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CONTEMPORARY COURTESIES

Etiquette column: Restaurant wait staff should know dining etiquette

Friday, February 1, 2013 - 12:01 am

Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at www.news-sentinel.com.

Q. Karen, I am often surprised when I go to a high-end restaurant and find the wait staff is not well-trained in the basics of proper dining etiquette. One of my particular annoyances is when the wait staff rushes over to clear one person's plate (the person who is the speedy eater) while the others at the table have barely begun their meal. Don't you think a good wait staff should be trained in dining etiquette, as well as how to serve?

A. Yes, I think the wait staff, particularly in fine dining restaurants, should have knowledge of proper dining etiquette. Their understanding of proper dining etiquette increases their comfort level in serving, enhances the patrons' experience and makes the restaurant seem top-notch. It is not enough for them to know that you serve from the left and clear from the right. They should be able to read the position of a patron's silverware to see whether it is in the “I am finished” position or the “I am resting” position and much more.

Removing plates before everyone is finished puts undue pressure on those who have not finished. It can cause them to rush through their meal, or worse, not finish it all.

And even worse than taking the plates away is bringing the doggy bag or Styrofoam container with the speedy patron's leftovers in it to take home for everyone to look at while they are finishing. (I don't recommend asking for a doggy bag in professional dining situations, such as a job interview or business-related meals. It looks unprofessional.)

Ideally, everyone at the table starts together and finishes together, and well-trained servers should know that. And if food is going to be taken home, save those unsightly containers in the kitchen until everyone is finished and ready to leave the table.

However, in defense of the servers, there are those patrons who insist that their plate be removed the minute they have finished the last morsel.

In that case, the server should comply with the patron's wishes.

Some other points a good server should be aware of:

•Who is the host — regardless of gender; the guests order first and are served first.

•Be respectful of all patrons and don't call them patronizing names such as honey or sweetie. And patrons should show the same respect toward the wait staff.

•Servers should know the proper place settings for formal and informal meals.

•They also should know what is on the menu and be able to discuss a particular item if asked about it.

Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email clarson@news-sentinel.com, and we’ll forward it to her.