Service in a fine dining restaurant is more attentive and formal than your average full-service restaurant, with a slower pace and a more sophisticated ambiance. But what are the steps of service, and how do you go about serving food and wine? Here’s a few things to consider as you get started.
What is Fine Dining?
A fine dining restaurant tends to offer experiences that are a step up in formality – pricier food, higher-end table setting and linens, and a very high standard of service.
Fine dining restaurants can serve any cuisine or type of food, but many are similarly run with specific steps of service, attention to detail, and a prolonged meal with more courses.
What makes a restaurant fine dining?
For guests, fine dining generally comes paired with an expectation of higher prices and sharper dress codes. Often, high-end restaurants have fixed menus or a set price per diner, with each course and the pacing designed by the chef.
Serving protocols and procedures at fine dining restaurants do tend to differ from casual restaurants. Fine dining establishments tend to hire experienced staff that can deliver a fancy experience, with the food and beverage knowledge to elevate the visit for guests.
How to serve in a fine dining restaurant
How to take orders in a fine dining restaurant
Generally, fine dining restaurants offer a more formal dining experience that incorporates multiple courses. The first order servers typically take is the drink order – ideally within a moment or two of the table being seated. The meal proceeds accordingly: drinks, appetizers, entrees, and desserts.
How you or your staff go about taking orders depends on the menu at your restaurant. Many fine dining restaurants operate under a prix fixe menu: a set menu with one or limited options in the multi-course meal. Some restaurants will have one choice for each course, while others may have a few options for customers to pick and choose from.
Other fine dining restaurants use à la carte menus, where the guest builds their main course plate from an extensive menu made up of a main entree and a list of sides and appetizers for the table to share.
Whatever the menu, your fine dining restaurant doesn’t need to be using only pen and paper. Restaurant technology like a handheld POS can help provide a seamless guest experience. Guests are typically spending more money than usual at a fine dining restaurant, so they expect their order to be timely and correct – all of which technology can help deliver.
And seamless tech allows your servers to spend more time on the hospitality aspects of the guest experience and less time on taking orders and running payments.
For more information on how to describe fine dining food and how to build a menu, check out Toast’s course on menu engineering.
How to serve food in a fine dining restaurant
The general rule is to serve from a guest's left using your left hand. You or your servers never want to reach across a guest to reach the table, and it’s best practice to take the plate from the closest point. To avoid leaving fingerprint marks, glasses and silverware are held by the base, and all guests should be served at the same time, making sure to wait for each course to be fully finished before starting to serve the next one.
While the guests are eating, servers should check in periodically, clear empty dishes, and crumb the table when necessary. At the end of the meal, always check in for more orders before bringing the check.
How to address diners in fine dining
It’s important to know how to introduce yourself when you manage or work at a fine dining restaurant.
When guests arrive, warmly and formally welcome them. Stick to more professional greetings: “Good evening, ma’am,” would be more appropriate for fine dining than “how’s it going tonight?”. You might also choose to introduce yourself.
Throughout the meal, keep your tone professional and respectful.
How to serve wine in a fine dining restaurant
Servers in a fine dining restaurant should be well-versed in the restaurant's wine and drinks list, and should know which wines will go well with which entrees, be able to make recommendations, and be able to describe and identify the flavor profiles.
When serving, your servers should start by showing the guests the wine bottle to make sure it’s exactly what they want before opening. Once opened, pour a small amount for the person who ordered the bottle to try it. This pour should only be enough for a sip and the guest to make sure it’s what they were looking for.
When pouring the full glasses, make sure that you hold the glass from the stem (not the bowl) and pour from the right. Use a cloth napkin to clean any drips while pouring, and place the bottle at the table (as long as it’s not empty).
Learning how to be a good server takes training, patience, and a few tricks up your sleeve.
Fine Dining Steps of Service
- Greet the guests: Here, the server will explain the menu and answer any questions. This is also a good time to fill water glasses and familiarize yourself with the guests and their needs.
- Take drink orders: Drink orders should be taken within 2 - 3 minutes of being seated, and should be promptly brought over to the table.
- Take appetizer order: The appetizer order can be taken when the drinks are delivered to the table. This is a good time to share any specials of the night as well.
- Take entree order: Allow any appetizers, soups or salads to be finished before taking the entree order. This is also the time to take the wine order if the table is ordering wine with the entrees.
- Serve entrees: Prior to serving the entree, clear any appetizer plates, fill any empty water glasses, and check for any additional needs from the table.
- Check back on entrees: Check in within a few minutes of the entrees being served to make sure everything is correct and the guests are satisfied with their orders.
- Take dessert and after-dinner drinks order: Once the dinner plates are cleared, crumb the table and offer the table dessert menus.
- Check back on any more orders: Before presenting the check, check in on the table to ask if they would like to order anything else.
- Present the check and take payment: Once everyone is ready, bring the check over and leave it on the table. You don’t want to rush the payment, but make sure to process payment promptly so guests aren’t waiting around.
- Clear the table: Clear the table within a few minutes of the guests leaving. This way, it’s ready for the next party and surrounding guests don’t have to look at dirty dishes.
How to be a server in a fine dining restaurant
Fine dining restaurants typically prefer to hire staff who have previous hospitality experience. First, you should work as a server or bartender in a more casual restaurant, to gain experience and build your skills in the craft.
Coming into a fine dining restaurant interview with plenty of experience, knowledge, and skill in the industry will give you a much better chance of being hired and being successful in this new role. You should have knowledge of fine dining etiquette and the general processes around serving food and wine.
Start your fine dining career
Service in a fine dining restaurant is often a step up from other restaurants – with a new layer of service and etiquette, higher price points, and higher diner expectations.
Opening a fine dining restaurant involves heavy financial investments, strong market understanding and great management skills. For more information on opening a fine dining restaurant, check out this post.
Header image by Obi Onyeador, via unsplash.