Tales from a Former Server: Phrasing (Or, How to Position Yourself More Favorably to Guests)

Foodable WebTV Network

Foodable WebTV Network

By an Anonymous Former Server, as part of our new 'Tales from a Former Server' column

I’ve worked in a total of ten restaurants in two states over the past 12 years. I’ve opened three and have gone through so much training that I could probably never forget what I’ve learned, even if I wanted to. However, even with all of those restaurants and all of the training, there was only one that taught me how to properly speak to a table. At first I thought it was stupid. “I know what to say and what I’m doing,” I thought. But as I began to apply the following phrases, I noticed a difference in my table’s behavior toward me. Even after I left that particular restaurant, I still employed these tactics and they worked every time. 

When it comes to talking to your tables, there are some really easy ways to manipulate the conversation in your favor. I wish I still had the training materials because they were gold (and impossible to get a hold of now that I am no longer an employee), but I remember a few and would like to share them.


This is your table’s first impression of you and so it should always be spot-on. You know how some restaurants say don’t ever say ‘folks’? I agree. Stay away from everyone, y’all, or anything generic like that. I would always start off with ladies and gentlemen, or ladies or gentlemen depending on who is there. Or you could always just say, “Hi. Welcome to [your restaurant’s name].” Conciser is always nicer and even though you think you should say more, just don’t.

Is Everything OK?

After your table has taken two bites, or you’ve waited two minutes, you should always ask them how everything is. But if you ask it open-ended like that, you might not get the right response. If you say, “Is everything ok?” you are implying that the meal is just ‘okay,’ or at least putting it in their subconscious. Try saying “How are we enjoying everything?” or “Is everything to our liking?” It puts it in their minds that they are enjoying something and the answer will most likely be a more favorable one. 

No Problem Means There’s a Problem 

If someone asks you to grab them ketchup, NEVER say ‘no problem.’ Why would there even be a problem? That is literally your job, and therefore the only thing you need to do that day. Saying no problem implies there might be a problem and you never want your tables to think there is a potential problem. See how many times I’ve said ‘problem?’ Doesn’t it make you think there is one? In fact, just stay away from negatives altogether. Always turn it around and make it a positive. (Example: “I don’t know” = “Let me find out”)

Do Not Announce Your Next Step

Because basically, no one cares. Your table knows you’re coming back so why would you tell them? They are there to enjoy their meals and their time, not mentally log what you’re doing. 

Are You Ready?

If you walk up to a table and ask them if they are ready, I swear I will come to your restaurant and smack you. DO NOT RUSH YOUR GUESTS. I know you want to flip your tables, but don’t push it. Don’t ask them if they need more time, don’t ask them if they are all set. In fact, if you have to ask them, then you are a horrible people reader. You’ll know by your guests’ demeanor if they are ready. Their menus will be pushed to the side or they will be looking for you. 

Always Have a Suggestion

If your guest orders a steak, do not say “How would you like that cooked?” Instead, ask them if they would like that prepared medium, medium rare, etc. Likewise, if your guest orders a Vodka Martini, do not ask them what type of vodka they would like. Instead, be more specific: “Will that be with Ketel One, Grey Goose?,” etc. This is also how you should up-sell. Don’t ever try to up-sell unless it is natural. People are trying to enjoy their meal, not have their guard up because their server is trying to scam more money from them.

Like I said, I don’t remember them all, but the few I have told you are absolute gold. Try them out and let us know if they’ve made a difference. And if you have any more, please feel free to share!