Service Station: What the Waiter Said

Eric Weiss - October 2013

“Guess you didn’t like that!” a server says to a guest who has cleaned his plate. Or “Boy, you really scarfed down that bread pudding, didn't you?” Inappropriate remarks and other snafus are addressed by Eric Weiss (ServiceArtsInc.com).

Don't think for a moment that words and gestures go unnoticed by your clientele. Every move you make, every glass you break, every cocktail you shake, every smile you fake—they are watching you and listening to you. Be sure you or your staff are not making the following mistakes.

Judge Not
If a server says, "Boy, you really scarfed down that banana bread pudding, didn't you?," he might as well be saying you shouldn't stop attending Weight Watchers meetings. No one wants to feel his server is measuring how much, how little, how fast, or how slowly he’s eating. Your role is not to comment on your guest's eating habits—it's to serve them.

The Lobster Claw
In our germophobic world, guests are paying attention to how restaurants address hygiene issues. Serving and clearing multiple glasses with hands or fingers anywhere near the rim is a definite no-no. Keep the lobster claws in Maine.

Glasses should be carried on a cocktail tray. If carrying a single glass in the dining room, it should be handled by the stem; beer or water glasses, at the bottom.

How Is Everything?
If a server or manager asks me this while I'm eating, my sassy side wants to blurt out, "My bank account, my health or my marriage?” The wiser part of me usually refrains. Asking a general question like this infers the server has no idea what I'm eating, doesn’t care, or is just going through the motions.

When checking back at a table, refer to a specific dish. "I hope you like your grilled chicken" or comment about the provenance of a certain ingredient. It shows your guest that you're paying attention, which ultimately is perceived that you care. Sometimes it’s best to say or ask nothing at all—just observe and make sure the guests have everything they need. A verbal "check-back" after every course can be superfluous, annoying, and disruptive.

Where’s the Spoon?
Not everyone likes to share utensils or pour extra ice into their glass.

Too many times, condiments, ice, or shared dishes are served without utensils. Even the couple celebrating their golden anniversary may not want to use their own silverware to dish out food from a common plate. Make sure there are the proper serving utensils when bringing shared foods, extra sauces, and ice.

Service Interruptus
One of my all-time pet peeves is a server approaching a table completely oblivious to ongoing conversations.

Years ago, when dining out with a restaurant critic, our server must have interrupted us at least six times. As I was the guest, I felt uncomfortable saying anything, but after the third time, I politely stated that we wanted some time without intervention. He was good for the next 10 minutes and then regressed to "service interruptus."

You need to be attentive to guests' interactions. There will always be a moment to seamlessly engage at the table. It's up to you find it by observing and listening. If all else fails, take the "power position," acknowledge that you are interrupting with a simple, "Excuse me," wait a few seconds, and then deliver your message.

My Name Is Jessica, and I’m Going to be Taking Care of You
How often does a diner need to hear that same scripted introduction before realizing they have a Stepford wife instead of a server? Personalization and authenticity have always been a key element in excellent service.

Vary your introductions table-side. Don't forget that guests listen to what you say at neighboring tables. Keep it fresh. It makes service so much more interesting and real.