Restaurant Consulting

How To Be a Good Server in a Restaurant

By Daniel Kezner

The restaurant industry is dynamic and diverse, requiring a server to wear many hats and juggle various roles. Excelling as a restaurant server goes beyond taking orders, serving food, and basic service etiquette. A genuinely excellent waiter or waitress takes the time to understand the art of service from unique and creative angles. This article aims to look at service from three unique perspectives you won’t find on your standard “how to be a good server” list– personal branding, consumer and service psychology, and cultural sensitivity. Then, we’ll round the article off with some basic but essential tips for any server to integrate into their day-to-day performance.

15 Basic Tips to Become an Excellent Restaurant Server

Before jumping into more advanced strategies, understanding the basics of effective service must be your first priority. Here are fifteen essential tips to begin with:

  1. Greet Customers with a Warm Welcome to ensure a positive start to each customer interaction with an energetic and timely greeting.
  2. Practice Professional Friendliness and balance engaging conversation and respect for customer privacy.
  3. Master Your Menu Inside and Out to provide informed recommendations about customer orders, answer queries effectively, and address specific dietary needs.
  4. Fulfill Customer Requests When Possible by offering alternative solutions when original requests cannot be met.
  5. Create Genuine Interactions with guests that are authentic and heartfelt while maintaining an upbeat and professional attitude.
  6. Proactively Address Guest Needs by utilizing your expertise to predict and cater to guests ahead of time, such as bringing condiments with the meal.
  7. Appropriately Time Customer Check-Ins to give guests enough space to enjoy their meal while being available for their requests.
  8. Respectfully Suggest Additional Items like complimentary plates, drinks, and desserts at suitable moments during their visit.
  9. Choose Comfortable, Safe Footwear that provides comfort and safety for long hours of standing and kitchen safety.
  10. Embrace Physical Aspects of the Job, like cleaning and table arrangement, and don’t hesitate to ask for assistance when needed.
  11. Handle Feedback with Poise and a calm demeanor so you can clarify the issue, propose solutions, and involve a manager when necessary.
  12. Swiftly Determine Task Priorities, particularly during peak hours, and learn from seasoned servers on efficient task handling.
  13. Effectively Juggle Multiple Tasks, such as cleaning up while serving, to enhance your efficiency and table turnaround.
  14. Cultivate Relationships with Back-of-House Staff for smoother, more efficient service and a more enjoyable overall experience.
  15. Show Gratitude to Customers at the end of their meal to foster goodwill, encourage return visits, and generate more tips.

Taking Your Serving Career to the Next Level

Aside from tending to the basics, there are several ways you can elevate your work as a server by shifting your perspective. Instead of viewing serving as “just a job,” take it more seriously. With the proper approach, serving can be a highly fruitful career, whether you plan to remain in the industry or not. Let’s look at three ways you can do this.

Embrace the Power of Personal Branding as a Restaurant Server

When most people think about personal branding, they probably don’t picture restaurant servers. However, being a good restaurant server goes beyond the name tag. Understanding the concept of personal branding is essential for propelling your career forward, whether or not you intend to build a career in the restaurant industry.

We all have unique identities, styles, and strengths that we bring to the workplace. Learning to identify and highlight these in your daily interactions is the first step toward building a personal brand. It’s how customers remember you and how colleagues describe you. The stronger and more consistent your brand, the more memorable you will become, and building a memorable brand can lead to a wealth of opportunity and growth in your future.

Sharpen Your Communication Skills
Your communication skills are the cornerstone of your brand. Developing a style that is unique, authentic, and respectful is essential. This includes learning to listen attentively, speak confidently, employ tasteful and respectful humor, and balance friendliness with professionalism.

Pay Close Attention to Your Appearance
The saying “dress for success” is just hyperbole. Your attire and grooming speak volumes before you even utter a word. While it’s crucial to balance your style with the norms and expectations of the restaurant you work in, creating a professional yet authentic appearance will pay enormous dividends for your reputation with customers and employers.

Invest in Networking and Relationships
A restaurant setting is a fantastic place to network and build lasting relationships. Building positive relationships with customers and coworkers creates a network of advocates for your brand. Your connections through customer interactions can open doors to new opportunities you’d never anticipate. Consider creating personal business cards that you can give to customers. This will build a list of regular customers who can contact you when they want to reserve a table, which your employers will greatly appreciate, and it can lead to other professional opportunities in the future.

Consider the Advantages of Building a Social Media Presence
In today’s digital age, an online presence is a powerful tool for personal branding. Platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram, or a personal blog allow you to share your experiences, insights, and milestones related to serving. A solid online presence is a fabulous asset that your employers will recognize and serve as an extension of your brand beyond the restaurant’s walls.

Use Feedback and Criticism for Personal Growth
Customer, peer, and employer feedback is a goldmine for personal and professional growth. Constructive criticism, although sometimes hard to swallow, is essential. Rather than taking it personally and avoiding it, encourage your customers, coworkers, and employers to give you feedback and criticism. Then, use it to improve yourself and your brand.

Planning for Career Growth
Align your career goals with your brand. Whether aiming for a management position, becoming a consultant or trainer, or growing beyond the restaurant industry, your brand should be the foundation for these goals. Actively seek opportunities by placing yourself in situations where you will be exposed to relationships that offer advancement and skill development.

Enhancing Service Skills
Service excellence is a journey, not a destination. Continual learning and improvement in service techniques are vital. Adapting to different customer types and situations enhances your skill set and enriches your brand.

Restaurant Servers Can Greatly Benefit from Understanding Consumer Psychology

Another key to excellent service is understanding and responding to customer moods and preferences. Understanding the psychology of your customers is not just a skill – it’s a necessity in every business situation. Becoming adept at reading body language, facial expressions, and verbal cues can help you tailor your approach to each customer and ensure a personalized experience.

Employ Empathy at Every Table
Empathy plays a crucial role here – anticipating and acting on customer needs can transform a regular meal into an unforgettable one. Empathy is about putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and considering the details you would appreciate if you were them. It’s about understanding their needs and expectations and getting creative with your service to provide a personalized experience.

Learn to Observe Body Language and Facial Expressions
Body language and facial expressions are vital indicators of a customer’s mood and satisfaction. While a relaxed posture and a smile suggest contentment, a furrowed brow might suggest confusion, perhaps about menu choices, prompting you to offer assistance or explanations. A server who can read these signs can adjust their approach accordingly. Spend time learning the basics of body language on YouTube, and you will begin to notice these subtle signs everywhere you look.

Notice Verbal and Non-Verbal Cues
Verbal communication is not just about the words spoken but also the tone, pace, and volume. A customer’s excitement or pleasure can often be heard in their tone. Similarly, hesitation in their voice might suggest uncertainty, where a server can step in to provide recommendations. Paying attention to what customers say and how they say it offers invaluable insights into their needs and preferences.

Non-verbal cues include gestures, eye contact, and even the pace at which a customer eats. For instance, a customer scanning the room might be looking for assistance, while one who avoids eye contact could signal a desire for privacy. Noticing these subtle cues and responding appropriately can significantly improve the customer experience.

Responding to These Psychological Cues Can Lead to More Tips
The true art lies in responding to these cues to enhance the customer’s experience. This could mean giving more personal space, engaging in conversation, or providing quicker service. The key is to be observant, empathetic, and adaptable, tailoring your service to each customer’s unspoken needs.

Being adept at reading body language, facial expressions, and verbal and non-verbal cues is essential for any server aiming to provide top-notch service and earn the best money possible. Creating a connection beyond the transactional nature of ordering and serving food turns a simple meal into an impressive experience.

Learn to Observe Cultural Sensitivities in Dining Room Service

Dining customs vary significantly across cultures. For instance, while some cultures consider sharing dishes a norm, others might prefer individual servings. Learning to observe cultural sensitivity in restaurant service will help you understand and respect each customer’s diverse backgrounds and preferences. If you’re working at a restaurant serving a particular cultural cuisine or working in an area with customers from specific countries, learning the culture’s customs and sensitivities will create a welcoming experience that international customers will genuinely appreciate.

Enhance Your Communication Through Basic Language Skills

Effective communication is a cornerstone of good service regardless of spoken language. Most servers would be amazed by the immense impact of learning a few simple yet key phrases on non-English-speaking customers. It’s not about fluency but the effort to bridge the communication gap, which customers often appreciate.

When language barriers arise, it’s important to maintain patience and use clear, simple language. Visual aids, such as pointing to menu items or using translation apps, can also help ensure the customer’s needs are understood and met.

Be Aware Non-verbal Communication Across Cultures
Non-verbal cues, such as gestures and facial expressions, can vary in meaning from one culture to another. For instance, maintaining eye contact might be seen as respectful in some cultures while being perceived as intrusive in others. You must research and understand these differences to avoid miscommunication and offense.

Dietary Preferences and Restrictions Across Cultures
A great server has a vast knowledge of various dietary restrictions beyond their own eating habits, whether due to religious beliefs or health reasons. Do your research and be equipped to answer questions regarding menu items and, if necessary, suggest alternatives that align with specific cultural dietary needs.

Combining Perspectives for Exceptional Service

Being a good server in a restaurant goes beyond the basics of taking orders and serving food. It’s about understanding and integrating various aspects of service to create a memorable dining experience for customers. Incorporating these perspectives can lead to well-rounded, exceptional service. Understanding the psychological aspects of service, being culturally sensitive, and building a solid personal brand are not standalone skills but interconnected facets of the same goal – service excellence.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences if you found this article helpful! We’d also love to connect if you are a restaurant owner looking for professional service training. Keep following our blog for more insights and tips in the restaurant and hospitality sector.

Meet The Author

Daniel Kezner

CEO / Owner
From training staff to designing kitchens to refining brands, we’ve done it all during our 25+ years in the industry. And we can help you get it done too. We’ve developed the strategies to make it work....and that’s what makes us the consultants who can help you get where you want to be.
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