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Professional Table Service spells out the rules and techniques of table service: pre-opening preparation, proper use of equipment, and the correct ways of serving and communicating with customers.
The Service Profession.
Equipment and Materials.
Preparatory Work in the Waiters' Pantry and Dining Room.
Mise en Place.
Service Rules, Service Techniques, Service Styles.
Banquets and Functions.
Methods of Payment.
Working at the Guest Table.
The Study of Beverages.
The Art of Cooking.
Glossary of Culinary Terms.
Glossary of Service Terms.
Professional Table Service
Sylvia Meyer / Edy Schmid / Christel Spühler
8. Service Rules, Service Techniques, Service Styles
This chapter discusses the basic knowledge and skills of your profession. Perhaps you are thinking, at last. If so, you grossly underestimated the importance of all the preparatory work discussed in the previous chapters. What good will it do you to know how to handle serving equipment in the most elegant manner, if your china and silver are dull? Take heed of what has already been taught, as well as what you will soon learn: that table service is an art in itself.
Every profession has rules, more or less. Table service has more. There are personal rules dealing with you as an individual and rules for working directly with guests. This should not scare you — in fact, the rules should make you feel more secure. All these rules are based on common sense and are designed to make your work easier.
Gum chewing and smoking during working hours are forbidden.
A noisy service station is a sign that the service personnel are neglecting their main task, which is creating a relaxing environment in which guests can enjoy their meals. All utensils should be handled carefully and silently, and orders should be called calmly, so that even during your busiest time, the atmosphere will not become hectic.
Collisions with colleagues are easily avoided if you obey the following two rules:
1. Never stop abruptly.
2. In a restaurant, as on the road, there is right-hand traffic.
Always keep to the right. Always move forward, never backward. You will soon learn that service is much easier this way. Moreover, you will appear more graceful and elegant.
Wasted motions mean more work, and they are a sign of inattentiveness. Always think about what you are doing and plan ahead—make every move count.
If you need a hand towel, carry it, neatly folded, over your left forearm.
Carrying Plates, Glassware, Flatware, and Other Utensils
During service the right and left hands have distinct functions. The left hand carries while the right hand works.
Flatware, glasses, cups, and the like are always carried on a tray, never in your hands.
For safety and to prevent clattering, this tray should always be covered with a paper or cloth napkin.
When bringing platters to the side table or guest table, always carry them with both hands. The hand towel should be draped lengthwise over the cloche 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 sauce boats are always placed on a small plate with a paper doily.
The Carrying of Plates
A Stack of Plates
A stack of plates is always carried with both hands. Wrap your hand towel around the plates, as shown in the photo, so that you do not touch the plates with your bare hands. Do not hold the plates against your body.
Always hold a plate between the thumb and 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.
Two Plates, 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 thA ball of the thumb. Support the upper plate with the other fingers.
The 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 once.
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 in the waiters’ pantry.
Rules for Service at the Guest Table
Women are usually served first. If it is an honorary dinner, of course, the guest of honor is served first. Otherwise, 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.
During service your movements should always flow naturally. The following rules therefore should become second nature.
Left of the Guest
• Present platters
• Serve from platters with a spoon and fork
• Hold platters when the guests help themselves
• Serve salad, when it is served as a side dish
• Serve bread for the bread plates
• Clean the table of breadcrumbs with a folded napkin or crumber
• Clear anything served from the left
Right of the Guest
• Set and clear plates
• Replenish or change flatware
• Pour beverages and present bottles
Every Rule Has Exceptions
At corner tables, for instance, it is not always possible to observe the service rules. In this case the guests are served so as to disturb them as little as possible.
At a rectangular table, stand at the head of the table:
• To work at a side table, so the guest can see what and how you serve
• To open wine
• To speak with the guests, when assisting them with the menu or taking orders
Once you understand the principles behind the service techniques discussed in this section, elegance is only a matter of time and training. Practice makes perfect—that old cliché is nonetheless true. Just relax. With time and practice you will master these techniques.
This service technique is used only for platter service and involves the so-called tong grip.
In the tong grip, the utensils are held in the right hand. Hold the spoon between the index and middle finger and the fork between the index finger and 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.
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 you serve 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 Plate
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 at the lower part of the plate, at 6 o’clock.
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, butters, such as maître d’hôtel butter or herb butter, are 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 at 12 o’clock when placed in front of the guest.
Plates should never appear overloaded; the rims must always be free of food and without drips.
Hot food is always served on hot plates; cold food, on cold plates.
This topic will be discussed in chapter 16 in detail. Here, however, are a few ground rules.
Hold glasses by the foot or stem only, to avoid fingerprints. All 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 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 for the host. After the host approves, the guests are served; the host’s glass is filled last.
The Sequence of Clearing
When an aperitif has been served, the empty glasses are cleared only after the wine is served.
If a 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. With a folded napkin or a crumber, clean the tablecloth of crumbs.
Five service styles are internationally recognized:
Because all service styles are not suitable for all occasions or all foods, few restaurants employ only one service style exclusively. For example, for a small a la carte item at one table, the staff will use plate service, while a large a la carte item at the next will be served from a side table. Not only will you learn about the different service types in theory here, but you will likely encounter them all in your daily routine.
In French, or butler, service the guests help themselves from a platter.
In this service style, the platter is either placed on the table (hot platters on a warmer) or offered to each guest by the server. In the latter case, the server holds the platter on the left hand and presents it to the guest from the left side. The handles of the service utensils point toward the guest.
This service is suitable for:
Table d’hôte service
A part service
In this service style, hot plates are placed in front of the guest first.
The platter is carried on the left forearm. The waitperson, holding the serving spoon and fork in the right hand with a tong grip, serves the guests from the left.
This service style is suitable for:
Table d’hôte service
A part service
The Side-Table Service
When using this service style, the platters are first presented to the guest and then placed on réchauds on the side table.
Hot plates are already on the side table.
When preparing a plate, always use both hands, not the tong grip. The finished plate is placed in front of the guest from the right side.
Very often, only part of the food is served to avoid overloading the plates. In this case, fresh plates are used for second helpings.
The side-table service is the most elegant and is suitable for:
A la carte service
Small banquets (up to twenty people)
A part service
In this style of service, the food is plated in the kitchen. The service staff picks it up and brings it directly to the table. In this service, the plates are always served from the right.
This service is suitable for:
A la carte service
Small and medium banquets (up to fifty people)
Parts of a menu, such as:
In self-service, the tables are set by the service staff. All food is arranged as a buffet, where the guests help themselves.
A self-service buffet can offer hot and cold food at the same time, as at a banquet, or only part of a meal, such as a salad or dessert bar. Some restaurants offer a buffet at lunchtime to keep prices low.
At a buffet, guests should move in only one direction. Always locate the cold items at the beginning and hot items at the end so guests can sit down and eat as soon as the hot food has been chosen.
Self-service is very versatile and can be used in a wide range of circumstances, from simple to very festive, including:
Cold and hot buffets
Self-service is suitable for:
Parts of a menu, such as the salad or dessert
Service methods are not to be confused with service styles. The service method signifies the organization of a meal; it does not determine the service style. The service method therefore can combine several styles of service.
The four most important service methods are:
A la carte
Table d’ hôte is the simultaneous service of the same menu at an established price to all guests, even if they do not belong to the same group. This is most commonly used at spas and in institutional settings, such as schools and nursing homes.
The best service styles for this method are:
Banquets are always prepared for private parties (these are discussed in detail in chapter 10).
With this method of service, a predetermined number of guests are served the same menu at the same time. A banquet is very much like table d’ hôte service except that the number of guests is known in advance and all the guests are affiliated in some way. The following service styles are most suitable:
Side-table service (small banquets only)
Self-service (large banquets)
With a part service, all guests are served the same menu, but they do not have to appear for the meal at the same time.
The service styles most suitable for a part service are:
A la carte
With a la carte service, each guest chooses his or her meal from a variety of menu selections, each of which is priced separately. This free choice does not mean that the menu should not highlight certain offerings or that the service staff need not suggest particular items.
The service styles most suitable for this method are: