“Table Service” is a restaurant industry term that can mean either the presentation of food to patrons by waiters, or the place settings present on each table. Restaurants without either are usually referred to as “counter service” establishments. Most fast-food chains fall within this category, as patrons must place their orders, collect their food, and pick up any needed utensils at a centrally located counter. Table service establishments are usually more expensive, but more work is involved on the restaurant’s part both to set and clear tables and to present food to order.
Service as Place Settings
When taken to mean place settings, service typically consists of utensils, a napkin, and a water glass or goblet. After customers order food, a filled dish is added to complete the place setting. Depending on the type of meal typically served, much more may also be included.
Traditional Western table service has several types and sizes of spoons, forks, and knives. Larger spoons are for soup, while smaller ones are used for eating dessert or stirring coffee. All place settings have a standard-sized dinner fork, while smaller forks are used for salad and dessert. Steak knives as well as duller, butter-type knives for bread may also be included.
In some restaurants, such as a Vietnamese pho eatery, a bowl rather than a plate completes the place setting since the main fare is noodle soup. Chopsticks and a spoon rather than the typical western place setting of a knife, forks and spoons are used in the table service of many Asian restaurants.
In all types of table service restaurants, waiters deliver patrons’ meals directly. Specialty dishes may come individually, but it is more common for entire tables to be served at once. This often involves the use of trays or carts.
Both trays and carts can create challenges. It is not always easy for waiters to hold a food and drink-packed tray upright while weaving through dining tables and watching out for other patrons. A wheeled cart can hold more than a tray and is likely to be sturdier, but unless the establishment is large, it can be difficult for waiters to find enough space to maneuver around the dining room. Waiters must often spend a lot of time practicing in order to ensure flawless delivery.
Table-Side Cooking and Presentation
Some restaurants distinguish themselves by actually cooking food directly at a patron’s table. This practice is often known as “gueridon service,” and typically involves a portable burner or sizzling hot skillet. Only certain types of dishes lend themselves well to this sort of preparation, though some, such as cherries jubilee, create quite a spectacle. Cherries jubilee is a flaming dessert that a waiter sets on fire during cooking.
Gueridon service, though time intensive, has several advantages. First, it can help make patrons feel that they are being particularly well cared for. In an expensive restaurant, this is often very important. Second, it attracts attention — customers are surrounding tables are all part of the action, which can create an energetic, fun restaurant vibe.
Cost and Ambiance Considerations
Many restaurants spend a great deal of time thinking about the message their table service sends. Preparing dishes directly in front of the customer typically takes more time per dish, and is costly in terms of staff attention. If it helps promote a certain ambiance, however, it is usually worth it.
The same is true with wait staff appearance. Servers who are dressed well, in tuxedos or formal wear, often project a certain image that is lost when they come to the table in jeans. Usually, restaurants design all aspects of their table service to reflect the sort of ambiance they want to create.
A family diner type of restaurant may have well worn cutlery and plastic drinking cups as its table service, while expensive eateries tend to have more elegant tableware. The decor in restaurants is also crucial as patrons are often eating not just for the food, but also for the overall experience. Everything from the quality and color of the tablecloth to the presence of flowers and overall durability of flatware and goblets plays a part in projecting the image and feel of the establishment.