Build a Winning Restaurant Serving Staff: Part 1

restaurant_serving_1When most people discuss restaurant experiences with their friends and co-workers they tend to focus on two things, the food and the service.

Your front-of-house staff are the liaisons between your business and your guests. They’re the ones responsible for ensuring a terrific experience for every single person that enters your door.

With the stakes that high, it’s a good idea to ensure that you’re deploying the most well-trained, well-mannered, customer-centered fleet of servers you possibly can. Wouldn’t you agree?

So, what makes a great restaurant server? And how can you get your staff to that level of greatness? Let’s dive into some basics in part one of a five part look at restaurant serving best practices.

Knowledge is Power

Servers should know your menu like the backs of their hands. Give all new servers a copy of your menu as part of their training documents and have them learn it inside and out. The menu is the most important document in the restaurant so it should be examined, re-examined, and examined again.

Don’t stop there, however. Your training manual should give servers more info than what’s on the menu. Customers can read the menu themselves, your servers need to know more. Ingredients, sauces, garnishes, how the dish is prepared, etc. A key part of a server’s job is to be able to handle those questions that aren’t answered on the page. And remember, food allergies are serious business. If guests note certain allergies it’s best to know which dishes to recommend and which ones to avoid.

Ideally, servers know the menu because they’ve tasted all of its offerings themselves. Allergies or other dietary considerations (e.g. a vegan diet) may sometimes prevent this. In those cases, staff should at least get input on those untasted dishes from their fellow employees.

Keep copies of these documents somewhere easily accessible in the front-of-house for quick reference. There’s no shame in not knowing the answer to a question. Rather than allowing your servers to say “I don’t know”, be sure they’re empowered enough to answer “I’m not sure, but I can find out pretty quickly, one moment.”


Every training path for a new server involves a certain amount of shadowing. When choosing which of your existing servers will act as your teachers, keep personality types in mind. Some servers excel at the mechanics of the job, and are perfectly pleasant with guests. That doesn’t mean they’ll make the best mentors in every case.

Focus on top staff who seem to genuinely enjoy teaching newcomers and won’t be hindered by having to slow down for new trainees.

Learning Beyond Basic Training

It’s also a great idea for servers to learn as much as they can about wine. They don’t need to become Robert Parker, but diners do appreciate a server than can offer recommendations on wines and appropriate food pairings. Don’t have wine pairing info as part of your training docs? Here’s a couple of links to help get you started.  (Wine and Food Pairing Charts)  (Wine Pairing 101)

If you’re a popular tourist spot, it wouldn’t hurt for your serving staff to brush up on nearby attractions, concert venues, theater locations, etc. Not mandatory, but a good idea.

And remember, learning doesn’t need to stop once someone’s off the clock. Servers: when you’re out to eat with friends at other restaurants, watch their waitstaff. Learn from them, both the good ones and the bad ones.

Tools of the Trade

This section addresses servers directly, but managers should feel free to pass these tips along. 

Being prepared to tackle a packed dining room means arriving properly equipped. Here’s a short list of items servers should carry while on the job. 

1. At least three pens. Go with clicky tops whenever possible. Always have a couple of spares to leave with guests. And watch your pens like a hawk. If you leave one laying around, consider it history. If you’ve got room in your apron for more than three, load up.

2. Wine opener. Learn how to use it. Get management or the bartenders to show you how to use it if you don’t know how.

3. Lighter. It doesn’t matter if you smoke or not, have a lighter on you. If customers bring in a birthday cake or your restaurant puts a candle in a guest’s dessert on their special day, you’ll save yourself the time and hassle of running around looking for one.

4. Breath mints or breath spray. If you had a Caesar salad or some other garlic-heavy dish on your break, make sure you’re not approaching tables with foul-smelling breath. Smokers would be wise to keep this tip in mind as well. Pop outside for a puff by all means, but freshen your breath again before approaching tables.

5. Table crumber. Depending on how classy your restaurant is, you may wish to invest in one of these.

6. Float. If you’re required to provide your own float, a good rule of thumb is to start with the same amount every shift and know exactly how much is in there. That way you know exactly how much you made in tips after you’ve finished your cash out.

7. Coin Dispenser. This one is optional depending on how annoyed you are with loose change in your apron. Servers in Canada may find this one useful for keeping their toonies and loonies in order.

8. Hot Cloth/Waiter’s Cloth. Here’s a potential cost-saving opportunity for you operators. We’ve seen napkin supplies run dry as servers grab handfuls of them to help with handling hot plates. That’s a waste of supplies. Consider investing in small cloths for your serving staff. Make it part of the uniform, and make sure they’re carrying it at all times.

9. Tide to Go. We have no brand preference here, so feel free to use a competing stain remover. The point is you should consider carrying something that can remove pesky food stains quickly.

Did we miss anything crucial? Tell us about it below.

This is only part one of our series. In the upcoming installments we’ll look at the mechanics of serving, the importance of reading a table, anticipating guest needs, upselling, dealing with diffucult guests, social media use, and more. Stay tuned!

Looking for ideas to help increase your establishment’s efficiency? Check out our free ebook at the button below for a look at improving your restaurant’s ordering practices. 


The post originally appeared on’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.


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