Serving and Being Served, a Few Pointers
At a formal restaurant or banquet, food should be presented to guests in the following order: guest of honor, female guests, male guests, hostess, host. After the guest of honor, first the women, then the men, are served in one of two ways: (1) dishes
can be presented to guests in the order of their seating, starting at the host's right; (2) dishes may be presented in order of seniority, starting with the most influential and proceeding down to the least prominent guest. Clearly, using the latter
system requires the hosts to furnish information regarding the order of service ahead of time. In restaurants, most groups include neither guest of honor nor hosts, so the meals will simply be served first to the women, then to the men.
From the Left
In general, the diner is approached from the left for three purposes: (1) to present platters of food (from which the waiter will serve or the diner will help herself); (2) to place side dishes such as vegetables or dinner rolls; (3) to clear the side
dishes that were placed from the left. The reason most often given for this is most people are right handed. So, for example, when a waiter must use his right hand to serve from a platter, it is least intrusive if he stands to the left. This way, the
platter can be held safely away from the guest as the waiter leans forward (slightly) to reach her plate. And, in the case of placing side dishes, it makes most sense to put them to the side which is less in focus, leaving the right side free for the main
And from the Right
(1) These days it is nearly universal practice, even in very formal circumstances, for food to arrive already arranged on the plate (rather than to be presented on a platter). Preplated food
(except for side dishes), as well as empty plates and clean utensils brought in preparation for upcoming courses, are always placed from the guest's right side. At the end of the course, these plates are also cleared from the right.
(2) Wine (and all beverages) are presented and poured from the right. This is a logical approach, since glassware is set above and to the right of the guest's plate, and trying to pour from the left would force the server to reach in front of the
Just as the ideal of service is to present each course to the entire party at once, it is best to clear the plates at the same time, too. It has become common for waiters to remove plates as each guest finishes, in violation of this rule of serving
etiquette, perhaps because it can be interpreted as extreme attentiveness on the part of the waiter. Nevertheless, the rule holds firm. The most elegant service facilitates the progress of a synchronized meal for the whole table.
For a brush-up on proper etiquette amongst guests, turn to CuisineNet's Guide to American Table Manners.