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How to Be a Good Server

How to Be a Good Server

Last updated on 5/29/2019

Being a server is one of the most rewarding yet difficult jobs in the foodservice industry. To be a good server, you must be hospitable, personable, composed, and a master multi-tasker. Below we take you through several tips to enhance your serving capabilities, so you can feel confident and prepared to offer impeccable service while improving your tips.

Server Tips

Whether or not the restaurant you work for has a solid training plan in place, you can still take agency over your performance. Untap your serving potential by exploring our server tips below.

1. Create a System of Organization that Works for You

Female server writing on notepad

In such a fast-paced environment, it’s easy to lose track of tables or forget an important step. For this reason, it’s essential to come up with a way to organize everything you need to do, giving you a sense of control and diligence over your shift. If you prefer not to use a notepad because it takes you out the flow, that works. On the other hand, if you prefer to write things down, consider creating simple lists or charts. Here is an example:

  • If you know that most tables order three courses, write down “1, 2, 3” once the table has ordered. Cross out each number once the guests have gotten each course and you have already gone back to check on them after each course has been served. In this way, you can keep track of the stage of the meal and ensure that you are being attentive.

Experiment with what works for you, and don’t be afraid to take a minute or two to go through your notepad and make sure you are keeping up.

2. Double and Triple Check Orders

It is better to go back and ask a guest if they ordered pork or steak instead of using up the kitchen’s inventory and having your guest wait another 30 minutes for a new dish. Below are 2 tips to minimize order mistakes:

  • If you think you may have written something down wrong, or if you forgot what a guest said, it is perfectly okay to go back to a table and kindly let the guest know you are just making sure you have their order right. Most guests will not mind and will appreciate your personalized attention to detail.
  • Once you have typed in everything into your POS system, it’s a good idea to double check that you’ve put in everything correctly and included all orders. Taking the extra minute to double check can minimize food waste, increase overall efficiency, and ensure your guests are satisfied.
Fancy male server pouring wine to male who sits across from female

3. Be Prepared to Discuss the Menu

Not only is it critical to know exactly what is in each dish for allergen reasons, but it is helpful for guests if you are able to describe each dish: what it tastes like, the size of the dish, what it looks like, or what is unique about it. Some guests may also ask for recommendations, so it is wise to pick a few dishes beforehand and be able to explain them well. It is also necessary to know how your menu works; be able to give advice on how much or how little food a table should order, which plates are good for sharing, and how a guest should structure their meal. For example, you can recommend that guests choose multiple courses or you can suggest drink and beverage pairings, which can also create a larger check.

4. Upsell Without Pressuring

Throughout the meal, you can try and upsell to create a heftier check. Upselling simply means that you attempt to have your customer choose more expensive items or more items overall. You can do this by describing dishes or drinks in a particularly enticing way. Additionally, using assumptive, suggestive language, like “What would everyone like to drink this evening?” can encourage guests to choose a drink even if they weren’t going to in the first place. Below are other tips for upselling:

  • Recommend appetizers. Instead of asking if guests would like an appetizer, say something like: “Can I bring you some nachos?”
  • Offer extras and toppings. If a guest orders a baked potato and toppings are an extra cost, feel free to ask if they would like cheese, sour cream, and bacon on top.
  • Suggest high-tier liquor over well drinks. Anytime a guest orders a basic cocktail, like a gin and tonic or rum and coke, most liquor-serving establishments will give them the lowest cost spirit available. However, if guests call out a specific higher tier of liquor (a call drink), it costs more. You can encourage call drinks by saying something like, “Would you like Bacardi rum with your coke?”
  • Encourage guests to order desserts. Instead of asking if guests would like dessert, consider saying something like, “This evening for dessert, we are featuring a flourless chocolate cake with a strawberry glaze. Can I interest you?

5. Maintain Composure

Female server pointing at menu at table of two female guests

While you do need to move quickly as a server, it is better to be composed and diligent even if that means you are operating at less than lightning speed. It’s important to stay present so that you are truly taking in what your guests, coworkers, or managers might be relaying to you, minimizing forgetfulness. Below are some ways to ensure that you can stay calm, organized, and composed during service:

  • As mentioned above, it can be beneficial to take a moment and oversee your notepad and assigned tables.
  • Study the menu beforehand and ask any necessary questions about the dishes or any procedures you are uncertain about to your coworkers, the chefs, or your manager.
  • Practice your opening introduction.
  • Take deep breaths throughout service and before reacting to situations, such as unhappy guests or feedback from your manager. You will be able to avoid reacting unprofessionally and defensively by taking a breath and thinking about how to address the situation.

6. Respond to Mistakes Gracefully

Mistakes are likely to happen in such a bustling atmosphere. As such, it’s important to handle them well. If you put in the wrong order for a guest or forgot to bring them another drink, be sure to emphasize that you recognize their dissatisfaction and are willing to go above and beyond to fix it. This shows that you care about your guests, and it will likely neutralize any impact it may have had on your tip. If you handle it particularly well, guests may actually tip you higher.

7. Be Attentive and Tactful When Checking on Guests

As soon as dishes have arrived and guests have taken their first bite, check back on the table to see how everything is, if anything was forgotten, and if they need anything. Try not to come over to tables right when they are chewing, and don’t visit too often in order to give your guests space to enjoy their own experience.

8. Always Say “I’ll Find Out” Over “I Don’t Know"

Part of being a good server is making your guests feel that they are taken care of and in good hands. Saying “I don’t know” has a finality to it and lessens your authority. On the other hand, “I’ll find out” keeps the conversation flowing and shows your guests that you have things under control, even if you don’t know the answer immediately.

9. Be Personable and Authentic

Female server dropping of plate of food to table of older man and woman

But be able to read a table. If it doesn’t seem like guests want to engage in conversation, be sure to leave them be while still being friendly. If guests do want to interact, it can be worthwhile to engage because creating relationships with customers can increase loyalty and tips.

It can be easy to move into autopilot when serving because you may adopt your server hospitable persona. However, guests will appreciate your authenticity, especially if you are having a conversation with them. Further, being personable and creating an intimate experience can go a long way, especially for increasing tips. According to Cornell University, you can embody a personable aura with the following actions to bring in more tips:

  • Introduce yourself
  • Squat next to the table
  • Smiling at customers
  • Briefly touching customers (casual touch on the shoulder, for example)
  • Writing “thank you” or drawing a happy face on checks

10. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

In such a dynamic, quick work environment, it is natural that you might not know how to do everything or you may not have a perfect way to describe every dish. If you aren’t sure about something, take action by asking a coworker or your manager to walk things through with you or to give you advice. This shows that you care about your work, and it helps you feel confident while on the floor.

Just like any skill, you can better your serving abilities with practice and focus. Take some time to reflect after each shift and think about what went well and what didn’t. Go over your notes, learn the menu, and ask questions. If managers, coworkers, or guests give feedback, try not to take it personally and instead always use it as information to master your skill and become a better server.

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