Serving Etiquette

~With Class & Style~

Serving etiquette is a skillset that will help you know when, to whom, where and how to serve a meal to your guests. Whether you are working in a restaurant or hosting a dinner party, serving etiquette will help you present a meal with class and style.

We have all eaten at a restaurant or been a guest in a home where the meal that was prepared and served was top notch. One of the keys to the success of these meals is the way that it was served to you as a guest.  When a host, waitress or waiter takes the time to present the meal with care and correctly, it allows you to feel like you are important.

serving etiquetteHistorically servants were the heart and pulse of the home. The would have needed to coordinate their actions to allow the meals to run smoothly. It was never an option to have them crashing into each other and dropping the dishes that were served and subsequently cleared. The methods they developed and used have carried over into today and should be observed when serving a meal.

When serving in a restaurant, there are a few steps that are necessary to follow to with serving etiquette. First and foremost, make sure you have good grooming habits. How you present yourself is key. If you take the time to look nice, no matter where you work, you will always leave a good impression with your guests. Second, the manner of language you use is also very important. Use language that is well constructed and friendly. Swearing and telling off-color jokes will offend most everyone.


After the party is seated, take note of who is seated where and if there is someone who looks like they are in charge.  Using your best manners, approach the table and engage the party. Give the party time to decide on what they would like to order. It is always good to have suggestions for those who ask.

When they have decided, start with a guest of honor. It is usually pretty obvious if the party is there for a Birthday, Anniversary, or job promotion. If there is not a guest of honor, or after this person has ordered, procede to the oldest woman at the table. She will be followed by the rest of the women and then the men, starting with the oldest and working your way down.


When serving the food to your guests, there are a few rules to follow if the layout of the restaurant will allow. Sometimes it is difficult with booth seating and when the guests are seated next to a wall. Use your best judgement in these situations, avoiding reaching across guests as much as possible. Serving etiquette is first and foremost being polite.

Always serve in the same order that was followed when the guests placed their orders. The guest of honor being first served, followed by the oldest woman at the table and so forth. This shows respect to your guests.

For the most part, meals are served from the right side. The reason for this is that most people are right handed, so it makes it easier for those using their right hands to place and pick up the plates from that side. There are a few exceptions to this and your guests can be served from the left.

From the Right

  • When the food has been dished up and presented on the plate.
  • Empty plates and clean utensils for subsuquent courses are placed from this side.
  • Beverages are poured from the right side, as the glasses are placed on the guest's right side. 

From the Left

  • Placing of side dishes or dinner rolls. This leaves the right side open for the main course to be served.
  • If the meal is being served on platters or large trays for the guests to select, then the waiter will dish up the selection and serve from the left side. 

Clearing the Meal

It has become a modern practice for waitresses and waiters to clear the dishes as the guests finish their meals. However, good serving etiquette is shown when they wait until all guests have finished eating. The plates are then cleared all at once from the same side that they were served.

A few weeks ago my husband and I were eating at a favorite restaurant. Our watiress was obviously trying too hard to earn her tip. As soon as my husband finished placing his last bite in his mouth she was there gathering up his plate. At the same time she looked at me and said, "Do want a box for that, because I can never eat all of that meal." I was obviously still eating. I declined the box and then she reached for my plate. I told her I was not finished. It would be hard not to be offended at this situation, however I had to recognize that she was doing her best. Following serving etiquette would have avoided this all together.

If you are hosting a dinner party in your home, it is easy to follow the same guidelines as listed above. Your guests will not be ordering their meal, however when you serve your food, you can show good table manners by serving from the right or left depending on your meal.

At the heart of serving etiquette is your good manners and courtesy. Helping your guests feel like they are special and you have their best interests at heart will help them have a wonderful time.

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