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The rights and lefts, rights and wrongs of service
August 15, 2013 - Anita Hanaburgh
By ANITA HANABURGH
Now that we know how to set the table, let’s find out how to serve. I have mentioned several times the importance of good service in the success of a restaurant. I have stressed the importance of prompt and friendly service, but I?have not always enlightened you on how to serve.
Consider first a good attitude and the customer’s needs, and then consider something I like to call the logistics of service. In fine dining service, there are recognized “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.”
Included in the logistics of service are those actions considered proper when delivering the food to the customer. The logistics of service gives answers to the questions: Is service from the right or the left? How do I load a tray so it doesn’t tip over? Where do I stand when taking a food order? How do I clear a messy table without bumping into the customer?
Over the years, the restaurant industry has developed conventions about the proper way to serve. These rules were developed in the last 100 years as Americans cultivated their own style of service. This service was based upon formal service in wealthy homes then adapted by restaurants and taverns.
It also included methods copied from our European ancestors (although French service is different.) Proper methods are important, but as I?often say, there is the right way, the wrong way, my way, your way and the only way.
There are too many rules to fit into one article, so today I will expound upon the correct side to serve and the correct place to place. Methods of service are developed so the customer is comfortable and the wait staff is efficient. Methods of service are logical and, like table settings, are planned for the right-handed majority.
After the customer is seated, the menu may be presented from either side as it suits the table. The delivery person, usually the hostess, waits until the guest is situated, then presents the menu to the direct front of the customer. Menus are presented so the customer takes special notice.
Next, the waitstaff should stand to the right of the customer when taking an order, as it is more comfortable for people (right-handed people) to turn to the right. Try it! Generally, it is considered better for the wait person to walk around the table and take each order individually rather than shout across others. Drinks are always served from the right with the right hand. Water, iced tea, wine, etc., should be poured from the right with the right hand. If it is a cocktail and there is no food in front of the customer, the drink should be placed at the center right of the person. When food is in the front, the drink is placed to the upper right.
Food should be served from the left with the left hand. Because the customer is drinking with his or her right hand or turning to the right, the logical available space for food service is the left. The plate is placed directly in front of the customer with as little motion as possible.
It is very important to use the correct arm or hand when serving. Because new servers are more comfortable holding a plate with their dominant right hand, they do remember to serve from the left but often use the incorrect hand. Not a good idea:?That right elbow could cause a black eye or cracked nose. Try it! The same is true when serving beverages with the left hand.
When carrying two plates, servers need to remember to switch the last plate into the left hand. I had to remind my students all the time — right with the right, left with the left. (Here’s a mnemonic device:?“Left” and “food” have the same number of letters; “right” and “drink” have the same number.)
Food is removed from the customer’s right with the right hand. The customer is finished, so his or her hands are not in the way. One should always ask before removing unless the plate is completely naked. If possible, do not remove plates until all of the group is finished.
Sometimes circumstances — a booth, a corner, a crowd — do not allow the wait staff to properly place the food. That’s when “the only way” comes in. Passing food from customer to customer should happen when it’s the only way possible. The left side of a booth should be served with the right hand and the right side with the left hand. Try it!
Oh, busboy, these are only a few of the proper points. I have a lot to serve you, so keep reading.
Some restaurants stress these rules so much that they forget the “prompt and friendly” part. I would tell my students and staff that customers always forgive or forget from which side you serve, but they never forget snail service or a grumpy server, so consider using these rules wisely.
If you are serving guests at home, do the right/left rules apply? What do you think?
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