The Subtle Details of Excellent Restaurant Service

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

You’d be impressed if you went into a 3-star Michelin restaurant decorated with gilded statues and 19th-century art, servers in white dinner jackets, and the highest quality food. However, does it matter if the service is shocking? No, sadly.

I used to visit a great little coffee shop in my city. It was always great. The quality of the coffee and the small dishes added to the menu were brilliant. The warm and sleek interior was pleasant. It is a coffee and wine shop, so it is very much my place, but I stopped going there suddenly after years of loyal visits.

All because of two instances of bad service, I wondered where I would take someone on a date or business lunch if my priority were good service.

Those who know me and know my role in etiquette coaching will appreciate that service in the hospitality industry is more noticeable to me than perhaps to others, i.e. I have less patience for it because my expectation is much higher.

Good service will go a long way, especially when trying to impress a potential client or date.

In particular, if the staff are there to greet you upon arrival and show you to your seat, such as a maître d’hôtel would in a restaurant, you’re in good hands.

If on a date and they sit the lady facing the restaurant and you facing the wall, you are in the right place for a romantic evening.

For business lunches, the table setting should tell you what you need to know. It’s common (in both senses) nowadays to see cutlery placed on top of a napkin. This makes things more difficult as you’d need to replace the cutlery – noisily – before placing the napkin. If the cutlery is already placed on the left and right side with a napkin in the middle, then the staff are clearly abiding by the etiquette, which is to make the dining process smooth and easy for you – this is a brilliant little way to notice the overall level of service.

Good servers will observe the silent code of service in any fine establishment. For example, when you lean back in your chair and move your head, they will notice that you want their attention without shouting. When you place cutlery in the 6/12 position, they will notice you have finished and come to collect your dish.

In my experience, all of those subtle details, which go amiss these days, will tell you for certain if you’re in a worthy establishment for that romantic evening or clinching that business deal – or not.

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