Here are some random dining service tips:
- Station Cleanliness. Even if others are responsible for cleaning the dining room, double check the floor, table, and chairs to make sure they are clean for customers/guests/members. Take action as necessary.
- Table Settings. Double check your tables to make sure the previous shift set the tables properly and all settings are complete, tableware wiped down, glassware clean, napkins properly folded, salt and pepper shakers wiped down and full, sugar caddy clean and stocked, and any other table detail checked.
- High Chairs and Booster Seats. Make sure they are clean, sanitized, and ready to go during service. When you are seating a party is not the time to discover they’re not properly cleaned and sanitized.
- Work as a Team. Servers can accomplish so much more when working as a team then they can individually. Think of your co-workers whenever you do something. If something needs to be done, just do it, regardless of who noticed it.
- Clean Up Spills and Clean as You Go. Spills must be cleaned up immediately as they present a slip and fall hazard. Keep your stations clean as you go. If you make a mess in the kitchen or pantry, clean it up.
- Use Serving Trays. Always use serving trays when serving cocktails and beverages. This applies to alcoholic drinks, coffee, tea, and any other beverage where the glass or cup is not preset on the table. When serving beverages on tables without cloths, always place a bevnap or coaster on the table first.
- Learn Member Names or the Names of Regulars. Check reservations so you can match names with faces. Whenever members sign charge tickets, again reinforce your memory by matching names to faces. Ask co-workers who a particular member or customer is if you don’t know – somebody must know!
- Critical Information. Never approach a table without knowing: daily specials, how they’re prepared, and prices; appetizer(s) of the day; soup(s) of the day; wines by the glass; special desserts; specialty drinks; and any other detail of the day’s offerings. Without this information you’ll surely embarrass yourself.
- Carry your Necessary Tools. Always carry a pen, dup pad, daily food notes from pre-shift meeting, wine key, and a clean service cloth. Even if your establishment is non-smoking, matches are necessary for those customers who wish to step outside for a smoke and come in handy for lighting candles and sterno.
- Sidework. Make sure you fully complete all necessary opening and closing sidework. The idea is to be completely ready for any service need during the meal. Likewise, your closing duties will prepare the dining room for the next shift and ensure the cleanliness and sanitation of the dining room and pantry.
- Check Linen. Make sure table linen does not have a “sour” smell. If so, replace it and notify your supervisor. Also ensure there is an adequate supply of clean linen to meet expected levels of business.
- Responsible Beverage Service. It is against the law to server underage individuals or to over-serve anyone. Be aware of anyone who is drinking heavily. Watch for slurred speech, inability to focus eyes, loss of motor skills, or blank expressions. Alert management to any potential problem.
- Condiments. Before the meal period check any condiments that are served to tables in their original bottles to ensure bottles are clean. If not, wipe down with a clean damp cloth. This applies to various condiments such as ketchup, mustard, A-1 Sauce, hot sauces, etc.
- Dishwash Station. Do not overstack dishwash station. It’ll just result in breakage and spills. Try to help out if possible or make your supervisor aware of the developing problem.
- Music. Music can be a pleasant accompaniment to any meal, but it can also be a source of irritation if played too loud or if the music is inappropriate to the crowd, the mood, or the occasion. Most food service operations subscribe to a music service that provides a wide variety of music. Selecting the most appropriate music for particular meal periods is an important element of establishing ambience. Classical or contemporary jazz is often a good mix for evening meals, while lunch music can mix more popular and light or classic rock. Regardless of selection, playing the music at an appropriate volume is of absolute importance. Managers should establish guidelines for musical selections for each meal period.
- Lighting. Setting the appropriate lighting level is an important element of establishing the ambience in the dining establishment. The lighting level will be determined by the time of day, weather outside, ambient light from the windows, the meal period, the mood you are trying to achieve, whether or not candles or votive lights are used on the tables, and any ancillary lighting such as wall sconces, etc. Most dining areas are equipped with rheostat switches for their lights so that the lighting level can be adjusted. Make sure to check the lights before each meal period to make sure the lighting level is appropriate to the occasion.
- Sun Glare. Many food service facilities have dramatic views from the dining room, sometimes overlooking the cityscape, 18th green, or maybe a lake or park. While these views add much to the diners’ experience, they can also be a source of irritation when the bright sun shines into their eyes. So when the sun gets low, pay attention to whether or not it is shining in anyone’s eyes. Close the blinds or drapes until the sun sets lower; then reopen them so customers can again enjoy the view. Your consideration will be greatly appreciated.
- Table Clearing. While it’s impossible to clear tables noiselessly, it is the hallmark of a quality establishment to clear conscientiously, taking the time and care to stack dirty dishes quietly and remove soiled flatware purposefully instead of slinging it around. Whenever you clear a table, focus on what you’re doing and be aware of the noise you are making. The care you take will enhance the diners’ experience.
- 86’d Items. When the kitchen announces a menu item as “86’d,” i.e., runs out of a particular item, servers must pass the word to other servers as quickly as possible. There is nothing more disappointing to a diner who has ordered a particular item that is no longer available. Spreading the word allows a server to mention such items when announcing and describing featured items to a table.
- In the Weeds. Getting “in the weeds” can happen anytime without warning no matter how prepared you are. While experienced servers know how to kick into overdrive and dig themselves out, it’s also important to let your supervisor and fellow servers know. While you may think they should be able to see when you need help, don’t make this assumption. They’re focusing on their own tasks and may not notice. Remember that we are all part of a team – and teammates are there to help. Usually, being in the weeds passes as quickly as it comes upon you and often all you need is a helping hand for just a few minutes.
- Be Alert. Always keep an eye on your tables. You can usually tell if someone at a table needs something as they will be looking around or trying to get someone’s attention. Check back with your tables frequently to see if everything is alright or if you may get them something else. Be sensitive, though, to diners who are engaged in deep discussion or are enjoying a romantic evening together. They may not appreciate constant interruptions. Always take you cue from the diners.
- Ordering by Memory. It’s always impressive when a server takes orders by memory, though not everyone is able to do this. Usually, a server would not have the confidence to do this until they have been working at the establishment for awhile and are thoroughly familiar with all aspects of the food and beverages offered. If you are comfortable enough to try this, start small by doing it with tables of two. Once your confidence is up, try it with larger tables.
Food service is a detail-intensive business. Reminding your staff periodically of these details will help keep them foremost in their minds.
Excerpted from Food Service Management on the Go, Hospitality Resources International
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This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking hospitality managers throughout the country and around the world.
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