As I dressed for the important dinner, I selected my favorite lime green sweater and the matching flowered skirt.
This long sweater was substantial enough to keep me warm on a wintry night yet dressy enough for this business dinner.
The dinner was celebrating a successful fundraiser and I was invited as a way to thank me for judging the cooking contest.
I was somewhat apprehensive about the dinner of 20 because I did not know anyone.
The dinner progressed well.
When our orders arrived, I moved over to give the waiter space to place the food.
My head hit his tray and the asparagus hit my back.
The entire bowl of buttered olive green spears coated my lime green.
Ooooooh busboy. It was hot.
I jumped up. My neighbor to the left stuck her cloth napkin between my sweater and my burning back. The waiter turned green.
Of course, I survived the incident.
Talk about an ice breaker.
I now have 20 more good friends.
The restaurant was wonderful about it, offering to pay for the doctor, if necessary, and the cleaning of the sweater. The manager called me the next day to make sure I was OK.
I felt very sorry for the waiter at first.
Then I got to thinking.
My head hit his restaurant tray that held the family-style vegetables.
What was that large, oval serving tray doing so close to a customer's head anyway?
For obvious reasons, the guest should never be served directly from or the table should never be cleared directly onto, a large tray being held by the waiter. The tray should be placed on a tray stand and the food transported to and from the table to the stand.
Sometimes, I would let one student carry around a full tray of, say, desserts and another student serve off that tray.
The carrying student would stay a careful distance from the customer.
A tray should never be placed on a table where customers are still sitting.
If there was anything that would cause immediate anxiety with my students, it was the thought of carrying serving trays full of food or dirty dishes.
A new wait person must learn to carry both large and small trays.
As always, practice makes perfect.
Here are some pointers that may help.
Do not put more on the tray than you can carry.
If you are carrying a tray with no cork or non-skid surface, then place a damp towel on the tray to prevent items from slipping.
Always place heavy items in the center of the tray and slightly towards the carrier.
Full liquids should be placed towards the center.
Put flatware and small items toward the outer edge.
Nothing should hang over the edge.
When delivering plates of food, the bottom of the plate should not touch the food when placed.
When carried, open plates of food should be kept well way from the server's hair.
Hot meals should be covered with protective covers to protect them and keep warm on the way to the table.
When clearing, fill a tray neatly. Messy unsightly trays are a customer "turn off."
Arrange the tray.
Quietly scrape the waste food onto one plate when the tray is resting on the stand never near the customer or on the table. Pile plates, saucers and cups if possible.
When carrying one can cover a tray of dirty dishes with a cloth napkin to makes it more presentable.
The "high carry" is when the wait person places the tray at or above the shoulder.
To lift a large tray, one should allow six inches of the tray to project over the edge of the tray stand.
Place the flattened palm under the edge of the large tray towards the middle of the broadside.
Bend at the knees and lift with your legs and back as you slide the tray out onto your flattened palm.
Right-handed people usually use their right hand, but one should practice to find his or her more comfortable hand.
Grip the edge of the tray with the free hand.
The tray may be rested on the shoulder for additional support.
This carry is the most recommended for walking between customers.
A small tray may be carried at the shoulder or waist level.
For waist level, the upper arm is held close to the body and the elbow is locked in position.
The server should stand straight to keep the tray straight with the weight of the tray on the hand not the forearm.
A good wait person will adroitly carry a small tray with one hand - the safest and most efficient method. The non-carrying hand should extend around the tray to guard it and its contents as it passes through a crowd.
Most of my readers are non-hospitality professionals and are now saying "phew, I will never have to carry a tray in my life. "
Well, why not try it?
It could make a great family night activity.
Use a cookie tray with an edge.
Clear the dinner dishes.
Practice walking around the house, watch the doors and don't use grandma's china that night.
Restaurant Watch: See how the wait staff carry trays