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How restaurant servers should approach the table

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In the June issue, editor Michael Sanson wrote about an experience in a restaurant where the server continually interrupted the conversation of the guests at the table. The server displayed no finesse or tact each time she approached the table. Some servers simply don’t care, Sanson wrote, and some are not properly trained. Here are excerpts from letters commenting on this scenario.

I am a server and I don’t like interrupting anyone, but sometimes it is hard to tell if anyone even saw me. It’s important for both parties to pay attention. I always apologize and or try to make a joke just so they know I am there and ready to serve them. I love my job and I love people. I wish more people would have more appreciation for what we do as servers.

Nicole Walles
Heroes West Sports Grille
Joliet, IL

Back in my server days I had a great trick that I often used. When I needed to take an order, check for cocktail refills, sell desserts and coffee, I found it difficult to interrupt a party, especially a large party of six or more.  Rather than question the entire table at once, I would “take a knee” next to a person, (the host if I could), and quietly whisper my query to them. “Would you folks like to order coffee and dessert?  At that point, I would let a member of the party interrupt the guests instead of me. I did it for years and it works.

Steve Rosen
Roasters N Toasters New York Deli
Miami Beach

A few years ago I responded to an article you wrote, I believe the title was “Are you still working on that?” I called you a snob and accused you of being unfairly judgmental. A wise person once told me, “If you throw a stone into a pack of wolves the one that howls the loudest is the one that got hit.” I want to recant my original opinion.

A few years later, my boss is still posting your work and I’m still reading. I would genuinely like to thank you for all the helpful hints throughout the years. After many years of serving, I can no longer rely on cuteness to pay my bills. Although my face is beginning to fall and my swag is no more, my skills are sharper than ever. So please keep imparting your wisdom onto us.

Kelly France
The Village Kitchen
Ann Arbor, MI

I agree; the conversation should not be interrupted. However, what are your thoughts on when a server goes to a table and the conversation has no pause, and no one makes eye contact to even gesture that you are there to make sure everything is great? Walk away and try back in a few minutes?

Eve Greene
Manager, Server, Bartender
Peter Ott’s Steakhouse
Camden, ME

Editor’s Note: See Steve Rosen’s comments above. I love how he handles this difficult situation.

This is a huge topic when training servers. It’s their job to know how to read guests and when to make the judgment call on approaching the table during conversation.  There is a thing called unobtrusive service, where you are polite, courteous and anticipating needs, yet not get in the way of the guest. This is a behavior that can be learned and I feel gets better with time.

On a side note and from a servers perspective, I could see where if you were the last table in the dining room and at the end of lunch, some servers may feel the need to rush service—either because they may have to roll right into the dinner shift or they just want to go home.  This obviously is not the correct procedure for taking care of guests at anytime of day, but as you said some just don’t care or are not properly trained and that’s the unfortunate side of the hospitality industry. 

Patrick Greene
Assistant Manager
Washington Duke Inn
Durham, NC


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