The Art of Touching Tables by a Restaurant Manager

There are two sides – Technical and Hospitable


Hospitality….A warm personal and engaging style of guest service.  The important part of being hospitable is understanding what your guest’s wants and needs are before they have to ask for it.  Body language is very important to read and understand your guests; it tells the truth even when the mouth is saying something else.  Learning to read a guest is a key to understanding what their needs are. Whether the guest wants to be left alone or be flooded with attention is critical to providing the guest with what he feels is proper service. Knowing how far to go is the difference between being annoying and giving good service.

When trying to understand what type of clientele your guests are, it is vital to read all the telltale signs. The age of the guest is a good way to start your gauge. Younger guests may be interested in a more casual, good time compared to a more elderly guest who is looking for a more professional style of service. Another gauge is the guest’s attire. Casual clothing may indicate the guests are looking for a casual dining experience; and, of course, formal wear is an indication of a special event, which in turn means special attention. And, of course, business attire means service should be straightforward professional. The guest’s language can also be a sign in which to gauge the level of service needed. It is easy to see if the guests have knowledge of food and beverage if they speak with confidence. If so, try to make their experience interesting by offering unusual things your restaurant offers. If the guests speak slowly, with caution, the level of services may need to be slowed down; each part should be explained to make the guest feel comfortable with their meal. All of these telltale signs can help you gauge the level of expected service. However, you should never forget to understand and react to your gut feelings.

If you broke the dining room down into different types of guests, they would fall into five different personality categories. Understanding each basic personality category is a way to help understand what the guests needs are. And, once we know what the guests’ wants are, we can give them what they want. Some simple ways to begin the process of categorizing your clientele is by getting information from them. Asking questions is the best way to get info out of your guests. A couple of easy ways to break the ice with a table is to approach the table with the intention of checking on the food. Asking questions about the food can lead to other questions. Try to gear your questions toward what energizes the guests.

One of the five categories is what I call the “Everything is Okay” group. This type of clientele is not interested in the food and/or service. This type of guest seems to be shy and afraid to express their emotions. As the Table Toucher, you should be careful when asking questions. Try to make them feel comfortable by asking questions they are interested in. Where are they from? What is the difference in the weather? Did they notice a point of interest within the restaurant? Don’t ask any in-depth questions they may not know the answers to.

Another of the personality categories is the “Everything is Good” group. This type of clientele is enjoying the food and service and is happy to be in the restaurant. They generally are in the restaurant for a special event and are more interested in the event than the restaurant. Whenever you notice there is a special event, try to recognize the event so you can act properly on the event. This group could also have other interests; and, if so, try to encourage the guests to talk about the experience they are having in your restaurant. This may be the best time for small talk.

The third type of guest personality is the “everything is Great” group. These guests are understanding of the restaurant edict. They are happy with the experience. These guests are the easiest to talk with. They are interested in the food and beverage of your establishment; thus it is easy for a Table Toucher to talk about the restaurant. Keep the guests interested in any part of the restaurant they may have missed, tell interesting stories and/or anecdotes.

The fourth guest profile is the “Thank You” guest. This guest is either trying to be the sole important part of the dining experience or is the sole important part of the dining experience. This guest is at your restaurant to enjoy the company of the rest of the party. Easy ways to tell this type of clientele is his quick response to any question: “Thank you.” The thank-you response is your key to let the guest enjoy their experience. The best thing to do is to check on the experience and acknowledge the head of the table. Be kind, tactful and quick.

The last generalization of clientele is “The Problem Child.” We never want to see or hear from them; but they’re out there. Of course, there are many ways any guest can quickly become “The Problem Child.” Try to solve whatever the problem is as soon as possible. The longer the guests have time to think about the problem, the bigger the dilemma will be. First find out what the problem is. (Just a reminder, the guest perception is our reality.) Then try to find a solution that both the guest and the restaurant will be happy with. Each restaurant will have its own guidelines to deal with unhappy guests. As a medium between the guests and the restaurant try never to say “NO” and find ways to put smiles on their faces before they leave the restaurant.

Always remember constructive criticism is always appreciated. This is the information that we learn what our guests want. Table touching can be a very effective way to developing and continuing to operate a successful restaurant. Developing relationships over the table will help keep your guest coming back. Guest retention is easy to do when you make them feel important. As the manager, giving time to the table makes the guests feel comfortable. It also gives you time to cross market our other restaurants.



Technical Side deals with the table technician and the server. It is important to make sure the basic service skills are being used at every table. During the conversation with your guest you should be looking at the table for anything out of place. Every restaurant is going to have different standards of skill level and different procedures in service so it is important to know all service skills needed in your restaurant. Here are some basic service standards to look for when engaging in a conversation with a guest at the table.

Are the glasses full*?  Clean?

  • Water glasses
  •  Wine glasses
  •  Liquor glasses
  •  Coffee cups

*An empty glass is another possible sale.

Is the proper silverware on the table?

Each Course throughout the dining experience should have the specific silverware designated to that course. Of course, every restaurant is different; although, whenever you approach the table you should know what course the table is about to receive because the proper silverware will indicate the course. The silverware should be presented and placed in front of the guest before the food is presented.

Is the table dirty?

Wobble free?

  • Simple, if there are crumbs (even from the bread on the table) they need to be crumbed. Any extra debris on the table should be removed as soon as possible. (Sugar packets, straws, beverage napkins where applicable.)

When approaching the table you should know how far through the dining experience the guests are.

  • Feel free to talk about how the dining experience is going. This is also important to engage in conversation.

Notice any dirty flatware.

  • Depending on which course the guests are on depends on what flatware is allowed on the table. It is important to make sure no flatware is on the table that should not be there.

General service skills to look for:

  • Is there bread and butter on the table?
  • Has any guest’s napkin touched the ground; and, if so, has it been   removed and replaced?
  • Finally, at the end of the meal it is important to make sure the table is clean of any items that are not being used – especially any crumbs. Make the guest feel comfortable at a clean table.
  • Refold napkins in seat if vacant.

Being aware of the action in your zone allows you to feel the positive or negative energy your zone is producing. It is important to understand what the server may need help with and who (even yourself) can help that server guarantee they give their guest great service. When you totally involve yourself into your station, you can see a problem before it happens, thus fixing a possible dilemma.  Service is anticipating your guest’s needs. You need to expand upon this zone request. How is the atmosphere, lighting, placement of tables, etc. not just centering on the taste.

Table touching ensures that your dining room is running smoothly and the guest is having a warm, personal and engaging service experience.

Zone Management in a Restaurant

Zone Management is a state of mind, an awareness of everything happening in your zone.  Zone Management is not just table touching, but an ability to distinguish the guest and the staff’s needs.  This can only happen by Manager’s constant presence in their Zone.  Only then can there be an intuitive understanding and an ability to perceive what is yet to happen.

 Job Description: As a Zone Manager, you help set the standards by which our restaurant is judged.  Your actions, demeanor and your attitude on the job play a vital role in the restaurant operation. Zone coverage is a key management role.  You have an immediate impact on each guest and your attention to detail will help to ensure 100% Guest Retention. Good communication skills are a must.  Your working relationship is with the fellow management staff, service staff, as well as the guest.  You must be able to communicate the wishes of both management and guests to the service staff.  The skill in which you handle this task can greatly contribute to more efficient service and greater guest satisfaction.

Job Responsibilities: Your primary task is to ensure that the dining room is properly maintained throughout the evening.  This provides for ease of service and maximizing potential revenue. As a Floor Supervisor, you are required to maintain Zone Management Coverage.  This provides for accountability and helps to ensure that each guest is properly cared for.  Sole focus is to be on table visits and creating a presence on the floor.  Aid in the development and coaching of staff members by being a leader on the floor.  Ensure guest satisfaction and 100% guest retention by constantly monitoring your zone to ensure guest comes back.

Zone Management Responsibilities Include:

  • Table touching
  • Table maintenance
  • Proper sequence of service
  • Coaching servers on continuous suggestive selling
  • Recognizing potential guest concerns and making necessary corrections
  • Smiling and making eye contact
  • Helping with service mechanics
  • Consistent communication with kitchen
  • Establish rapport with all guests

This does not mean just table touching.  Managing your zone means that you are in the heart of it, working and knowing what happens.  If you have to ask a server what they need, you are not working your zone.  Along with your zone, you should cycle through the restaurant, so that you know what is happening in the rest of the building.  Your cycle needs to include the expo line, the bathrooms, the back door, the bar and the host stand.  During these times, you are responsible for knowing the ticket times, music volume, product levels, 86’d items, staff issues.  Notice at this time bar activity, sales, food and beverage quality.