Along with overcoming shyness, interacting with a new table is a skill you can learn and develop over time. Here are seven areas to focus on when working on your tableside manner.
Be confident & polite with your approach
When you greet a table, you will often have to interrupt at least one conversation, which can feel awkward whether you're a seasoned professional or a new server. Generally, when approaching a table, guests will naturally notice you and will often pause their conversation to give you their attention. However, if the table is deeply engaged in a discussion, be patient and look for a natural lull or when a story has ended. Then smile and politely introduce yourself to segue into the menu offerings and additional details you need to share with them.
Make a great first impression
Welcome each table with a short and simple greeting, include your name, ask a friendly question (e.g., “How are you doing today?”) and find out if they've been to the restaurant before (e.g., “Have you dined with us before?”). Then move on to see if they would like to start with drinks or water while they look at the menu. Begin to build rapport in which your guests feel comfortable with you being part of their dining experience; do your best to keep the conversation personable without getting too personal. When you do ask questions, remember to listen as best you can, guests will likely disclose small details which can help you help them throughout the meal.
Read the table
Is your table a serious business dinner or a group of friends who are excited for a night out? While you are saying hello, you'll want to "read the table" to get a feel for the mood and energy of your guests. Being observant will allow you to tailor how you interact with them.
Share your knowledge to sell the menu
Generally, guests want their server to take them through the menu and help them have the best experience, so don't be shy. Before getting into the specials, help create a bigger picture for your guests. Is the menu designed to be shared? Does it feature seasonal ingredients -- or is it best coursed out? Then get more specific, be knowledgeable and point out some menu highlights and the specials. Be ready to explain different menu items, how they are prepared and the flavor profile (and texture) of unique ingredients. Helping your guests understand the menu and their options can help them have an enjoyable meal while also increasing the ticket total and the gratuity they may leave as a result.
Guests often seek validation from you to make sure they are choosing the best option based on their personal preferences and menu offerings. Remember that they look to you as the expert, so be prepared when asked what is "good" or what items are "most popular” on the menu. Listen to the questions carefully as they also are an opportunity to recommend and suggest additional items to share, which can simultaneously improve their experience and increase your check average.
Check in periodically
Along with table maintenance throughout the meal, there are two times that you must check on a table. The first is immediately after the food has been dropped. After the food has been run from the kitchen, approach the table and see if they need anything else, allowing you to ensure that their order has been delivered correctly
. The second time is after they have had some time to eat. Asking the table "How is everything?" will give you a chance to correct any issues they may have with the meal. Throughout service, keep your head up and scan the room often to see if any of your tables are looking to get your attention. If they do make eye contact, acknowledge it and make your way to the table. If you are not able to get there, see if you can send someone from your team to assist; attentiveness is always appreciated when a guest initiates the conversation whether verbally or non-verbally.
Drop the check
Saying goodbye to a table is just as important as your initial greeting. A table will often signal to you when they are finished. If you need to turn the table and your guests are finished with their meal but seem to be lingering, ask if you can bring them anything else. If they have no requests, it provides you with a natural closure to the meal. When you leave the check at the end of the meal, thank the table for dining with you. Then depending on if they are local or visiting you can wish them a wonderful rest of their trip or that you look forward to seeing them soon.
Remember, practice makes better – and lots of it. In fact, experts stress experience over time, including various studies like the 10,000-Hour Rule, which Malcolm Gladwell cites as “the magic number of greatness” (that’s 20 hours a week for 10 years, or less than 5 years if you are working 40+ hours a week). Observe more experienced servers on your team and ask them about how they approach different scenarios. While everyone will have a slightly different way to deal with guest relations, use their insights to hone your own playbook. Start from where you are; notice what works with a large party versus a two-top, be open to making tweaks and constantly strive to improve.