Reading a table is one of the most important skills a server can learn. Some call it “having eyes” for a table, “feeling,” or “reading” a table, but it all boils down to knowing what type of service each group needs. Before you approach a table, take in the body language and situational cues of the group. The way your guests are acting will tell you a lot about the service they need.
Chatty: If the group is chatty and friendly, they could be there to party. Be ready to offer more drinks, deserts, and talkative service.
Moody: Are you serving a couple fighting or a tense business meal? Be careful to get the details of the meal right and try not to interrupt important moments.
“It’s OK”: If a guest says food is “OK,” that’s a sign that they aren’t satisfied with their meal. Dig for more information to see how you can fix the problem.
Early and Fancy: Guests that are dressed up and eating early could have plans later on. They might need faster service to get them to a later event.
Wearing a Suit at Lunch: This diner could be on break from work and might need to get in and out in a flash. Know which dishes take less time to prepare and be ready to deliver the check with the meal.
Ring Leader: When in doubt, look to the head of the table and defer to the wants of that diner.
You can test your table-reading skills with the infographic below by Luci Gutiérrez from the Wall Street Journal. Read the “waiter challenge” section and think of your own solution before reading the “strategies” suggestions. It takes time and energy to read a table, but the effort is well worth it. Learning to interpret your guest’s expectations will help you shape your customer’s experience, and this will lead to happier diners and higher tips.—Suzanna Sandridge