How To Serve at a Formal Dinner

There are sets of standards and etiquette that are observed in formal dinners for the host, guests and servers. It is not enough for waiters or servers to put the plates on the table. There is actually a properly coordinated way of serving, refilling drinks and taking empty plates away. Here are the basic ways of serving at a formal dinner.

  • Welcome the guests and offer them their seat. If there is arranged seating, ask for their name and lead them to their table. If such is the case, it is important for the server to be familiar with the names of the guests and where they should be seated.
  • Serve the drinks by pouring in water first. The server approaches the guest from behind, and then reaches out for the glass over the guest’s right shoulder. The server then takes the glass with one hand and pours in the water, away from the guest to prevent any accidents and spills. The pitcher should never touch the glass at any point. This is also the time to ask for the guests for their preferred drink (other than water) if the host is serving cocktails or sodas. Servers should have a sharp memory; otherwise, he may bring in the cocktails and offer drinks to the guests at the table, one at a time. The server may also carry one bottle of wine and offer it to each guest, pouring in the wine in the same fashion as the water.
  • Serve the food to one guest at a time. Place the plate in front of your guest from his right side. It is a good practice to serve the female guests first, before the male guests. It is advisable for the server to learn about the menu prior to the start of the event so he can answer the questions of guests who may be interested to know what is in the food. This is especially true for guests who are under a diet plan or those who need to follow certain religious restrictions on food. In general, find out whether a course has pork, beef, chicken or fish in it. Serve each course after the plate for the previous course has been removed.
  • Take away empty plates once you notice that the guest has lined up the utensils on his plate. The server should approach each guest and gesture his hand towards the plate and ask the guest first whether he is done. The server should take the plate away from the guest’s left side. The server should also clean up the table subtly by using a crumb scraper. Take care that the guests do not end up having scrapped crumbs on their lap.
  • Serve coffee or tea to the guests after the meal. The server may also entertain requests from guests for cocktails if the host have provided for it. Refill the guests’ glasses with water even without them asking.
  • Thank the guests when they leave the event. Take a look at their chairs and table to check whether they have dropped or left something. Bring items to the guests at once if you notice that they have left it.


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