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“Serve From The Left” Myth

Serve From The Left: B.S

 

There are some lies that become perpetuated for so long, that they start to become true.  I fear this may be one of those examples.18377096_s

I have worked fine dining for over 10 years and for over 10 years I have heard “serve from the left, remove from the right.”  And, for some reason or another, I never questioned it.  That is, until I started this website. Then in 2012 I began researching the history of service and the different types of service.  What I learned was K-Razy!

Here is the conundrum.

Officially, you are supposed to deliver food from the right and remove food from the right. The stinky little lie that has enveloped the world of service is “Serve from the Left and remove from the right.” This idea stems from Butler service where butlers would showcase a platter of food choices to their master or guest. The platter is presented from the left of the guest. The guest would either remove food items from the platter or the butler/server would put selected food items onto the diners plate.

But the service that is most widely practiced worldwide is Service a la Russe. This is when the food item is selected from a menu and prepared in full by the Chef in the kitchen. The food is then delivered in its entirety to the guest, FROM THE RIGHT. Officially you only deliver food to a guest from the left if it is from a platter. Or bread. Bread can be presented from the left, (that is where the bread plate is located).

 

Were you taught to "Serve From The Left, Remove From The Right"?

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The Lie: Serve From The Left

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Most fine dining restaurants teach “serve from the left, remove from the right.”

 If you decide to continue serving the wrong, but popular way, then here are your rules.

Deliver from the left:

  • All solid food
  • All food delivered from a platter
  • All bread
  • All table side service soups. (Meaning, you deliver the bowl with the ingredients in it from the left, make a table loop, and pour the soup stock into the bowl table side from the right. This is because all liquids should be delivered from the right.)

Deliver from the right

  • All beverages
  • All soups that will be POURED TABLE SIDE

 

The Truth

 If you would like your restaurant to present food 100% correctly, (congratulations) and here are your rules.

Serve from the right

  • All pre-plated food items. (Meaning it was prepared and plated in full from Chef, in the kitchen.)
  • All beverages
  • All soups, fully prepared and/or poured table-side

 

Serve from the left

  • All bread
  • Any food presented from a platter

 

General Food Delivery Rules

  • No thumb on the plate, hold it with as little contact as possible
  • Don’t carry too many plates
  • Run food with someone
    • Come to the table with your food and get in delivery position
    • WAIT for your food running companions to get into place
    • Make eye contact with your food running companions and when every food funner is ready, deliver the plates in unison
    • Pivot into position 2, make eye contact with fellow food runner’s and deliver to the next position

 

Modern Considerations

There are a lot of booths to be dealt with and many times, even if you want to follow the rules, you can’t.

  • The biggest issue is reaching over one guest’s food to deliver food to another guest. This is bad!  Don’t do it. Deliver food to the furthest guest first, and make your way to the outside of the booth.
  • Deliver food to the woman first.
  • Don’t auction food, know who ordered what before you deliver the food.

 

So, what are you going to do? How are you going to run food in your restaurant?  Oh, life is full of tough decisions!!!

 

 

Stuff you need to read

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You’ve had a manager like this –> 10 Ways To Be A Horrible Restaurant Manager

 

IamWaitress helps servers and managers achieve their highest level of service awesomeness. Stick around, learn some stuff, be (more) badass.

50 Comments
  1. Thanks for addressing pre-ordering again. For Chris and others who don’t understand this concept a hotel banquet, as an example,is pre-ordered. Sometimes many months in advance. As a catering captain I will then work off a Banquet Event Order fully knowing what we are serving. In many cases we will receive a list of persons with food allergies and special requests. Servers then work on the floor off of name tags and colored tags at the place setting with an advance understanding of what to serve each person based on these markers. These details are taken at the sales level of the event when the client is “ordering”, again, sometimes months in advance. This pre-knowledge will help me determine how we set the table to include silverware. The “pre” distinction helps me determine on the day of the event whether I will use the term “order” or “pre-order” when dealing with servers, chefs and the client. In some cases then, I will have to bring a menu to a guest or have a discussion with the guest as to what they need or require of us. ie: “Has the guest pre-ordered to accommodate for their food allergy request or are they ordering now?” For Jennifer. What side do you serve platters of entree or dessert choices to a guest. Just curious what you have found out.

    • Just found this randomly through google. Seems like a lot of BS for nothing.

  2. Thanks to all for good information to consider. As Jen says, research. I talk with some of our older servers (one’s who always have a wine key and waiters crumb scraper) and they fill me with service tips and whys. Thanks Jen again and I will keep visiting for more good info.

    Tommy

  3. Actually, Western Europe served state meals in a fashion where obnoxious amounts of food were displayed down the center of the table. Service a la Francaise. Whole roasted pigs and fowl. Hind quarters of beef and large game. Whole loaves of bread and plates of whole vegetables. The diners would gorge themselves while they quafed large amounts of wine and beer. It was all in a display of abundance while the common folk could barely find enough to sustain themselves.
    During Napoleon’s time, around the turn of the 18th century Napoleon adopted “Service a la Russe”, service he had experienced during Russian state dinners. Rather than piling obnoxious amounts of food and drink in the center of the table and reaching and grabbing what ever you could force into yourself, Service a la Russe was served plated in front of the guests, course by course. Subsequently adopted and claimed by the English this style of service became accepted as proper in all of western society. Plates are brought to the table on a tray or service cart. Perhaps carved or even prepared on the cart. From the cart or tray the plates are placed in front of the guests with the left hand from the left. This more civilized approach to serving reasoned that considering 90% of people are right handed, therefore beverages are served and placed to to right. Most of the guests activities take place on the right, therefore it’s far less intrusive to serve from the left. Clearing from the right is simply not to give the impression fresh and soiled plates are being handled in the same manner with the same hand.
    In French cafe’s and casual restaurants anywhere when the server approaches the table with more than two plates they will most likely carry two or three in their left hand and serve from the right with their right hand. French service (fork and spoon in one hand) comes into play when the server approaches the table with items to be served to the guests plate from a plater held in the servers left hand and therefore frenched from the left with the right hand so the guest can view the items on serving plater.

  4. Jennifer,
    I do not appreciate your reactions to those comments that you might feel or think are not toeing your pattern of doing things.I am sure you wont mug the press if you are the President of United States of America!

  5. Hi Jennifer,
    The blog and the thread of comments were very insightful. I have been in the food and beverage Industry for over 20 years and most recently almost primarily in banquets. Throughout my career I had heard rumblings of serve from the left and clear from the right… But when I got to mostly be in banquets it was forced down everyones throats. In the past two years I have worked in over 200 banquet facilities, hotels, and prestigious country clubs and while every client has different rules some strongly enforce this policy more than others. Not one client could actually explain this policy, and blindly followed it passed down from generation to generation. Logically I assumed it had to do with consistency and more importantly the nature of the way that we eat. We drink and eat with our right hands primarily, statistically experts say 70% to 95% of the population is right-handed. If we are serving from the left then when we move onto the next person (in a clockwise rotation) the guest that we just served can start eating whether have being from serving platters or a plated dish.
    If and when I train new people I also pass down this policy as a good rule of thumb. In a banquet setting it looks nice and consistent. Hopefully by the time you’re serving dessert and coffee the guests will notice and appreciate the attention to detail.
    Concerning the restaurant setting, this policy almost gets thrown out the window. It is nearly impossible to execute when Tables aren’t round, in small spaces, or when serving the dreaded booth.
    On a sidenote, I am interested in starting my own blog. Do you have any tips? Is there a way you can privately message me?
    Thank you in advance!

  6. The reason you should serve from the right also is; imagine when you are carrying 3 plates ( 2in your left hand + 1 in your right hand) if you try and put the first plate down in front of the customer to the left of the customer it means that your left hand carrying 2 plates would actually be on top of the customer to your left as if you serve the first plate to the right of the customer, your left hand carrying 2 plates would be behind the customer which looks much better. Even if you are only carrying one plate in your right hand, if you put it down using the left side of customer, it means you have to do an outward twisted movement to your writ in order to avoid touching your customer. Obviously if you are left handed then the reverse seems more logical.
    As for serving wine John, your wine waiter should pour his wine either before the food is served or shorlty after the food is served….I would hate to be sandwiched between a waiter serving me on the left and a wine waiter pouring wine to my right at the same time.

  7. There is nothing more annoying than a waiter/waitress serves/removes different sides for different people, whatever the difficulties involved!

    • Nothing? Nothing?!?! Wow–You’ve got an awesome life.
      But seriously, the most important part of your comment is the “whatever the difficulties involved.” That is a little ridiculous. Sometimes the difficulty involved is not being intrusive, awkward or present to a guest. Your comment makes me think that you would rather have me be awkward at the table to maintain consistency than to use my best judgment based on the situation at hand? Is that right? EXPOUND, please.

  8. Jennifer, keep up the good work, I love your website and I admire what you do. Stick to your passion and keep inspiring people, although not everyone will always agree with you. Don’t get upset with people or situations; both are powerless without your reaction. I cannot give you the formula for success but I can give you the formula for failure – It is: Trying to please everybody.
    Show those who want to see you fall that you can fly and be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.
    Cheers!!!

  9. Haha why do ppl get so offended by something said on the internet. If they don’t agree with it, who cares! Why name call and be rude. Grow up ppl. At the end of the day, I learned from this article. Whether I not I agree with your style of service does not make you a saint or a sinner. Check the egos ppl!

  10. Thanks just for addressing such issues. I have been a catering captain for 11 years and worked for 9 different companies in this capacity. I have also worked as a chef for many years. All too often the people I have encountered with “totality of knowledge” accusations of the rest of us are the ones who demand to be recognized as an authority themselves. I think if someone has something to share they should just come out with it and be grateful that you have developed a forum for us to learn from. I find that many who tell others to serve from the left feel that they are keeping a house tradition more than not. Some can’t even explain it. Here in Portland Oregon that is how it is mostly done and more than that this is what is expected when attending an event. It’s up to the house to determine what they want to do and why. For me it just seems logical to serve from the side with less clutter and activity. Maybe we should hear from those who dine out regularly. I’d be interested in hearing what they think. Traditions evolve all the time in many different industries. Try researching European service. They think we do things oddly.

  11. The very good reason all food is served from the left is in order for the wine waiter to serve all the beverages from the right whilst the food comes from the left.

    After 30+ years in the industry I am continually having to retrain staff due to people like you who want to change a intelligent rules of service.

    • I love the reasoning! This is great. As I said in the article, the most important thing for all restaurants to observe is consistency. Left, right, whatever. As long as everyone knows the rule.

      And to address your second point, I have a question. The people whom you have to “constantly retrain,” are they unaware of the rule or are they staunch serve from the right people? I’ve never met one before, if you have I am genuinely surprised.

      And finally, that’s what you do when you’ve been in the business for 30+ years: train people, constantly.

      I guess, one more thing. When I wrote the article http://iamwaitress.com/3-ways-to-improve-your-wine-menu/ I wrote that the standard wine pour was 6 ounces. Well, someone called me every name in the book, I was stupid, blah, blah, blah, (typical I don’t know you, you’re not human, internet shit (I mean poop…you don’t like swearing)). Anyway, I felt horrible. So I started calling the best restaurants in the country asking, “what is your standard btg pour?” It as a fools errand. It went like this: 5, 6, 5, 6, 5 ,6, etc.

      My point here, not just on the topic of restaurants but life in general is this: don’t believe THE FIRST THING you hear. Research.

      I will admit to you John, in my research with this article I first found serve from the right. Now I find both. Depends on the source: butler academies, hospitality courses, chefs, etc. That’s why I genuinely like your explanation as to why one might serve from the right. Although while I love many hands at a table, I can still see some issues with this.

      Shouldn’t the Somm pour pairings before the food is served as to not take away from the diners attention and the server’s explanation time?

      But honestly, I know my mind, it’s human, and I can argue most anything. It’s beautiful and annoying.

      Thanks for the education part of your comment!

      • My thoughts on the wine pour. In developing bar “requisitions”, “stand sheets”, “count sheets” whatever you want to call your bar inventory, I have always found most houses consider a pour to be 4 glasses to one 750ml bottle. This is equal to 6.25oz of product. This is grossly inaccurate most of the time because of the size of the glass used. I know of at least 4 different white and red wine glasses I have used. At the risk of igniting another exploding thread here I posit that this is sufficient in monitoring inventory, over pouring and ordering. This seems to be the only reason we need to be concerned about ounces. I work in a private club where we are member owned so a pour is just a pour. Some will talk of pouring to the break of the glass and allowing wine to breathe etc… Then there are temperature considerations and how you handle the glassware. For me, the aforementioned is all I need to know from a business aspect. Let the Sommeliers’ do whatever they do to keep our clients/guests happy. That’s why we all do different jobs.

    • John. The only one that needs to be retrained is you.

    • John, if you would’ve spent 30+ years in jail instead, you’d be coming out by now and know a whole lot more than you do at this point of your life. Lol…
      FYI: Learn how to spell before pushing the send button, be more humble about things and have more respect for people, there are many ways to answer people, indeed this is the one that you deserve..Lol

  12. Hi Jennifer,
    One more thing is served from the left: all condiments!
    Whether it’s mustard, Mango chutney, Apple sauce or Popadoms – all gets served from the left.
    Best regards

  13. Hi there. As a rule of thumb all good restaurants serve from the left collect from right that is what the general practice of the industry is. No matter what the readon is (does it matter) it doesn’t change the fact.

    In my humble view I am under the impression service is clockwise deliver left collect right. You labelling the execution a myth with an encouragement to imply that plate served food is wrong. Are you sure it is not you inventing a myth..?

    Dom

    • Yes Dom. I am trying to invent a myth. That is my legacy, to change protocol. You caught me!
      Seriously Dom, just because you were taught to serve from the left and remove from the right doesn’t mean that “all good restaurants serve from the left collect from right.” Have you made the calls to the restaurants? Have you researched? ALL good restaurants? Your general tone and professing to have totality of knowledge makes me crabby. Do what you want, but please refrain from coming to my website to accuse me of “inventing myths.”

      • What I wanted to say wouldn’t have made it past any comment screening, so I’ll say this instead: an author replying to comments with snarky and/or sarcastic remarks does not endear them to anyone. I am not referring to this reply alone, but every comment you’ve responded to that does not completely agree with your article’s point of view. If you want to post things on the internet, you’re going to need thicker skin. You can do with this information as you please.

        • I’ve looked over my replies to comments and I feel pretty great about them. Snarky? Ya, probably on the one that accused me of inventing myths. But, that silly accusation was rude and accusatory. As to the others…I wouldn’t change them. I am no Switzerland and definitely have done my research, time, tour and interviews to find the best info to help a server, so, when someone doesn’t agree with me, I don’t agree with them for the courtesy of it. My skin is regular, not too thick, or not too thin and I’m cool with it. Internet or not, I’m just a human female with a website. I do appreciate your comment though.

          • Jennifer, you are most certainly entitled to your ‘opinion’ which is all these posts are – they are as valid as anyone’s. You are not, however, correct on every point and somehow the industry did manage to survive for 100s of years without you in it.

            I could bang on that I too have 25+ years experience in the industry etc., but I won’t because you clearly believe that you are 100% correct and others who disagree with you deserve nothing but snarky comments in response. Being intentionally confrontational always works well to get the comments going – so well done for that – but after this comment, I won’t be back and will leave you to happily live in your little world where you are the font of all wisdom about our trade.

          • Oh Dear. *hand to forehead*

            I never wanted to be considered to be in a “little world” that is why I did my blogumentary. I spent shifts with 32 top rated restaurant service teams in America: Michelin stars, Zagat rated, etc. Money out of my own pocket, spent to learn from the best, to find common denominators in service. You can say what you will about me but I did what I could to ensure I was not in a service bubble.

      • Don is correct, you are imposing your views in a general tone and professing to have totality of knowledge.

        • Actually, the only persons throughout this comment thread that are presenting any information with a “totality of knowledge” would be the particular individuals who have made statements such as, “having to constantly retrain staff due to people like you” (John; talk about totality of knowledge, ignorant at that!), “All good restaurants serve from the left…” (Dominic; perhaps you should dine out some), “an author replying with snarky (blah blah blah) remarks does not endear them to anyone” (Clint; I found them endearing), “you clearly believe that you are 100% correct and anyone that disagrees with you deserves… (blah blah blah)”(Michael; was that clear? Was this ultimate so very clear? Hmm… An expert on another’s perceptions, are we munchkin?), and finally, “Don is correct.” (Once again, John declaring absolutes! For one, who the heck-fuck is Don? I am pleased that Don is correct…. But, who is this person? For two, “{subkect} is correct.”, well talk about totality, not even an ellipses. Shame.

    • Thank you for your service, Jennifer IAM BITCH!

      • Oh crap!… (Looks like my ex boyfriends have finally found me.)

        • Now THAT reply was/is AWEsome, (thanks Jenn)

          The *rule* of “take from… … …” is solely based on the predominance of right handedness as it’s easier when carrying more than one plate to both position and gently place a plate in front of a diner.

          Same reason people feel the need to use the fork in both hands while the knife is either in use in the right hand or on the table
          … personally I figure if a person is coordinated enough to put food in their mouth with their left hand without poking themselves in the eye, they SHOULD be able to learn to use their knife in their left.

          … wonder if anyone will take umbrage with THAT

      • Sir, anytime SirDick. Lol

    • Dominic, you didn’t sound either humble nor correct in your reply..perhaps you and John should hang out!!! LOL

  14. Hello Jennifer

    You say … ‘pre-ordering from a menu’. Can you please explain the difference between ‘pre-ordering’ and ‘ordering’. Or have you just been duped by the morons from marketing who like to prefix everything with pre if it happens before.

  15. Jennifer, How do you remove a plate without your thumb on the plate.

    • AQ, I didn’t explain the procedure correctly. The idea is to use as little as the thumb as possible. It shouldn’t be pointing toward the food, but instead holding the rim. Using a serviette or a cloth strip specifically cut for the purpose of handling the plate removes the need to be anal about thumb placement.

    • AQ, by putting it where the sun doesn’t shine!!! Lol

  16. Hello Jennifer,
    Thank you for this insight. I am an NVQ Assessor and after being in the industry for over 15 years, I did not know this was a myth. Could you solve another query for me. In many different establishments I have worked in, it has always been different, where the water glass should go? I was always taught to put it behind the wine glass, as for business reasons, wine costs more than water.
    Many thanks

    • Hi Rose. Thanks for the comment. As I said at the beginning of the article, it is a myth but it is SOOOO saturated in the fibers of the service industry, it seems that it is becoming true but accident. Few people know the truth. I suppose we as people believe what we are told, especially when it comes from a trainer or manager.
      You water glass placement, as far as I have read and seen, is correct. But many thanks to you for the added value of telling us why it is located behind the win glasses. We all appreciate it!

      • Also the water glass is usually taller then the wine glass so it is easier to refill while guests are dining if need be. Most today also request bottled water since tap may very well be questionable.

  17. Thanks for sharing this. I knew about the rule and never questioned it… until now.

    Does the “no thumb on the plate” rule also apply when removing the plate, or does it not matter at that point?

    I’m surprised anyone would want to have the food plated in front of them (or to the left of them, to be precise). In the kitchen the chefs can arrange the food and wipe the edge of the plate if necessary, and I would think the food looks a lot better and more consistent if it is plated and garnished in the kitchen. Did people really put up with the inconvenience of having the food plated in front of them while they and their guests watched and waited? Was this practice so widespread that it eventually became the basis for an etiquette myth? It’s just a bit hard to believe.

    • Hey Kintaar–
      Thanks for the comment.
      When clearing plates, you want to be as neat, quiet and organized as you can. So ya, no thumb on the plate whenever. Good reminder; thanks!
      I think you are thinking of plating in a very detailed way. And if you are, then yes, plating in the kitchen is much better. It looks prettier, and is the complete esthetic and flavor vision that Chef has created. But platter choice dining is not the same dining experience as Service a la russe. Back in the day, and even now at different places, (mostly when dining in grand homes) there will be an assortment of choices for the diner, showcased by the server or butler, from a platter. In these cases you aren’t pre-ordering from a menu, but offered an assortment of cuisine choices for every course. (Honestly, watch an episode of Downton Abbey and you’ll get the gist.)
      And even at finer restaurants now, there are frequently food offerings from a platter: Bread assortments, petit fours, small bites of food as gifts from Chef, cake choices, etc.

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Website: http://iamWaitress.com
Email: jennifer@iamWaitress.com