How to be a Good Server: Tips for Providing Excellent Service

Being a server in a restaurant setting is so much more than just taking food orders and carrying plates. Great servers are talented multitaskers, excellent communicators, and hospitality superstars responsible for making the restaurant experience special for each guest. They create lasting impressions that bring customers back again and again.

At Stock, we know that great restaurants need great servers. With decades of experience outfitting top hospitality brands, we understand both the front and back of the house. This insider perspective allows us to identify what servers need to succeed. Follow these tips to deliver the phenomenal service that keeps guests returning.

Own Your Role

As a server, you are the face of the restaurant. Mastering your role is crucial for providing excellent hospitality. From menu expertise to developing efficient systems, own these fundamentals to confidently handle all aspects of serving guests.

Master the Menu Inside and Out

Memorize ingredient lists, descriptions, prices, and preparation methods for all menu items. Highlight popular dishes and specials to guide guests. Stay updated when menu revisions occur. Knowing the menu inside and out allows you to:

  • Confidently explain any menu item when asked;
  • Make recommendations based on guests' preferences;
  • Upsell specials and new additions; and
  • Ensure guests with dietary needs can choose suitable options, among others.

Develop an Efficient System

Streamline essential tasks like taking orders, communicating with the kitchen, delivering meals, and busing tables. An efficient system prevents forgetting orders and provides seamless service. 

Refine your system until it becomes an ingrained habit you perform automatically, even on your busiest days. More tips below:

  • Take organized notes - Write orders legibly and consistently on your pad to consult later. Develop abbreviations for lengthy dishes.
  • Enter orders accurately into the POS system - Double-check that the order on the screen matches your written notes before submitting it to the kitchen.
  • Time and sequence orders - Note the order items and time gaps between courses to pace submitting tickets.
  • Confirm orders - Always repeat orders to confirm accuracy before leaving the table. This prevents mix-ups.
  • Communicate with the kitchen - Give cooks a heads-up on large parties, modifications, or rushed orders. Thank them for each meal.
  • Deliver promptly - Run food immediately when ready, checking plates against your order slip. Ensure complete accuracy as you serve guests.
  • Bus efficiently - Clear everything at once when guests leave rather than on multiple trips. But don’t rush lingering guests.

Mind the Details

Little touches make a big difference in guests' experience. Stay alert to handle subtle but significant details that diners notice and appreciate, such as:

  • Greet customers, even if you are not assigned to them.
  • Keeping water glasses full.
  • Brushing away crumbs between courses.
  • Refolding napkins if kids make a mess.
  • Circling back to follow up on special requests.
  • Never pour a new beverage into the same glass.

When you demonstrate attention to finer points of service, guests feel well cared for.

Thank Every Guest

Express gratitude when guests are seated and as they leave. Thank them again sincerely when presenting the check. Graciousness makes an impression that entices patrons to request you as their server on their next visit.

  • Moments in between - When clearing plates or checking in, offer thanks “Thank you for your patience during our lunch rush!”
  • Your requests and refills shouldn’t go unnoticed either - “Thank you for reminding me about those extra napkins!”

Handle Mistakes With Grace

When something goes wrong, a sincere apology and solution-focused thinking go a long way. Thank guests for their patience, taking responsibility, and offering options to immediately address the mistake, like taking the dish off their bill or expediting a replacement. 

Don't let minor frustrations grow into ruined experiences. Recovering from missteps with poise satisfies guests. Below are two more important tips when mistakes happen (because they do!)

  • Follow up - After resolving the error, return shortly to ensure guests are satisfied with the fix and see if they need anything further.
  • Notify management - Let a manager know about severe mistakes in case the guests leave unhappy and write them a negative review.

Go Above and Beyond

Long Sleeve Service Shirts

While mastering the basics of serving is important, truly exceptional servers go above and beyond. Look for opportunities to exceed expectations through thoughtful recommendations, anticipating unspoken needs, spreading enthusiasm, and perfect timing. These extra touches delight guests.

Upsell with Tact

Anytime a guest orders a popular menu entree with natural pairings, suggest an appetizer or dessert. But do so politely, reading the table. 

Provide recommendations tailored to their preferences without pressure. The key is informing, not pushing.

Anticipate Needs

Great servers intuit needs before guests ask by paying close attention to cues. Keep an eye on water and beverage levels, refresh drinks before glasses are empty, and watch for finished plates that can be removed. The ability to anticipate desires separates great servers from good ones.

Spread Enthusiasm

Your attitude influences the mood of your tables. Spread enthusiasm by smiling warmly, making eye contact, speaking in an upbeat tone, and listening attentively when spoken to. Enthusiasm is contagious! Guests want to feel you know what you’re doing and are happy to serve them. Wondering how to execute this? Here are some practical pointers:

  • Show interest - When guests talk about themselves, listen attentively. Comments like “That’s awesome!” demonstrate you care.
  • Share laughs - Laughing together over something builds connection. Use tasteful humor to lighten moments.
  • Convey confidence - Guests want to feel like you know what you’re doing. Exude self-assurance.

Your passion for providing an incredible dining room experience motivates guests to savor the moment.

Master the Art of Timing

Know when to remove plates or check on tables based on clues like placed utensils, closed menus, and pushed away plates. Be aware of different pacing for lingering guests vs. those dining quickly. Timing demonstrates awareness of patrons' needs and desires.

  • For longer meals, make rounds - Stop by unobtrusively to freshen drinks and make sure they don’t need anything extra throughout the evening.
  • Watch body language - Are they scanning for the check or leaning back relaxed? Read guests’ signals so you move at their pace.

Build a Team Dynamic

A great dining experience depends on harmonious teamwork. With a spirit of friendly cooperation, your restaurant can deliver phenomenal hospitality.

Cultivate Teamwork

Cultivate positive relationships with co-workers. 

Friendly teamwork ensures food arrives on time and orders don’t fall through the cracks. Simple actions like saying "please" and "thank you" to the kitchen staff, lending a hand to swamped co-workers, and expressing gratitude to bussers and hosts can make a difference. Every staff member wants the restaurant to deliver excellent hospitality. 

Here are some more tips to remember:

  • Share guest feedback - Inform the chef when guests rave about a meal. But do so privately if customer complaints arise.
  • Have each other’s backs - Mistakes happen, but you get through them together. Take responsibility for your tables, but lend a hand to maintain stellar service.

Support Each Other

Stick together, and cheer each other on. Offer assistance if you see a co-worker in the weeds, mentor new servers, offer encouragement after a tough shift, and listen to work frustrations. You'll get through the hardest days together.

  • Celebrate wins - Congratulate servers on big tips or positive reviews. Celebrate when the whole team rocks a crazy busy shift.
  • Draw the line - Don’t get sucked into excessive negativity or gossip while supporting your co-workers. Keep things professional.

Band together when serving gets stressful. With team spirit, you’ll shine.

What Managers Can Do

While skills allow individual servers to shine, managers enable success by hiring for attitude fit, conducting thorough training, setting clear expectations, promoting teamwork, providing high-quality tools, listening to input, and celebrating wins. Servers are your brand ambassadors. Please support them in delivering phenomenal hospitality.

  • Foster communication - Check in with servers before, during, and after shifts. Be open to their thoughts on improving service. Designate a server as each shift’s ‘leader’ to communicate needs to management.
  • Offer incentives - Server of the month parking space, gift card reward for highest Yelp reviews, or top tipper gets a comped meal. Incentivize desired behaviors.
  • Flex schedules - Servers have lives outside work. Offer set schedules that accommodate school or childcare when possible. Approve time off requests fairly.
  • Uplift after challenges - Empathize with servers after dealing with a nightmare customer, large mess, or hurtful review. Help them regain confidence and positivity.

Your servers are the face of your brand. Support them in providing excellent hospitality that stands out in a crowded market.

The Ingredients of Great Restaurant Servers

Serving seems simple: take orders, deliver food, collect payment. But truly mastering hospitality requires developing a specialized skillset.

For years, Stock has worked in the restaurant industry to develop custom uniforms and understand the unique needs of each location. Blend these tips and ingredients into your approach, and you’ll rise to the top tier of servers, which create lasting impressions shift after shift. Continue chasing excellence, and become the good restaurant server guests request by name!