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May 3, 2007 05:39 AM

Service protocols. How do you stand on the old standards?

How do you feel about traditional service standards?

Service from the right?

Not taking anyone's plate away until everyone is finished (even if someone is clearly done with their food to the extend of having pushed the plate forward).

Taking orders from and serving ladies first?


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  1. some table configurations and placements prevent serving from the right. i'm fine as long as i am not elbowed in the face.

    plates should remain until everyone is finished. that is one of my pet peeves. however, i don't like when plates are left because the server or busser is too afraid to ask if we are finished.

    as an addendum to that, do NOT ask me if i "am still working on that." it's gauche. my silver is appropriately placed to indicate whether or not i am finished. if you're too ignorant to realize that, ask me "may i clear your plate?"

    as far as order-taking and serving ladies first, it's nice but not a deal-breaker in my book. especially on a round table. i'd prefer a nice smooth clock-wise rotation there.

    overall, i prefer gracefulness and being unobtrusive to protocol, which is sadly lacking in training of service staff today, except in the most high-end places. sometimes even there.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      As someone who waited tables for what seemed like ages I want to reply to the 'are you still working on that comment'. While silver placement should indeed be an indication of whether a person is finished, I have seen people put their silver an infinite number of configurations and, believe me, the law is not universal. There is no way to know what every person is trying to indicate in every situation because it is different to every person.

      Of course, "may I clear you plate?" is much more tactful.

    2. depends on the restaurant of course.

      as far as "service from the right" goes- in general i'm a fan of service that imposes the least on the guest. say if a couple is leaning in to each other- i'm not going to try to get between them just to maintain a service from the right rule.

      we wait until everyone is finished eating to clear so you don't ailienate the person who is still eating. the exception is when a guest asks for his plate to be taken- and when he moves his plate aside it is considered a non-verbal request.

      serving ladies first again depends on the restaurant and also the guests. if it's a couple on a date then YES, definitely the old fasioned rule applies. if it's business people dining though you have to be careful. women have had to push hard to be considered equal to men in the business world and treating them different in this case would be embarassing.

      1. I agree with not clearing until everyone is finished -- definitely one of my pet peeves. What I notice, in general, about service and the old standards is that many do not seem to care about service. They seem to care more about getting my food to me and getting me out the door. All it takes is a genuine introduction and a pleasant demeanor to make me feel as if the server cares. I am old school when it comes to table manners and service protocols and it's nice to have that experience from time to time.

        1. The jfood input:

          - Service from the right - woof I am Pavlov's dog. When the servers bring the food my inclination is to lean left. This is the server a few more inches to clear the shoulder and head and lessen the chance of me wearing some food. If the right is not accessible, then do the best you can as a server to be unobstrusive and careful.

          - Taking away plates - Major pet peeve of jfood. Yes there may be disagreement, but it feels like the kitchen needs the dishes back quickly to clean and re-use. Jfood knows that's probably not the case, but please we order together, eat together, drink together, pay together, leave together. Please do not break the flow by grabbing the plate. And especially NEVER ask if jfood is doen while others are still eating and as others have said the use of the phrase "are you still working on that" is not a proper mode of interaction. As someone else mentioned, if there is an overt act by a custo to have the plate removed, then approach, otherwise, wait til everyone has "utensils down".

          - Ladies first - Absolutely. If jfood is with a group and the server looks at a male as the first orderer, i politely mention to him to please take the ladies first. I am absolutely, totally and completely in the mode for equality, but courtesy and decorum trumps this decision in this venue.

          9 Replies
          1. re: jfood

            I have to respectfully disagree on even the possibility of putting ladies first and equality into the same idea. Having women order first and serving them first is related to a number of other dining and social conventions--holding doors for women, giving women menus without prices (I realize this no longer happens), giving the wine list to the man, giving the check to the man, and so on. They all stem from ideas about divisions of labor and control of capital--men make and spend the money, women are their guests--and they cannot be separated.

            Though I realize that you're arguing for (what you view as) courtesy and mean well, treating women differently, and here especially because it means treating women as "guests", cannot support equality, it can only detract from it.

            All of that said, I have worked in a number of restaurants whose protocal says women should order or be served first, and I have complied. Similiarly, when I or the women at my table are served before the men I don't get upset wtih the server or the restaurant. I understand why they do it and that they probably mean well by it. However, I sigh to myself and think sadly about how far we still have to go in the world of gender equality.

            1. re: nc213

              How about this phrase "are you all set with that"... drives me crazy! Or, when the waiter/waitress asks "have we made a decision yet"
              It is a pet peeve of mine as well when servers take away one plate before everyone is finished, however, I live in a place where, even in the nicest restaurants, they have a tendency to do this... or at least there is no consistency, so I have gotten more used to custom (or lack of custom).

              1. re: harryharry

                I worked in formal dining and we didn't serve the women their food first! You start with the oldest female at the table; however, and then you move around the table from there. Does anyone else know of this convention? Could be British?

                1. re: nummanumma

                  When we stayed with French relatives in Burgundy, the server would typically serve the female head of the household first and then her husband, and then my mother-in-law and then father-in-law. She would then proceed clockwise around the table. This was for the principal meal; most suppers were more casual, and while the dishes were offered to the elders first they would then be set on the table to be passed. As for plate removal, this was done between courses at any fairly formal meal, but everyone's at the same time. Always to and from the right, of course.

                  We ate at only three rather formal restaurants, mostly in Paris, and there the women were served first , beginning with the oldest, and then the men in the same order. In caf├ęs and brasseries no particular convention was observed; Chez Julien was so crowded the waiter had to stand in one spot and hand things to the closest diners to pass along!

                  1. re: nummanumma

                    Thank you, you just helped me with my take-home exam. The only question I was stuck on because this section is not in our Dining Room Service books (I'm in culinary school). The question is: Following traditional protocol, whose order would you take first?
                    A) Senior Male
                    B) Senior Female
                    C) Youngest Male
                    D) Youngest Female

                    Everyone in male class guessed A, all she told us is that A was not correct. I mean, I've been to places that serve kids first, and places that serves the oldest male first. Because that oldest male generally orders for everybody. So I was really stuck. I've learned that by taking the kids orders first, it allows the kids to eat and give the parents a break when their food comes.

                2. re: nc213

                  NC, must say that is possibly the nicest retort and disagreement I have ever seen. Nicely done.

                  But equality cannot be equated to homogeneity. There are differences, whether size, weight, race, creed, national origin, gender, hairy, older, there are differences. Mrs jfood is by no stretch "the guest" at dinner at a resto or otherwise. Likewise when the Jfoods dine with others, there are no guests, no hosts, no nothings other than four friends out for a good meal. Someone must go first in queuing theory and Jfood courteously asks Mrs Jfood. Equating that courtesy with being treated less than equal is a broad brush jfood cannot buy into. Likewise jfood always asks the in-laws to order first. Common courtesy. They are treated as super-equals, and deservedly so.

                  That being said if the comfortable arrangement between two people is the male goes first and the female second, or female chooses wine, or check goes to female. And these roles get reversed every other week to keep theplaying field as level as possible, that's cool. To each his own, but jfood will never sacrifice actual courtesy for perceived (in)equality, courtesy and equality go hand in hand in jfood-land.

                  1. re: jfood

                    i fully understand that equality and homogeneity are not the same. And it's nice that you ask your wife to go first and the same for your in-laws. It's like holding the door for a friend or a stranger. however, when women are treated differently--and better is a form of differently--based solely on their sex, that's a problem. When the history of why women need to be treated differently--why it's not polite to swear in front of a woman, for example--has to do with their exclusion from certain types of discourse, then it perpetuates gender inequality.

                    The thing is, it's great that servers are becoming better about not automaticallly handing the check to the man or asking him to taste the wine, but those are easier problems to fix. the notion that women should be served first is automatic (i.e. not dependent on who orders the wine or asks for the check), so it's a tougher one. Likewise, it's different for you to say, "honey would you like to order?" courteously than for a server to assume that she should order first.
                    I'm all for courteousy--often my husband holds doors for me and often I hold doors for him. But the assumption that I couldn't or shouldn't open a door myself, which is the history that some of these courtesies are based on, is problematic. And though courtesy can and should be gender-neutral, it often is not--and there's where the problem lies.

                    Seriously, though, as I said. I don't see any maliciousness in these actions and I don't get offended. But as someone who studies (among other things) how gender is and has been constructed in societies, I notice it and sigh a bit.

                    1. re: nc213

                      Jfood wishes you luck on your journey. Don't let those of us with different opinions deter your youthful exuberance.

                      jfood believes

                      - server should ask the women to order first
                      - women should be served first by the server and should not be a random number generator on males first on even numbered tables and women on odd number tables
                      - door holders can go either way, but mrs jfood likes to have it opened and jfood likes to open it. still working on how best to do this when the door opens "out" but that's an issue for my orthopod
                      - anyone who gets to the door first can open it. you should go on a college tour with other families. quite funny on how the door thing is handled, almost a master thesis topic in sociology.
                      - that there is not a "problem" when courtesy are not gender-neutral. personally i like the gender-based courtesies that have developed. jfood resents the gender based practices that permeates other aspects of our society, but the mods will nix

                      we may not agree (and little female jfood is 22 and a sociology major so discussions happen often and long on these subjects at home) and i appreciate the issues from both sides. but with respect to a resto setting, jfood is not there for total equality, jfood is there for some great food and companionship.

                      1. re: jfood

                        Hee. I think I'd enjoy dinner in your company.

                        What seems to be developing here is a difference in protocol and agenda. When I was a young woman I actually resented a door being held open for me by a man. (Sigh). Now I'm pleased as punch. Things change.

                        When I waited tables I showed no deference to sex. As far as to whom the first taste of wine went to, it went to the person who ordered the bottle.

                        While I'm all for feminisim, in almost all of it's forms, there are just some things that are silly to fuss over. Do I hold a door open for a man? Hell yeah. Especially if he's older or has an arm full of bags. That's just polite. Do I let an older person sit on the bus rather than taking the seat myself? Yes, yes I do. Some things have nothing to do with gender.

              2. I would venture to say that the majority of diners and servers out there are out of touch with the traditional ways. At most resturants, it doesn't really bother me. But if it's a special occasion and we are spending a lot of money on fine dining, I expect a certain formality to accompany my meal. To me, this is an unobtrusive server who is polite, prompt, and congenial.

                Unlike the folks above, I don't like empty plates to sit on the table. I only dine with close friends or my SO, so nobody ever feels any pressure to eat faster or anything. I always push my plate to the side when I'm done so the server knows to take it away.

                17 Replies
                1. re: mojoeater

                  Mojo, do not think its the pressure thing, but jfood has been both the slowest and the fastest eater at the table and has felt uncomfortable with having my plate removed and being the last dog eating.

                  Just curious if you have ever asked the friends and family their opinion of this. After 15+ years of marriage jfood finally asked mrs jfood, and she mentioned that she preferred the all away at the same time theory. Since then jfood either paces himself to finsish simultaneously with mrs jfood or if finished first asks the waiter to leave til she is finished. You may want to ask, if you haven't. May be one of those really easy thing you can do for your SO (if memory serves me correctly it's fiance?).

                  1. re: jfood

                    He's almost always done eating before I am, and it doesn't bother me at all if they take his plate away. And usually when I eat out with friends, we all share the food. So nobody is left with a fork in his/her mouth while the rest of us are done, though one of us might be reaching for the last roll or something.

                    If it was a more formal business dinner, I would expect the more formal service standards. But when I'm with the people with whom I'm most comfortable, it just doesn't bother me.

                    1. re: mojoeater

                      from the flip side, most servers consider plate pushers rude. a casual eatery, i suppose is one thing (like a diner counter, maybe?), but it seems that you're intimating, "i'm done," without regard to everybody else at the table.

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        Well, you said it is one of your pet peeves and I get that. And once again, formal dining is different. But most of my dining out is more casual and nobody cares. I worked in restaurants for 12 years (managed them too), and the protocol in the more casual ones (entrees less than $20) was always to clear plates as they are finished. Customers would sometimes put their plates on nearby empty tables if you didn't clear them in order to make room at their own table. Now, that is rude.

                        1. re: mojoeater

                          Clearly people have different views about the "pushing plates away" and "removing plates before everyone is done eating" things, but I instinctively find it rude when people push their plates away and prefer that all plates be removed at the same time - whether at home, at Denny's or at a four star restaurant.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Casual restaurants rely on turnover and the servers are trained to remove plates as they are finished. And on the other side, diners don't spend as much time at those places so having the table cleared more quickly is often preferable for the customers as well. I know for a fact that the majority of people who dine at Denny's will feel that their server is being negligent if their plates remain in front of them. I've been on that end of it.

                            1. re: mojoeater

                              I worked in many restaraunts, some chains. And the chains always wanted the tables kept up, ie dirty plates cleared asap, drinks kept full, courses moving, etc. for the quicker turnaround. The term used was "pre-bus" as in bussing or clearing the table.

                          2. re: mojoeater

                            As mentioned on other threads Jfood thinks the word "rude" is one of the most ill-used words on threads. But placing dirty plates on a clean neighboring table is as close to rude as jfood has heard on CH. It is definitely toally inconsiderate and it may actually qualify as rude in the jfood definition. Triple-ouch!!!

                      2. re: jfood

                        Had a inquiry to your comments above on leaving all the plates until everyone is finished. What if it is a large party, say, eight or more dining, should the servers restrain from clearing until all are done? I understand in smaller parties it is a customary procedure, but there are those customers that REALLY take their time and will ponder over that last tidbit of whatever. Should everyone have to keep their plates then, or is there a decent time period when clearing should happen even if that supposed person is still reluctant to give up their plate?

                        I'm wondering because I have been presented with this dilemma before as that server. Just wanting to know an outside opinion...

                        1. re: cocktailqueen77

                          Jfood thinks the default is "plates stay". There are those (as seen on these boards) that would like them removed from in front of them, and they can ask the server to remove.

                          But to answer your question, the number of patrons does not change Jfood's conclusion.

                          Think about dinner at home. If you and your SO have dinner, do you want your SO to get up and place the dirty dish in the sink if done first. I think not. Now think if you had a couple of kids. Do you want little CQ to get up and place the dish in the sink? Again probably not. Fast forward the analysis to holiday dinner with lots of CQ's. Aren't the plates in front of everyone until everyone is finished and then it's "dishes to the kitchen" time. At casa jfood that's how it works. So why should it be any different in a resto?

                          1. re: jfood

                            It's too I have to ask (in jest, of course) if you also lean to the left in la casa jfood?

                            1. re: enbell

                              Temptation answered :-)). In casa les jfood, it's usually jfood plating and serving. Most times food hits the table while the jfoods flock from various parts of the house and outside. In the event that jfoods beat the food to the table and since i am right handed, i carry food in left hand, use right hand to go over right shoulder of the jfoods. they "lean left" unless they want some risotto or mashed potatoes on their right temple. That would lead to "nice dad" and another shower to wash their hair. :-))

                              1. re: jfood

                                but arent' you leaning the wrong way- in fine dining, isn't service from the left? wait...I gotta go check, maybe i'm remembering wrong-

                                1. re: nummanumma

                                  just did a little test- ok, never mind.-

                                  1. re: nummanumma

                                    He is leaning the wrong way. I posted below, but...the rule is serve from the left, clear from the right.

                                    1. re: srr


                                      Food that is presented in platters is shown to the diner from the left as the platter of food is held by the server in the left hand to present.

                                      Food that is presented in a "plated" manner is served from the right. This comes from the statement jfood mentioned earlier in that most people are right handed and serve with the right hand "over" the right should of the diner. The diner would therefore lean to the left exactly as jfood mentioned. Items that are currently presented from the left are veggies and other condiments that are placed to the left of the dinner plate. The direction of the presented plate is the direction of the departure.

                                      So when the food is plated and presented jfood is leaning to the left that is the correct direction.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        people confuse french and russian service.

                                        but jfood is correct.