Styles of Service in Restaurant | Techniques, Order to Serving Meals, Handling Service Dishes and Utensils

  • Post last modified:25 June 2023
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Evolution of Food Service

Service is a term that is used to describe the manner and method in which food is served to guests in food service operations. In former times, this often constituted an elaborate and convoluted protocol, much of which is no longer in vogue, notwithstanding that some technical terms are still in use today.

When food is placed directly on plates and served to guests at the table, this is referred to as service a cassette. When guests serve themselves from the dish on the table with serving spoons, this is referred to as a service a la francaise. When the waiter places the food on the diner’s plate this is referred to as service in the a la anglaise style. In service a la russe, which is also known as au gueridon, the dish is first offered to guests for viewing or approval. Then food is served onto the diner’s plate at a pedestal table or gueridon, located close to or beside the dining table.

Styles of Service

Five styles of services are internationally recognized:

  • French service or guardian service
  • American service or plate service
  • English service
  • Russian service
  • Buffet service

French Service

French service differs from others in that all food is served from the gueridon. This is a rolling cart the same height as the guest’s table. The gueridon is covered with a cloth and is placed side-by-side with the table. It is equipped with a small alcohol stove, or reached, that is used to keep the food warm for the preparation of sauces, crepes Suzette, jubilee, and other special dishes.

This service is very elaborate and elegant. The food is partially prepared in the kitchen and completed by the Chef or Headwaiter in full view of the customer. Service of this type requires not only technical expertise in food preparation but also good showmanship. The Chef carries out certain activities like carving meats, preparing flambe, etc. with flair and showmanship.

  • Advantages:
    • The guest s given personalized attention makes him feel important.

    • It makes the guest feel that he is receiving royal treatment.

    • The service is elegant and entertaining.

    • It commands a higher price than other forms of service (pay for the service).
  • Disadvantages:
    • It is a slow service.

    • It is expensive because it requires a large professional staff.

    • It requires a bigger dining room space to make service and food preparation convenient.

American Service

This is usually called “plate service” because the food is already placed on the plate in the kitchen ready to be served to the guests. This type of service is used in coffee shops where there is a demand for quick and simple service. It requires minimal training for novice waiters and waitresses.

  • Advantages:
    • It is a fast and simple service.

    • It is inexpensive. One waiter or waitress can serve many guests and no special service equipment is necessary.

    • It does not require highly trained technical staff that demands higher pay.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Less showmanship

    • Reduced personalized attention

English Service

This type of service is also known as “family style” service. In this service, the soup tureen is placed before the host alongside preheated soup plates and hands them to the waiter, indicating the person to be served. The same procedure is followed with the main entree. If so desired, the partly filled dinner plate is presented to the hostess who serves the vegetables from large serving dishes placed before her. Then the waiter places the plate before the guests. This type of service is usually found in coffee shops, family restaurants, counter service, etc.

  • Advantages:
    • It is fast. Plates of food are served immediately at the proper temperature.

    • It is inexpensive.

    • It requires no special equipment.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Less showmanship.

    • Reduced personalized attention to the customer.

Russian Service

This type of service is the same as that of French service. However, in Russian service, the food is fully prepared and pre-cut in the kitchen and then neatly arranged on silver platters by the Chef. The waiter then shows the platter to the guest as a polite gesture and serves the food to the individual plates of the guests using serving cutleries.

  • Advantages:
    • Only one waiter is needed at each station.

    • Elegant and entertaining.

    • No extra space is needed for the equipment (except for the side stand).

    • It guarantees equal portions because the food is pre-cut and already served.

    • Gives the guests personal attention.
  • Disadvantages:
    • It requires a big initial investment in silver equipment.

    • If many guests are served from one platter, the last one to be served may see a rather less attractive display.

    • If every guest at a party orders a different dish like steak or fish, the waiter must carry very heavily loaded tray/trays to the dining room.

Buffet Service

This is also called self-service and is normally used in banquet functions and some restaurants. Food is attractively arranged on a long table, classified, and arranged according to proper sequence, from appetizers to desserts. Soup is placed on a soup tureen and the hot entrees are in chaffing dishes to keep them warm. Some equipment like dinner plates and saucers are laid down right on the buffet table. Instead of the waiter serving the guests, the guests go to the buffet table pick up plates, china, cutlery and napkin, and all other items, and serve themselves of their own choice.

  • Advantages:
    • It is a fast service.

    • It requires less staff to render the service needed.

    • The presentation of the different dishes can be appetizing.
  • Disadvantages:
    • It may result in a shortage of food especially when the early ones may serve themselves more; thus very little food is left for the latecomers.

Service Techniques

Serving Food with One Hand

This service technique is used only for platter service and involves the so-called long grip. In the long grip, the utensils are held in the right hand. Hold the spoon between the index and middle fingers and the fork between the index finger and the thumb. The curves of the spoon and fork should align. Gently slide the spoon under the item to be served, so that it is held between the fork and spoon. Remove your index finger, apply light pressure to the fork, and lift.

Serving Food with Both Hands

This technique is used when working at a side table or a buffet. When serving with both hands, hold the spoon in your right hand and the fork in your left hand. If the food is prepared in a sauce, always scrape the bottom of the spoon with the fork, to prevent drips and to keep the plate you are preparing clean and neat.

Arranging Food on the Plates

To the uninitiated, it might seem very simple to arrange food nicely on a plate. Actually, in a refined service, food is arranged according to particular rules that are followed the world over. Meat is always placed on the lower part of the plate. Sauces are served separately in a sauce boat, or they are served to the left of the meat or fish. When a dish is cooked in a sauce, such as a curry or stews, the sauce is served over the meat. Compound, or flavored, butter, such as dhoti or d’hotel butter, or herb butter, is placed directly on the meat. Side dishes are arranged to achieve color harmony.

A piece of cake or pie should be served with the point facing toward the guest. Plates with a logo or other graphic decoration should be arranged so that the decoration is placed in front of the guest. Plates should never appear overloaded; the rims must always be free of food and without drip smears. Hot food is always served on hot plates; cold food is on cold plates.

Pouring Beverages

Hold glasses by the foot or stem only, to avoid fingerprints. Glasses are always placed to the right of the guest with the right hand. If the glass has a logo, it should face the guest. Beverages are always poured from the right side of the guest. When serving heavy red wines that have been decanted or are in a wine basket, hold the glass, slightly slanted, on the table with the left hand and slowly pour out the wine with the right hand, so that the wine sediment is not disturbed. A bottle of wine is first presented to the host. Then the bottle is opened, and a small amount is poured out for the host. After the host approves, the guests are served first and the host’s glass last.

Sequence of Clearing

When an aperitif has been served, the empty glasses are cleared only after the wine is served. If white wine is served with the appetizer, the empty glasses are removed only after the red wine has been poured. The red-wine glasses are cleared after the coffee or after-dinner drinks are served. When guests are smoking, ashtrays are always changed before a new course is served.

After the guests have finished the main course, any platters or serving dishes on the table are removed first. Then the dinner plates are cleared along with the flatware. Finally, any smaller plates, bread plates, and finger bowls are removed. Before dessert is served, the table is totally cleared, except for flowers or other decorations.

Order of Serving Meals


Many customers at the breakfast hour are in a hurry. Many people you will discover are not in the best of spirits before they have had their first cup of coffee (or maybe not ever). A positive and cheerful attitude displayed by the server in combination with prompt and efficient service might help to normalize the situation. Below is a guide that might be acceptable in most situations.

  • When a fresh fruit or fruit juice is ordered, it is desirable to serve it first and then remove the soiled dishes before placing the toast and coffee.

  • When customers order a combination of cooked food, toast, and coffee, they may ask to have the whole order served at once. Place the fruit dish, set on an underline, in the center of the cover, the plate of toast at the left of the forks, and the coffee at the right of the teaspoons.

  • When the breakfast order includes cereal and a hot dish, the service procedure may be as follows:
    • Place the fruit course in the center of the cover.

    • Remove the fruit course.

    • Place the breakfast plate of eggs, meat, or other hot food in the center of the cover. Place the plate of toast at the left of the forks. Place the coffee service at the right of the spoons.

    • Remove the breakfast plate and the bread plate.

    • Place the finger bowl, filled one-third full of warm water. At times the finger bowl is placed after the fruit course when fruits that may soil the fingers have been served.

    • Place the sales check, face down, at the right of the cover or present it on a clean change tray.


Lunch customers can be generally categorized into two groups: Business people who have a short-lunch period and want quick service, and shoppers or others who just want leisurely service. A good server will recognize each group and try to accommodate accordingly.

  • Fill the water glass three-fourths full of iced water.

  • Place chilled butter on the cold bread-and-butter plate.

  • Place the appetizer in the center of the cover.

  • Remove the appetizer when the guest has finished.

  • Place the soup service in the center of the cover.

  • Remove the soup entree.

  • Place the entree plate in the center of the cover.

  • Place individual vegetable dishes above the cover.

  • Place hot beverages above and a little to the right of the cup and saucer, with individual creamer above the cup.

  • Place an iced beverage or milk at the right and a little below the water glass.

  • Remove the main-course dishes.

  • Remove any extra silver not used in the main course.

  • Crumb the table, if necessary.

  • Place dessert silver to the right of the cover with the fork nearest the dessert plate, when fork and teaspoon are used. When several teaspoons are placed, the dessert fork may be laid on the left side, to “balance the cover”

  • Place the dessert service in the center of the cover.

  • Remove dessert dishes and silver.

  • Place the finger bowl on the underliner in the center of the cover.

  • Present the Check face down.


Dinner customers are seldom in a hurry. The server should be able to give leisurely service without making the guest feel rushed. Although the guest should be allowed plenty of time to complete each course, long waits between courses should be avoided (especially when small children are present.) An efficient server should observe the guests during the meal in order to serve the next course promptly and to comply with any requests made by guests for special needs. This is a generally accepted guideline but does not apply to all situations.

  • Place appetizer or hors d’oeuvre service from the left in the center of the cover.

  • Remove the first-course dishes.

  • Place the soup service in the center of the cover.

  • Remove the soup service.

  • When the entree is served on a platter, place it directly above the cover. Lay the serving silver at the right of the platter. Place the warm dinner plate in the center of the cover.

  • Place the beverage to the right of the teaspoons.

  • Offer rolls or place them on the center of the table in reach of all the guests.

  • Remove the main-course dishes when the guest has finished.

  • Crumb the table if necessary.

  • Place silver for the dessert course.

  • Place the dessert service in the center of the cover.

  • Offer hot coffee or tea.

  • Serve the check face down.

Five Diamond Service

  • Hostess or Maitre d’ seats and welcomes guests.

  • The front waiter lights the candle and offers mineral or served water. If mineral water is sold, a silver coaster is placed on the table under a water bottle.

  • Captain asks for cocktails and gives the wine list. He will serve cocktails and leave the list on the table, if the guest is a couple, the Captain will point out wine by the glass or half bottles wine selections.

  • Back server delivers and explains the amusement after cocktails are served.

  • Front server clears Amuse and Maitre d’ or Captain presents the menu and explains the specials.

  • Sonmuna’ or Captain takes the wine order, pours, and explains each selection. Captain Waiter continues to offer cocktails.

  • Maitre d’ takes the order and gives a service copy to the Front waiter, who proceeds to remove base plates and give proper mis en place for up to two “2 courses.” A front waiter is to keep service copy slips on his person at all times.

  • Brioche and butter service is done by the Back waiter will maintain the clearing and replacing of napkins.

  • First course and brioche refills are delivered by the Runner to the Front server on the floor, who then serves them. Pepper is to be offered on all salad dishes.

  • First course is cleared by the back waiter, and the mise en place is rechecked by the front waiter.

  • Runner is to correctly number the domes, and entrees are to be served with the assistance of the Back waiter. Backwater is to know position # 1 on all the tables in his section.

  • Back waiter clears the table after the main course and crumbs the table. Coffee order is taken, the cheese selection is explained and the dessert, cognac, port, and sherry menu is presented.

  • Front waiter takes the dessert order and gives proper mis en.

  • Back waiter delivers desserts and coffee.

  • Captain brings over a cart and offers cognacs, ports, or cherries.

Special Observing

There are many things a server must attend to become fully efficient. Here are a few tips a server can use to take advantage:

  • Serve hot food hot, on heated dishes.

  • Serve cold food chilled, on cold dishes.

  • Inquire how food is to be cooked:
    • Eggs – fried or boiled, scrambled, etc…
    • Steak – rare, medium, or well done, etc…
    • Toast – buttered or dry
  • Refill water glasses whenever necessary during the meal.

  • Refill coffee. The customer will let you know if they’ve had enough.

  • Place silver necessary for a course just before serving:
    • Soupspoon on the extreme right of teaspoons.

    • Cocktail fork to the right of the soup spoon.
  • Offer crackers, bread, and other accompaniments with appetizers or soups.

  • Provide iced teaspoons for iced drinks, and straws with appropriate beverages.

Presenting the Check

The guest should never be kept waiting for his check. It should be presented either immediately after the last course has been served or as soon as he has finished eating. A check cover should be used to transport the bill to and from the table. The cover should be placed to the right of the host. If the host is not known, the check should be placed at the center of the table.

It is always a courteous practice to ask if any other services are desired. It is very discourteous to indicate in any way that a tip is expected or that any certain amount is anticipated even if the customer asks (This happens to me a lot.) Never show any disappointment because the tip is less than what is customarily received. Always thank the customer for any gratuity with sincerity.

Guests should be shown small courtesies when departing; for example, a server may draw out the chair for a female guest and assist her with her coat, etc… The server should express his goodbye sincerely and welcome the guest to return. The idea is to make the guest feel completely welcome. Try to change up your goodbye from time to time as well.

Other customers in the room will get sick of hearing you repeat the same thing to all departing customers, and when it comes their time to leave, they will leave with the feeling, that they were just part of another process.

When guests ask for a check, Captains should inquire as to the satisfaction of the guests. Mignardises and checks are then delivered to the table.

Handling Serving Dishes and Utensils

During service, the right and left hands have distinct functions to perform. The left-hand carries while the right hand works. Flatware, glasses, cups, and the like are always carried on a tray, never in hands. For safety and to prevent clattering, this tray should always be covered with a paper or cloth napkin. While bringing platters to the side table or guest table, always carry them in both hands.

The hand towel should be draped lengthwise over the cloth so you can hold the platter on both ends. If several plates or serving dishes are carried at the same time, place them on the towel so they will not slide. Serving bowls and sauceboats are always placed on a small plate with a paper doily.

Procedure for Carrying Plates

  • A Stack of Plates: A stack of plates is always carried with both hands. Wrap your hand towel around the plates so that you do not touch the plates with your bare hands. Do not hold the plates against your body.

  • One Plate: Always hold a plate between the thumb and forefinger (index) finger. Your thumb should be flat on the rim of the plate, pointing toward the rim, never into the plate.

  • Two Plates:
    • Held from Below: Hold the first plate between the thumb and index finger. The index finger is placed slightly behind the lower rim. Slide the second plate against the index finger and support it with the other fingers from beneath.

    • Held from Above: The first plate is held with the thumb and index finger. With that hand turned slightly upward, balance the second plate on the lower forearm and the ball of the thumb. Support the upper plate with the other fingers.
  • Four Plates: The procedure for carrying four plates is as follows:
    • Seize the first plate between the thumb and the forefinger.

    • Place the second plate between the forefinger (on the top) and the two fingers major and ring finger (under).

    • Place the third plate over the basis of the thumb and the little finger.

    • The fourth plate is carried in the right hand, this will be the first plate placed on the table.

Sample Procedure for Carrying Plates

Consider a “service” which is composed of a meat dish, a vegetable placed on an under dish, 4 hot plates, and a sauce dispenser. The following procedure is adopted:

  • Cover plates with a cloth and hold them with the left hand.

  • Position the meat dish on the pile of plates.

  • Place the sauce dispenser between the forefinger and little finger (on the top) and middle finger and ring finger (under).

  • The vegetable dish should be carried in the right hand.

Sample Procedure for Carrying a Tray

  • It is important to organize the tray in a way that the weight is concentrated on a precise point that will be maintained by the wrist and the left hand (a pile of under cups).

  • Items less heavy will be placed around heavier items (cups and spoons).

Clearing of Plates

The basic technique is the same as carrying two plates from above. After picking up the first plate, arrange the flatware on it. The handle of the first fork is under your thumb. This will secure the remaining flatware. Then slide the knife in at a right angle under the fork. Now pick up the second plate with the flatware, and place the flatware on the first plate, fork beneath the thumb, and knife below.

The remaining plates are stacked on the second plate, while the flatware is arranged on the first plate. In an elegant service, no more than four plates are cleared at one time. Small food remnants on the plates can be pushed to the lower plate; be sure to turn away from the guest when doing this. When the plates contain a lot of leftovers, they must be scraped away from the table. Clear only two plates at a time and sort them out in the waiter’s pantry.

General Rules to Be Observed While Serving

  • Women are usually served first. If it is an honorary dinner, of course, the guest of honor is served first. Otherwise, the age and status of the guest determine the sequence, with older or more distinguished guests served first. The host is always served after his or her guests. When children are present at the table, serve them as quickly as possible to maintain peace.

  • Place and remove all food from the left of the guest.

  • Place and remove all beverages, including water, from the right of the guest.

  • Use the left hand to place and remove dishes when working on the left side of the guest and the right hand when working on the right side of the guest. This will provide free arm action for the server and avoids the danger of bumping against the guest’s arm.

  • Place each dish on the table with the four fingers of the hand under the lower edge and the thumb on the upper edge.

  • Never reach in front of a guest, nor across one person to serve another.

  • Present Serving dishes from the left side, in a position so that the guest can serve himself. Place serving silver on the right side of the dish, with the handles, turned toward the guest so that he may reach and handle them easily.

  • Do not place soiled, chipped, or cracked glassware and china or bent or tarnished silverware before a guest.

  • Handle tumblers by their bases and goblets by their stems.

  • Do not lift water glasses from the table to fill or refill them. When they cannot be reached conveniently, draw them to a more convenient position.

  • Set fruit juice and cocktail glasses, cereal dishes, soup bowls, and dessert dishes on small plates before placing them in the center of the cover between the knife and the fork.

  • Place individual serving trays of bread and rolls above and to the left of the forks. Place a tray or basket of bread for the use of several guests toward the center of the table.

  • Place the cup and saucer at the right of the spoons, about two inches from the edge of the table. Turn the handle of the cup to the right, either parallel to the edge of the table or at a slight angle toward the guest.

  • Set tea and coffee pots on small plates and place them above and slightly to the right of the beverage cup. Set iced beverage glasses on coasters or small plates to protect table tops and linen cloth.

  • Place individual creamers, syrup pitchers, and small lemon plates about and a little to the right of the cup and saucer.

  • Place a milk glass at the right of and below the water glass.

  • Serve butter, cheese, and cut lemon with a fork, serve relishes, pickles, and olives with a fork or spoon, not with the fingers.
Article Reference
  • Sondra J. Dahmer, Kurt W. Kahl (2002), Restaurant Service Basics, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  • Lendal H. Kotschevar, Valentino Luciani (2006), Presenting Service: The Ultimate Guide for the Foodservice Professional, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

  • Anthony J. Strianese, Pamela P. Strianese (2002), Dining Room and Banquet Management, Thomson Delmar Learning.

  • Joseph Houston, Neil Glenesk (1982), The Professional Service of Food and Beverage, Batsford technical Ltd.

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