How to Improve Server Productivity and Performance

The Need for SOP’s

How to improve server productivityIf you want to improve server productivity then the first step is for management to define the expectations. Successful server productivity starts with clearly defined SOP’s and training about what your expectations are. The “number crunching” on productivity is worthless without clearly defined expectations on the standards of service which you require, because without defined standards you don’t know what level of service each server is giving. You also cannot hold your crew accountable to a productivity standard if you haven’t defined the service standard and timeline. And you cannot train them to excel in their guest service if they don’t know what the expectation is.

Having well defined SOP’s (standard operating procedures) will make the evaluations much more accurate and fair. At the minimum you should have a defined sequence of service and defined timelines in which to accomplish each step.

Although there are other details which can and should go into the server SOP’s, the following example offers a good starting point for how to improve server productivity via clearly defined expectations.

  • Greeting
    • Guest is greeted within 2 minutes of being seated. Ice water poured immediately when guest is seated.
    • Greeting is prompt, friendly and confident with good eye contact.
    • Spend time engaging with the guest to help determine the desired experience.
    • Server offers to take beverage order mentioning two specific items
      • “Can I bring you a glass of “XYZ” chardonnay or a Grey Goose Martini?”
      • All Guests under 35 years of age are asked for identification.
    • Where applicable, guests are given brief description of menu, specials, etc.
    • Where applicable, Appetizer items are described and offered.
  • Beverage Delivery
    • Drinks are delivered within 6 minutes of being ordered. (4 minute bar production time)
    • All beverages served from a clean tray and placed in front of appropriate guest (no auctioning)
    • If the guest orders wine by the glass, 5 ounces is poured for the guest at the table.
    • If it was not appropriate at initial greet, server offers appetizer when beverages are delivered; offer to take dinner order or answer any questions they may have.
  • Taking the Order
    • Every guest is offered starter soup/salad as appropriate.
    • Suggest wine and offer to take order.
    • When ringing in order, correct table and correct position points are utilized.
    • Table orders are turned into the kitchen before a new order is taken.
      • i.e. Do not take 3 table’s orders and then turn them all in at once. 
  • Bread Delivery
    • Server delivers Bread and Butter within 5 minutes of first food order placed by the guest 
  • Bottled Wine Delivery
    • Within 5 minutes of being ordered, or PRIOR to specified course if requested by guest.
    • Follow all wine service procedures.
  • Appetizer Delivery
    • Within 12 minutes of being ordered.
    • Table staged with all necessary utensils prior to food delivery.
    • Food “introduced” to each guest.
    • Fresh Cracked pepper offered with all appropriate items. 
  • Soup/Salad Choices Delivery
    • Within 7 minutes of being ordered or 2-5 minutes after Appetizers are completed.
    • Table staged with all necessary utensils (soup spoon) prior to food delivery.
    • Food “introduced” to each guest.
    • Fresh pepper offered with all salads.
  • Entrée Delivery
    • All entrees and side dishes served at the same time.
    • Within 2-5 minutes of previous course completion.
    • Table staged with all necessary utensils prior to food delivery. Knife or Soup Spoon.
    • Food “introduced” to each guest.
    • “Open handed service” is utilized when delivering all food items.
    • Plate is presented to guest with protein closest to the guest.
    • Fresh Cracked pepper offered on all appropriate items.
    • Table is surveyed by person serving food for obvious needs.
    • Table is asked what else is needed and immediately obtains anything the guest requests. 
  • Check Back
    • Server checks back with table within 2 minutes of entrée delivery. (visually or verbally to ensure all guests are happy; if all guests appear pleased with their selection, continue on with service)
      • Immediately resolve any problems or needs 
  • Clearing
    • Entrée plates cleared as guests finish.
    • All plates, silverware and bread basket cleared off of table after all guests are finished with entrees.
  • Dessert Menu Delivered
    • Dessert menu offered within 4 minutes of clearing of entrees.
    • Coffee/dessert beverages offered.
    • Guest check delivered within 3 minutes if dessert menu is declined.
  • Dessert Order
    • Within 3 minutes of menu presentation.
    • Coffee/dessert beverages offered with dessert.
  • Dessert Delivery
    • Within 10 minutes of dessert ordered.
    • Table staged with all necessary utensils prior to food delivery.
    • Items introduced as they are served. 
  • Guest Check Delivery
    • Within 4 minutes of dessert delivery.
    • Guest check folder placed appropriately.
    • Remind guest that you will take payment whenever they are ready.
    • If Automatic Gratuity is added, the server must highlight the Service Charge Amt on top the check. Also, the host needs to be verbally informed of the Service Charge. 
  • Payment Processing
    • Server picks up payment immediately when guest ready.
    • Payment is processed and returned within 2 minutes.
    • Return change automatically without asking.
    • Thank the guest for dining in “name of restaurant” and invite them to return.
    • Continue service as long as guest in seated.


Skills of a Great Server

Multi-tasking & OrganizationThe kitchen mantra “Seconds save minutes” is equally true for the FOH. A server who is able to multi-task has a clear advantage when it comes to remaining organized and accomplishing more work in less time with less stress. Being aware of the tasks which you need to accomplish in the next 10 minutes and mentally organizing those tasks so that you make the fewest number of trips possible is the hallmark of a highly organized server. Improve server productivity by helping them to be mentally organized and save steps by organizing the tools they need. For instance, if fresh ground black pepper is part of your service make sure to have multiple grinders available in easy to access areas. Don’t make them run to the kitchen every time they need it (unnecessary waste of time and movement).

Also being able to best utilize whatever time you have available before food or drinks are ready for pick-up, whether that’s 1 minute or 5 minutes. A great server will pack every minute with an efficient use of time, accomplishing multiple tasks in a fluid dance of organization. But a disorganized server will constantly be behind the ball because they waste precious minutes through inactivity or poor planning.

Reading and “Selling” the Guest
Knowing how to “read a guest” gives a waitperson insight into the type of service to provide. Do they want lots of attention…or do they want to be left alone? Are they in a hurry, or do they want a long, relaxed experience? Being aware of these initial impressions will help the server up-sell an appropriate experience for the guest.

Communicating with the Kitchen
The kitchen can be a battle ground in many operation, but the best servers know how to “read” the stress in the kitchen and communicate appropriately. They also know the importance of accurate, complete communication and will follow-up with the kitchen regarding any special orders to be sure that the kitchen understands what the guest needs. Most miscommunication happens through assuming that the cooks will understand your cryptic note on the ticket.

Holy crap! Servers take so much abuse from mean-spirited and just plain stupid people! Knowing how to manage your stress and not take the verbal abuse personally is a skill which many cooks will never understand or attain to.

What Did I Miss?!
Servers!! Help me out here! What examples can you give of better multi-taking, up-selling, tolerance, etc? What did I miss (I’m sure it’s a lot). When you’re training a newbie, what insights do you give them to improve server productivity? Tell me thoughts…I’m lacking on describing your particular talents/challenges.
Leave a comment below…or share this on Facebook and start a conversation!


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