Food Service Etiquette and Styles

Service with a smile is more important than which side the food is served from, but it helps to have a server with both the smile and the knowledge!
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Image source, photo of a page in Town and Country Magazine, 2013


Ever since we were shutdown (just for a few weeks to flatten the curve) back in March of 2020, I have received weekly emails and phone calls with the same types of question… “When will you be teaching or giving seminars again?” “When will you be having another tea and talk?” “When will the Olive House be reopened?” I have been giving pretty much the same answer this whole time… “I’m not sure.”

Yes, there was that brief window when I scheduled private group classes, book signings, teas, etc… back in July. Then, I found out I was not only sick, but contagious. I had to cancel everything, including a long planned, talk and Zoom presentation for the Ontario Museum of History and Art. I was crushed and just now am getting better. I am starting to believe classes will be back up and running for October and the museum presentation will, fingers crossed, be in person on November 6th. We’re even hoping to have a tea along with the presentation. I have to follow the heath department rules, however, as does the Olive House, so I have been looking online to see what that will entail.

I was pleased to find this article below on the State Food Safety website. It’s a great article from 2014 on serving food at the table. I get asked about the etiquette for this on a regular basis, but I always have to warn whomever I am speaking with that not all servers are trained in such skills, and there are several different serving styles now in use.
 Also, most restaurant staff here in the U.S. do not look upon such a job as a career, but as part-time work on the ladder up to something better.   This on Etiquipedia© is an excellent article on varying food service styles, from British Service to Homestyle Service. The new “French Service” has its own article.

I do restaurant and country club staff training, but can’t reach every establishment. And what with many restaurants shuttered permanently, due to this COVID beast we weren’t prepared for, I’m not sure when I will be doing such training again any time soon. The turnover of servers is high and right now, restaurants are desperate for staff. It’s a difficult situation. This article is perfect for the current state of things so I am posting it here for my readers.


Is Left Right?



What side do you serve from?

The correct way to serve food is probably unknown to your customers, but vital to you. This technique requires you place the dishes in front of the customers and take them away from the proper side. Doing so will enhance their overall dining experience.

Chef Albrich, an Austrian-born fine dining expert, suggests that the traditional method of placing dishes from the left and removing them from the right is not always the best way to serve guests. According to him, the custom of serving guests from the left started long ago when food for meals would come out on large trays. Empty plates would be placed in front of guests from the left side, then each one of the plates would be filled with food in their place from the large tray.

“But if you are like most people today and have the plates presented to your guests with the food already on it, nicely displayed and decorated, then it should be served from the right, and it is incorrect to serve it from the left,” Chef Albrich says.

He goes on to outline which foods can be properly delivered from each side of the guest.

Serve from the left

If the place where you work gives its guests empty plates and later fills them at the table, those plates should be given to the customer from the left side. Sides such as vegetables and bread can also be delivered from the left and they should also be removed from the left.

Serve from the right

If the customer’s plate is arranged in the kitchen it should be delivered to them from the right side. Pre-plated food (considering the exceptions above), beverages, all empty plates, and utensils should be served from the guest’s right. All dishes served from the right need to also be removed from the right.

Once again, it is likely that many of your customers won’t know which side is correct when you serve them; however, there is a proper way to serve dishes and you never know when you’ll have a dining expert in your midst! —Jeremy Howard


This post was originally published in November 2014 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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