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Staff Training: Restaurant Server Guidelines

Staff Training: Restaurant Server Guidelines

Most fine dining and casual dining restaurants employ a waitstaff to serve and care for the patrons. Servers are an essential part of your concept; they deliver the positive attitude and respect that create a memorable experience for dining guests. Just as a manager should expect a top-notch server, servers need solid training and ongoing support to succeed.

Initial Training

Start your new employees off on the right foot with an organized approach for staff training. And be sure to include new hires with years of experience into your training program. They will need an orientation to how your restaurant works, how your management style works and the level of service you expect for each guest. Focus on the following areas to keep a streamlined approach for every new employee:

Restaurant concept. Inform your employees of the history and other interesting facts about the restaurant. Often the restaurant name, founder, owner or structure will have some special meaning or interest value which can engage the patrons and make them feel like part of the concept itself.

Restaurant layout. Servers spend their entire shifts on their feet, moving quickly between the kitchen and the dining room floor. Proper orientation to the layout of the restaurant, including restrooms, emergency exits, storage rooms, kitchen space and dining room arrangement are important to a server’s speed and comfort in the restaurant environment.

Menu knowledge. Managers often provide new servers the opportunity to taste several items on the menu before serving them. In order to sell the items, it is essential that servers sample as much as possible so they can suggest a favorite or describe the flavors of the special. Additionally, guests often want to know the nutritional information of dishes, or how they are prepared.

restaurant waiter with tray

Etiquette. Proper service etiquette is paramount to a memorable dining experience. Servers must be adequately trained in exceptional customer care before they begin working shifts. Provide opportunities to practice proper serving techniques and etiquette by engaging in role-modeling exercises, or by pairing more experienced workers with new ones.
Emphasize the desirable traits in a restaurant employee.

For example, use the acronym S.E.R.V.I.C.E. to remind your servers of how they should portray themselves. 

Service acronym

Shadowing. Many restaurant owners or managers will require that all new hires spend time shadowing, or following other servers throughout one or more complete shifts. This allows the more experienced server to model proper server etiquette, menu knowledge and responsible behavior to the new hire, easing him or her into the new role.

Instill the right behaviors. Throughout the initial training period, instilling the correct behaviors in new hires is crucial. One of these crucial habits involves writing orders down. This shows a desire for precision and eliminates embarrassing, forgetful moments. Other behaviors that deserve emphasis include:

  • Completing cleaning duties throughout the shift
  • Helping team-mates whenever possible
  • Leaving personal issues at the door 


Ongoing Training

Though your experienced servers may not require intensive training sessions, ongoing training can help improve skills and address any recurring issues.

Improve suggestive selling skills. As servers become better acquainted with the restaurant and the menu, they are able to suggest the best appetizers, the most profitable entrées and the most irresistible desserts to improve their sales. Some ideas to help guide employees in this direction include the following:

  • Becoming familiar with the menu
  • Learning which menu items are most profitable
  • Gaining knowledge of daily specials
  • Selecting favorite menu items
  • Suggesting wine pairings
  • Upselling menu items


Ignoring vs. smothering a table.
When serving a table, it is important to find the balance between ignoring the patrons and spending too much time with them. Training a server to read the attitude at a table is a good way to tell about how much attention they need. Customers who consistently look around the restaurant are probably looking for their absent server. However, customers who make minimal eye contact or continue their conversation in the server’s presence probably want less attention.

Improve multi-tasking skills. At all times, servers should be considering the needs of their tables. They should be constantly aware of whether the tables need food or drinks, if the plates need clearing, and if the patrons are ready for a check. Additionally, servers should be aware of their teammates, helping to run food or refill drinks if they could use some help.