Being a waiter at a fine dining restaurant is the ideal serving job in the food business. However, it requires technical education beyond the basics of serving food. You have to be attentive and alert at all times throughout your shift, which can be physically and mentally exhausting.
Fine dining is an experience, and as a server, you play an integral role in ensuring the entire experience goes smoothly and is worth the money your customers are paying.
In this article, we’ll cover a few fine dining service tips that will surely help you secure a place at a sought-after restaurant, and start earning what you deserve.
What Constitutes as Fine Dining?
Before we go into our tips for fine dining waiters, it’s important to understand exactly what fine dining is.
Fine dining is a sophisticated, classy dining out experience which caters to an upscale clientele often serving gourmet food. The experience entails refined table service, an exotic menu with equally exotic ingredients, creating a unique ambiance for all diners.
Fine dining restaurants, also called ‘white tablecloth’ restaurants, usually have a formal setting, with the atmosphere influenced by their menu. For example, a restaurant that serves Mediterranean food often has décor influenced by the Mediterranean region and can have elements from Spain, Morocco, Greece or France.
These restaurants also have extensive wine lists and sommeliers that help diners pair their food with their drinks. Fine dining has its own etiquettes which are essential in this formal setting; from how the cutlery needs to be placed to how the food is presented.
Fine dining waiters are trained to offer suggestions from the menu, have a deep understanding of the ingredients and the food served at the establishment, and are expected to provide a comfortable and luxurious environment for their clientele. Fine dining restaurants often have dress-codes, so that everybody, even the clientele, adds to the prestige of the location.
Expectations of Fine Dining Waiters
Servers at any restaurant are representatives of the establishment. Since they are the customers’ primary point of contact for their table, the customers judge the quality of a restaurant based on the quality of its wait staff. The wait staff is responsible for maintaining the decorum of the restaurant, with their attitude, manners, and overall demeanor being a reflection of what the restaurant stands for.
Customers spend a lot of money at fine dining restaurants, and they are paying for the service just as much as they are paying for the food. Hence, quality service is not only expected, but mandatory.
Most fine dining restaurants have stylized menus with exotic ingredients which might not be familiar to most customers. It is expected from the wait staff to have in-depth knowledge about the items on the menu, answer any queries the customers might have about each ingredient, understand the customers’ customized orders, and even suggest items from the menu that the customers may enjoy.
Fine dining servers are expected to follow certain etiquettes, from interactions with guests to basic self-grooming before a shift. You should also avoid informal conversation with customers, maintain the right posture while serving, and be polite at all times.
As a fine dining server, you should have a relaxed, easygoing vibe, with a pleasant smile. Your demeanor will put customers at ease; as the last thing you want to do is intimidate or put off the customers. They should be comfortable with taking their time deciding on the menu.
You need to understand that the customers are paying good money for a fine dining experience, and they are relying on you to make it perfect for them.
Top 5 Fine Dining Service Tips
There are many tips for the waiters who work in fine dining restaurants, such as ‘hold the glass from the stem, not the bowl’ or ‘make sure the tablecloths are wrinkle-free.’ These don’t make much of an impact on the customers’ minds, but are noticeable when not performed.
What makes an instant impact, is your friendliness, the quality of the service that you provide, and their rapport with you.
We have identified five tips that will set you apart as an excellent fine dining waiter.
1. Be Polite
It’s up to you to set the tone of your encounter with your guests as soon as they enter the restaurant. A friendly greeting goes a long way to suggest that they will have a good dining experience.
You can introduce yourself at this moment in a pleasant manner and inform them about day’s specials, or simply place the menu on the table. This will depend on your restaurant’s policy.
You are expected to be polite throughout your interaction with the customers, helping them select items from the menu if they need it.
Make sure that you maintain eye-contact with them. Doing this tells your customers that they have your undivided attention. When conversing, use courtesy phrases and words like "please" and "thank you."
2. Be Patient
Fine dining restaurants usually assign tables to servers, so you are in charge of your guests from the time they walk in, to the time they leave. With that said, this doesn’t mean you should rush customers if you have multiple tables at once.
Rushing customers while they are ordering or finishing their meal is a complete violation of fine dining service. They are out for a nice evening, looking to socialize with friends and family, and are spending good money to do so as well. Therefore, they expect everything to be perfect.
It is good practice to give your guests some time and privacy to consider the menu. You can ask if they require any assistance or are ready to order after a few minutes. Asking them once should be enough though, if you ask repeatedly, you might come off as rude and impatient.
3. Be Knowledgeable
Customers and restaurant owners alike count on you to represent the restaurant. You have to make sure you are well-versed with the entire menu, which includes the ingredients used is each dish and how each dish is prepared. It’s also important to know basic facts about the restaurant customers may be interested in knowing.
You should be able to recommend dishes if asked and must be aware of the daily specials as well. It’s not unusual for customers to have no idea what they want to order, so you must be able to coax their preferences out from them so you can make suggestions accordingly.
As a waiter in a fine dining restaurant, one thing you have to be aware of at all costs is items in the menu that can cause food allergies. You have to ask your guests if they have any allergies, and then warn them if they order something which contains those ingredients. Most fine-dining restaurants require their staff to take food allergen training to ensure they know the impact of allergic reactions and what food items to be aware of.
The last thing fine dining customers want to hear from their server is, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.” To avoid this embarrassment, it’s important to spend time outside of your shift to study the menu and the restaurant at which you work.
4. Be Responsive
Being responsive means you should be at the beck and call of your customers. As a server, it is your job to be attentive to the needs of all your customers. For example, as a fine dining waiter, it’s your job to fill an empty glass, pick up dirty utensils, and replace cutlery dropped on the floor.
However, don’t loom over your guests’ tables as this comes off as intrusive and bothersome. Maintain your distance, and if you notice the customers looking for a waiter, respond quickly by asking if everything is okay.
Obviously, this becomes harder to manage with the more tables you have to look after, but that comes with the job. It’s a skill that you’ll have to work at if you’d like to stay in the fine dining restaurant business.
5. Be Efficient
From making arrangements at the table to bringing the menu, food, drinks, and lastly the bill on time, you must not leave your customers waiting for too long. Being efficient doesn’t just mean being quick, it means doing things the right way.
This includes timing your actions perfectly, bringing food to the right customer at the right time, making sure you are checking on all your tables routinely throughout the night. This will become easier with practice, and being efficient will go a long way when it comes to getting tips from customers, especially those that appreciate quality service.
So that wraps up our tips for waiters in the fine dining service industry.
It’s crucial to remember that the fine dining experience relies on its servers to ensure everything is meticulously carried out. Quality food, excellent ambiance, and immaculate decor mean nothing if the servers are ill-mannered and don’t pay attention to the needs of your customers.
The wait staff needs to be given extensive etiquette training, covering all topics from serving food to attending to guests, along with learning the restaurant menu, its ingredients and properties and food allergies caused by ingredients.
A restaurant’s reputation depends on the quality if its wait staff and customers rely on good service to ensure that they have a memorable fine dining experience. For more restaurant tips and training programs, don’t forget to check out our list of state-specific, regulatory approved courses specifically for the food and beverage industry.