How to be a great restaurant server – chef seattle

Now while you might think to yourself that someone should really be able to figure out what they want from a menu, many diners need a little prodding or just want to know what’s good from the expert (you). So when you say that everything is good, this unfortunate is heard as "I don’t know", "I can’t be bothered" or "I’m scared of recommending a meal that you won’t like." Remember, you are the restaurant’s representative and it doesn’t look good if you don’t know your own products.

We want to hear what you like. Most likely, your own passion and enthusiasm will rub off on us. Of course, you don’t want to build up expectations unreasonably high (e.g., "This is the best duck confit you’ll ever have!"), but we do appreciate that you know your dishes.


If you must play it safe, you can always point out dishes that are popular with other patrons. You also stand a good chance of up-selling appetizers or desserts if your customers think you know your stuff.

Customers also like to hear that they made a good choice after placing their orders. Your affirmation (e.g., "Great choice, the veal is wonderful!") is like a compliment, which makes the customer feel like they did the right thing. If the customer enjoys the meal, you can simply reiterate that it was a good choice after all to leave a positive impression.

In fact, we had a server at one restaurant who had forgotten a drink, mixed up an entree order and ran out of cloth napkins. But the server was an example of superior service because of how professionally he dealt with the situation: he admitted his mistake quickly, sincerely apologized and comped the table. In return, we rewarded the server with a generous tip and the restaurant with a solid review.

We know that being a server is a stressful job, especially on those chaotic Friday nights. Smiling while you’re trying to juggle six to eight tables of hungry diners is never easy. However, just remember that your demeanor should be pleasant and you should be relaxed when you’re on the floor, even while away from the customers. Your customers are there for a pleasant experience and if they see you having a bad day (yes, they will notice), it will rub them the wrong way and lead to a downward spiral of a bad day and bad tips.

By smiling and thanking your customers, you’ll find that you’ll reap the rewards of this small token of appreciation many times over in the long run. Also, remember that a proper smile involves your whole face, not just your mouth. So practice that smile and use it often! (PS: It’s no coincidence many a Hollywood star worked in the food service industry.)

Depending on your restaurant, you may or may not have a dedicated sommelier who can guide customers through that daunting 20-page wine list. Most likely, your wine list is far smaller and you won’t have a sommelier on hand. However, don’t be scared, because knowing your wines and appropriate pairings is a fantastic opportunity for you to look knowledgeable, impress your customers and boost your tips.

Surprisingly, our servers have often been reluctant to recommend any specific wine or even a type of wine and instead showed us what is generally popular. We’re not asking you to know your entire wine selection or educate us on the merits of the ’95 Brunello versus the ’08 Columbia Crest, but we would like you to know enough about your wine selection to make some specific recommendations. It will help you considerably in the long run.

After entrees have been served to one of your tables, instead of asking whether they need anything in general, ask about specific items such as condiments, utensils or refills. By specifically calling out items, you’ll avoid being called over a few minutes later for a bottle of ketchup or an extra spoon because the customer forgot it the first time around. Also, you’ll appear as detail-oriented and genuinely caring of their comfort.

Good timing serves a number of purposes: it reduces the number of trips to each table and makes you look more attentive. The most crucial element of timing takes place immediately after a party has been seated. This is when you’ll be making introductions, mentioning specials, taking drink orders, and most importantly, making your first impression.

However, one thing that I don’t like (and I admit this may be personal), is when a server asks if I specifically would like a wine (or cocktail)… before seeing the actual drink menu. I realize some customers are regulars and will sit down and order from memory, while others might always order a merlot before dinner, but I don’t like the act of being forced to say "No, but I would like a… " or "Let me see the wine menu first". It just feels a bit pushy.

While you want to both meet the needs of your customer and also sell a drink, you also need to leave room for the customer to look over the menu. "Here are your wine and cocktail menus, but would you like to start with any drinks now?" sends the message that they can take their time with the menu, and also addresses the frequent customers who always order the same drink.

After the drinks, outline the daily specials and then inform the table that you’ll be back with drinks and to take orders. Customers appreciate hearing the specials early, because it gets our appetites rolling and also helps them decide what to order. If you mention the specials after you come back, then the customers are forced to decide on the spot if they prefer the special, often delaying the ordering process.

The last note about good timing is when to deliver the bill. This is usually self-evident as the people will be finished with eating and you’ll have already asked them if they want dessert. Don’t miss your upsell by delivering a bill before you have asked if they want dessert; and obviously never while your patrons are still eating because it’s seen as wanting them to leave.

In fact, one study in a mid-west diner showed that servers who were purposefully enthusiastic received less than average tips compared to servers that simply did their job. This doesn’t mean that you should act like a robot, but it does goes to show that some customers are interested in interacting with you, while others just want you to be a transparent part of their meal.

We’ve mentioned it many times already, but we have to list it again as our last point. It’s a fact: happiness is contagious. If you smile at someone, chances are they’ll smile back. Science also shows that even if you’re not happy, acting happy will actually make you feel better. We’re not saying you should carry a smile the whole night (it may even be creepy), but a few strategic smiles will go a long way.