No one wants a grumpy server. The more relaxed the atmosphere, the type of customer service you provide, and your demeanor as a server can make the difference on the size of the tip your will receive.

Step 1: Introduce Yourself

Approach the table with a smile and hand out menus (if your hostess has not yet). Welcome the customers, introduce yourself, and then let the customers know what is on special for the day.

An example of this: Hi, welcome to Sally’s grill. My name is Sandy and I will be your server for tonight. The special(s) we have today is a Grilled pork chops with a side of roasted garlic mash potatoes.

Step 2: Get Drink Order

Next, take their drink orders and tell them you will be right back to take their order. Go get the drinks ready. If you happen to have a table seated while waiting on first table, repeat step one and get their drink order also. This way you can serve both table drink orders around the same time, without having to backtrack back to the drink station.

Step 3: Take Order

Return with their drinks and ask if they are ready to order. If they are: take their order. Always, suggest sides and appetizers. If you had a second table, after you take table #1's order take table #2's orders. If they are not ready to order, give them a few minutes and go wait/check on another table or work on table you are already waiting on.

Step 4: Putting order in to kitchen

Next the timing of putting in the orders to the kitchen. You want to time yourself that their main meal will be done after they had time to enjoy their soup, salad, or appetizer. If they did not order any of these items, then always put the order in pronto.

Some basic tips on timing:

  1. Always put in appetizers in first. Then wait until the appetizer is done or almost done and put in the main meal. But there are some exceptions to this rule:
  2. If the Kitchen is busy, put both orders in right away but let the cook know one is an appetizer. Any order that has an item that will take some time put that order in ASAP.
  3. If someone orders something that is quick but also has salad, soup, or appetizer. You may want to wait a few minutes to put that order in. Best thing on these types of orders is serve the salad, soup or appetizer first, and then put the order in with the kitchen.

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Step 5: Pre-meal tasks

Next prepare and bring salads, soups, and appetizers to the table. Always check to see if they need drink refills.

Step 6: Serving Main Course

Next wait for kitchen to prepare main dishes to be done. In the meantime, wait on any new tables that might have been seated and start the process over. Experience will get you use to the timing of the kitchen. Some places provide their servers with beepers to let them know when their order is ready. Then bring main entrée to table and serve them. Always pick up any plates or items that the customer is done with as you are handing them their meals. Ask customers if they need anything else. This could be sauces, condiments, or maybe even another drink.

Some Important tips to make you more effective

  • Always smile and always pre-bus, pre bus, pre-bus! No one wants to be eating their main meal or dessert with dirty dishes siting all over their table.
  • Never make your customers wait. Learn the timing of your meals and pace yourself so the customers feel they had an even flow between settings. This also makes your job so much easier. You will not feel overwhelmed.
  • Always refill the customers’ drinks; you can check their drinks when you return each time to their table. If it’s early in the meal, glance at their table when you are waiting on another table and see their drink status. If their glasses are less than half full get their refills ready and bring it with you on your next trip out to the dining area. Please remember when serving their drinks; always handle the glasses on the side near the center. Do not put your hand over the top rim of the glass.
  • Organize your routine between tables that you are always taking the least walking steps possible. If you are carrying sometime to a table such as drinks or main dish, you should always be coming back to the kitchen with something on your tray, such as dirty dishes.
  • Keep conversation light and non-personal. Your customers do not want to hear about your problems or even the problems you might be having within your job internally. Always leave home at home and work at work.
  • Remember to always tip your bus person/runner at the end of the night. Best guide is at least 10% of your total tips. If it was not for them resetting your tables then you would not have any customers at your tables.

Step 7: Check Back

On your way through the dining room, Check back on customers. Make sure their meal is to their liking and if they need anything else. Always have access to extra napkins.

Step 8: Post Meal

Approach their table again when they are finished with their meal; ask if they would like desserts. At this time pick up the main dishes off the table. If someone still has some food left over, ask if they would like a take-out container. Sometimes it easier, if you glance over at their table before your approach and if you see that they have food left; bring a few take out containers with you.

Step 9: Dessert

If they order dessert, prepare and serve these. Always offer coffee with dessert. Next serve the desserts along with their check. If they did not order dessert, tell them that you will be right back with their check. Then go prepare and serve them their check.

Step 10: Payment and Exit

Take payment and process or direct the customer where they can pay their check. Always, thank customers and wish them a good evening or afternoon.

Step 11: Post Customers

After the customers vacate the table area, prepare your table for the next seating. Pick up your tip and any receipts. If you have bus persons/runners at the establishment, they will do the cleaning for you. Only thing left on your table should be dessert plates (if served), drink glasses, coffee cups, and silverware that they used for their dessert.

If you did your job effectively, most customers will leave you a decent tip. Do not get discourage is someone leaves you a small tip. Some customers only tip $1-$2 no matter how much their meal cost. Average guideline is 15% of the total bill. Some might leave more while others will leave less.

Many do not realize how many steps go into being a server. Best thing to do is find a routine that works. Always be friendly and listen to your customers. Sometimes issues arise that are not your fault: a kitchen mistake, an unsatisfied customer, or just overly busy. But if you stick to your routine and remember to smile, you will make it through your shift and feel it was worth it.

Author of this article,Trisha Cann, was a server, dietary aide, and a kitchen manager for 5+ years at the Wings, Lino's at the Airport, and an nursing facility.


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