Serving And Passing Food: 8 Rules For Serving Food Right​

Serving And Passing Food: 8 Rules For Serving Food Right​

who this class is for

Waiters and hospitality staff, guests, hosts

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About this micro-class

Serving and passing food etiquette is the set of rules to appropriately serve food and drinks to your guests, or pass food and drinks at the dining table.

1. Courtesy rules for serving and passing food

Wait for the host or hostess

At formal dinners, wait for the host or hostess to start the meal or indicate that it is time to begin serving and passing food.

Be courteous and patient

Wait your turn to be served and do not rush to grab dishes. Be patient and considerate of others at the table.

Announce the dish

When passing a dish, it is a good practice to announce what it is. For instance, say, “Would you like some mashed potatoes?” This helps the other guests know what they are being offered.

Avoid overreaching

When reaching for dishes or passing food, try not to overreach or lean across the table, as this can disrupt the flow of the meal and invade other guests’ personal space. 

Instead, ask another guest to help and pass the item to you.

Always thank the server

Express gratitude to the person who serves you or passes you a dish, beverage, or other item. A simple “Thank you” is polite and appreciated.

2. Serving order

Hosts: Start from the host or hostess. The person who made the reservation or appears to be the leader of the group is usually served first. This may or may not be based on gender. It is typically the person who initiated the event or is considered the “host.”

Women: Following the host or hostess, women are often served next. This practice stems from historical chivalry and etiquette norms.

Seniors: After serving women, older or senior guests are often served. This demonstrates respect for their age and experience.

Men: Finally, men are served, typically starting with the eldest and proceeding to the youngest.

Children: Children are often served last, but this can vary depending on the specific restaurant or cultural norms. In some cases, children might be served along with the adults or separately, depending on the establishment’s policy and the preferences of the guests.

3. Appropriate directions for serving and passing food

Serve drinks first and from the right side

Offer drinks first, such as water, wine, or cocktails, depending on the preferences of the guests.

Serve drinks from the right-hand side of the guest. This is to avoid crossing your guests since drinking glasses are on the right side of each place setting. 

Pour wine with the label facing the guest. Continue to offer refills throughout the meal without being intrusive.

Serve food from the left side

Serve food courses from the left side of the guest. This is to avoid hitting the drinking glasses, which are placed on the right side of each guest. For the same reason, it is best to clear dishes from the left side too.

When serving dishes, place them in front of the guest and explain any components or sauces if necessary. Ensure that each guest receives the correct dish as ordered.

Pass food counterclockwise to your right side

Guests should always pass food counterclockwise to their right. Every guest at the table should pass food in the same direction.

This is to avoid having one guest with multiple serving dishes at the same time, or dishes crossing from different directions. The rule ensures that serving dishes move around smoothly and table incidents are avoided.

If someone to your left asks for a dish, kindly ask the person to your right to pass it along.

Never pass an item across the table, even if the guest requesting the item sits right in front of you. Instead, kindly ask the person to your right to pass it along.

4. Appropriate serving utensils

Use appropriate serving utensils for each dish, such as a spoon for soup, tongs for salad, and a fork or knife for meat. Make sure the serving utensils are clean and not dripping with sauce.

Do not use your personal eating utensils to serve food to yourself or others. Always use the designated serving utensils.

5. How to handle serving dishes, utensils, and bottles

General rules

When serving or passing foods or beverages, hold serving dishes, bottles, or containers in the appropriate way. The general rule is to keep your hands as far as possible from the food for hygiene.

How to pass serving dishes

Hold serving dishes by their bottom side. Keep your hands near the borders, which are usually cooler. 

Avoid holding the serving dishes by the bottom-center area, which is usually hot. Never touch or put your fingers on the surface or interior of the dish where the food is.

How to pass serving utensils

Hold serving utensils by their handles. Do not touch the areas that get in contact with the food, such as prongs or blades. First, you risk soiling your hands. Second, some utensils can be sharp and you risk hurting yourself.

Before passing a serving dish, place the serving utensils on the right side of the dish. When you pass the dish, hold both the dish and the serving utensils.

How to pass bottles

Hold bottles from their body. Never hold a bottle from the neck or the cork.

When you pour beverage from a bottle, hold the bottle by its body or bottom. The bottle should not touch the glass.

How to pass condiments

If condiments, sauces, or toppings are available, offer them to others before using them yourself. Pass them to the right.

When you pass condiments, hold them by the handle or by their section farther from the food, usually the bottom. Always pass salt and pepper together, even if a guest asked only one of the two.

6. Appropriate use of serving dishes and utensils

Do not eat from serving dishes

Never eat from a serving dish. Instead, move food and sauces from shared dishes to your plate and eat from it. Similarly, never drink directly from a bottle.

Use serving utensils only to serve food

Use serving utensils only to put food on your plate. 

Then, place the serving utensils back onto the shared dish. Return them in the same position you found them. Normally, they should be on the right side of the serving dish. Place carving knives back with the blade facing inward. 

Never bring any serving utensils to your mouth or place them on your plate.

Move to your plate any foods that you touch

Take whole foods from serving dishes. Do not mince or divide food on a serving dish. 

If you touch anything from a serving dish, you must take it from the serving dish to your plate.

7. Priority to your seating neighbors

Before serving yourself from a serving dish or a bottle, ask the guests near you if they would like to be served. If they do, serve them first. When guests seated near you ask for a serving dish or a bottle, offer to serve them. 

When a guest near you has the glass empty and you are closer to the beverage, offer to refill their glass. If you offer to refill a glass with an alcoholic beverage, you should ask once but not insist.

8. Appropriate food quantity

Serve yourself in moderation

Serve yourself in moderation. Every guest must be able to eat the same amount of food. Take a moderate serving, then pass the food around.

You can take a second serving only after all guests have had their serving. Ask politely if someone else wants another serving before taking it for yourself. 

When you are a guest, do not ask for anything more than what is served to you. If the host offers a second serving of a course, you can accept it. 

Do not overfill plates and glasses

When you are serving yourself or other guests, do not overfill plates or glasses.

Leave some empty space on plates. Never stack food.

It is best to fill water glasses up to a half, and wine glasses up to a third. Never fill glasses over three-quarters full for water, or half-a-glass for wine.

Serving and passing food etiquette mistakes

Avoid the worst etiquette mistakes in serving food:

  • Eating from a serving dish or utensil.
  • Passing food in the wrong direction.
  • Overreaching.
  • Using your utensils to serve food.
  • Serving yourself a large amount of food.
  • Serving yourself before your neighbors.
  • Overfilling dishes or glasses.

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