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Etiquette for Food Servers

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As a food server, your professional behavior is important to those being served, as well as to your employer. Proper etiquette creates a pleasing environment for the customer, which helps ensure her happiness with both you and the company you represent. In some situations, it may also result in better tips.

First Impressions: Greetings

A good rule of thumb is to greet your customers and take their drink orders within one minute after being seated. This greeting and speedy attention set the tone for the customer's dining experience, so it is important to start off on the right foot.

Businesslike Behavior

While its important to engage your customers, it can cross the line and get you in trouble. Never assume that a customer is a father, mother or grandmother. Age is very tricky to determine and you may accidentally insult your customer. A good food server can tell which customers want to engage in conversation and which ones prefer not to. While light banter is engaging, lengthy conversations can annoy them while preventing you from giving proper attention to your other customers.

Food and Drink Presentation

Pay particular attention to how you present food and drinks. Never touch the rim of a glass, as this is where the customer has to put her mouth to drink. This also holds true for dishes of food. Keep fingers away from food, off the tops of dishes and the insides of baskets and bowls brought to the table. Plates should always be handled from underneath and presented to the customer from the left. When using trays to carry food, do not set the tray on the table, as the bottom of the tray could be dirty and contaminate the table.

Timely Food Service

Once the customers receive their food, check back to see if everything meets their expectations within two minutes. This gives you the opportunity to attend to any mistakes or omissions quickly, keeping the customers happy before minor concerns turn into major issues. Once the diners have finished eating, all plates, trash and silverware should be promptly removed from the table.

Presenting the Check

Presenting the check is your last contact point and chance to make an impression on your customer before she leaves you a tip. Present the check in a timely and friendly manner. Do not make customers wait for minutes for their bill after they've finished. If two people are fighting over who gets the check, lay the check down in a neutral place on the table and let the customers work it out between themselves. Once the customer places a credit card or cash with the check, process the payment promptly and return with the change and the receipt.


Kay Baxter is a freelance writer that has been writing articles since 1999 on a variety of subjects such as small equine and art instruction. Her book "Miniature Horse Conformation" was published in 2007. Baxter has also had articles published by "Better Homes & Garden" and "The Horse Magazine." Baxter attended Illinois Central College, majoring in art.

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