So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Attention to detail

I’m constantly amazed how lazy some us can be.

I work in a restaurant that is staffed with veteran waiters and yet, when you survey their tables, you see crooked silverware, uneven spacing between plate and flatware, uneven placement from the edge of the table, and a lack of symmetry.

To me, it’s just slipshod preparation.

Many restaurants have a strict standard that everyone has to adhere to. We don’t. And that’s fine, I suppose. It allows for a little individuality, but the main thing is to be consistent on the table itself as well as consistent within the section.

There are a couple of time-honored principles that can hold you in good stead.

The traditional spacing of all items from the edge of a table is a thumbnail’s length. This means that if you have a B&B plate (bread and butter plate) as part of the setting instead of a dinner plate, the closest edge of it should be a thumbnail away from the edge of the table. The knives and forks should line up perfectly with the edge of the B&B. If you set with a dinner plate, it’s acceptable to line up the flatware higher up, like this diagram from the Emily Post Institute:








If you place a rollup on the B&B as part of the setup, make sure that it sits exactly perpendicular to the edge of the table and right in the middle of the B&B. Don’t leave it crooked.

Your forks should be parallel to each other. There is an alternative old-school way to do it though. You can have the fork on the right straight up and down and the one of the left ‘s tine’s end butted up against the end of the right one about halfway on the tine end and the handle end also touching the base fork. Some settings have the left fork actually higher than than the right one. I prefer having the right fork higher – to me, it just looks more natural, especially if you have a spoon set on the right side of the knife. Since it’s shorter, it will appear that the top line formed by the knife and spoon slopes down to the right. If you have the forks set with the right fork higher, you’ll get a mirror image of the slope.

We set our tables with a B&B instead of a dinner plate. I arrange my forks and knife at the exact width of our dinner plate, as if it were there (and add an extra half-inch on each side). I’m surprised how much variation I see in the restaurant. Some are spread so wide you could drive a truck through them. To me, using the width of a dinner plate gives a tight appearance as well as the perfect “landing zone” for the entree.

If you have tables in a row or a long table, make sure that everything is in the same plane. If you look down a long table, all napkins, glasses and silverware should line up exactly. Salt and pepper shakers should be on line and uniform.

table setting







It only takes a second to line everything up properly. Make this part of your fine-tuning of your service. Remember, the place setting is the first thing that the guest is going to see (with the possible exception of the menu). If it looks slipshod, you could possibly send that message about your service.

There are of course different standards in different countries. French table setting especially can be quite elaborate and exotic at the high end.

French table setting








As  always, always defer to your house policies.

Don’t forget to prebus!


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