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Waiter Poll - What do you think is more professional?

This is a long standing argument between my husband and the owner of the upscale restaurant he works at.

Is it more professional for a waiter to bring your food/beverages on a tray or by hand?

The owner thinks that a professional waiter should balance the plates down his/her arms. My husband thinks that it looks more professional for a waiter to bring large orders on a tray.

What do you think?

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  1. more than 2 plates, use a tray, a second waiter holds the tray while the main waiter (the one assigned to your table) serves individual plates.

    1. The classiest I have ever experienced is at Emeril's in New Orleans, the servers all work together and each delivers a plate to a guest at exactly the same time.

      11 Replies
      1. re: pairswellwithwine

        That's what they do at the French Laundry, too.

        1. re: Glencora

          At FL it's done as if it were choreographed, which it probably is. I watched a table of eight served by four servers, each with two plates. Their cues must have been with eye movements or a very slight gesture, because I never heard a word and saw nothing but exact timing. Of course I was in the mood to be wowed, but it was very impressive.

        2. re: pairswellwithwine

          I loved the way the servers worked as a team when I went to NOLA! One of our waiters looked like a younger Bobby Flay.

          1. re: tracylee

            I loved that at some point during the meal they just replaced our water glasses. Also they escorted me to the bathroom. I haven't been to any other restaurant with the same level of attention by wait staff. NOLA is the standard to beat.

            1. re: pairswellwithwine

              Most of the Michelin star restaurants I've been in the SF bay area and in London tend do the following:

              -escort you to the bathroom and wait for you so they can push in your chair for you
              -fold your napkin while you are in the bathroom
              -place dishes down in front of you simultaneously, or in pairs of two (i.e. each waiter carries no more than two plates, and makes sure they place them in time with the other waiter)
              -briefly recap the plate and gives suggestions on how to eat it (if necessary)

              A couple places even bring a black napkin if you are wearing dark clothing. Nice touch.

              These are the places that I have personally experienced these features: Hibiscus (London), Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (London), Launston Place (London, although not Michelin starred...yet), Plumed Horse (Saratoga, CA), Meadowood (Napa, CA), Chez TJ (Silicon Valley, CA)...and probably more I'm not remembering right now. :-)

              And personally, I think trays smack of Denny's or IHOP. I would never use them unless it was completely unfeasible to NOT do so, due to space or staffing. Again, ideally I would want waiters to carry no more than two plates each. If it was a choice between carrying 3-4 or using a tray, I vote carry.

              1. re: guster4lovers

                Forgot about the black napkin for dark clothing - I've experienced that also and think it's a seriously classy touch, even though the high-quality linens used in such places rarely have so much as a speck of lint on them.

                1. re: guster4lovers

                  "Escort you to the bathroom" ????? That's just plain creepy. Waiting for you is one thing, but escorting you??

              1. re: pairswellwithwine

                at Le Gavroche in London all the waiters come to the table with each plate covered with a silver dome all of which are removed with great aplomb at the same moment!

                1. re: smartie

                  I've seen that done elsewhere as well - synchronized serving is one of the little flourishes that distinguishes a seriously high-end restaurant.

                  1. re: BobB

                    Synchonised dome-lifting used to be very common in high-end British restaurants. Havnt seen it in many years though. All a bit 1980s. Interesting La Gavroche still does it.

              2. I get anxious watching waiters balance plates on their arms, and can't help but think about how the plates are usually hot. It may look "unprofessional" to some, I prefer the tray method for the comfort of the waiter.

                1. In the DC area, I am not aware of any upper echelon restaurant that has a waiter balancing 4 dishes.

                  1. It's more professional to bring them by hand, but not on the arms. One plate in each hand, with a follow/help for any additional plates. Not up and down the arms.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: rockandroller1

                      Agreed. Neither the tray nor up the arms are used at upscale restaurants, everything is hand delivered by actual hands.

                    2. Both methods are "professional," though as long as I get my food, he can deliver my plate from a shopping cart.

                      1. A professional waitstaff at a waffle house should balance the dishes on their arms. At a fine dining restaurant they should use a tray or carry by hand with multiple staff for more than 2 dishes at once.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: TheFoodEater

                          And if you're a rollerstaking waitress at a 50's theme restaurant, dishes that aare precariously balanced can rapidly turn into dangerous flying objects.

                        2. I really don't care and have to say this is a subject that has never even crossed my mind. My sole interest is that my food arrives in front of me still looking as the kitchen intended it should.

                          As already mentioned, upscale dining now seems to involve two members of staff. One holding a tray, the other placing the dish in front of the customer.

                          1. In the U.S., the waitresses at roadside cafes and truck stops balance plates up and down their arms. This is NOT done in an upscale restaurant.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Sherri

                              That is exactly what I was going to say. When I worked at Denny's many long years ago I got very good at balancing a whole table's worth of dishes on my arms. Not that darned classy looking though.

                            2. Beverages on a tray for sure. Food, it depends. A professional waiter is definitely able to carry at least 3 plates of food in thier hands by balancing them properly. More than that requires stacking which involves the bottoms of some plates touching the food on other plates. I don't like to see that when it's my food on the bottom because I'm not sure the underside of the plate touching it was totally clean (I'm sure it likely is but you never know). If they bring it out on a tray where do they put it - sometimes they set it down on one of those portable stand things they have in their other hand, open it and serve from there, that's OK. If they balance the tray in their hand and it looks unstable while serving it makes me uncomfortable, I'd prefer they brought it out in multiple trips.

                              1. Rather than "professional" my thought was which was more "elegant"?
                                I find tray service more "elegant". Where I worked more than one plate you were required the server to use a tray.

                                1. Trays for food just makes me think of banquets which I don't find elegant. Trays for drinks is more professional.

                                  1. As I read the posts I think that there is a distinction between theater and good service, the simultaneous lifting of the food covers falls into the former category for me. The food should arrive to the table all at once. Good service is attentive without imposing. My real peeve is the interruption to announce specials.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: serious

                                      I don't object to an element of theater at all, I think it adds to the pleasure of an exceptional dining experience.

                                      I agree with your definition of good service, but as for announcing specials, a good server will "read" the table and provide such information at an appropriate moment.

                                    2. I hate seeing all the entrees on a giant tray. It looks so precarious, and any incidents could wind up in all the dishes going down.

                                      I prefer seeing food carried two or three plates at a time (don't worry about the waiters arms, we usually use lidos between the plates and the skin), with another server following with all the extra dishes.

                                      1. When I worked at a country club in college and grad school, trays or plates on the arm were OK at breakfast and lunch in the grill room, but the dining room drinks on a tray, but for food service was two plates in each hand, with help trailing. These were most often tables of 8 (the day's foursome plus companions). Rarely did we ever have a two- or four-top. It made for an awful lot of running.