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The Open-Hand Service Method: Proper Server Etiquette Explained

May 8, 2023 7 min
Senior Content Manager at Eat App
Reviewed by
Co-founder and CEO of Eat App

As the restaurant industry becomes more competitive, providing exceptional service is what helps fine dining establishments stand out. 

Formal restaurants practice the open-hand service method, which is one method of providing exceptional service and outstanding hospitality.

In this article, we will discuss the open-hand service method, its benefits, and important server etiquette tips to ensure a positive guest experience.

Key Takeaways

  • The open-hand service method is a server etiquette technique that involves placing items on the dining table without reaching across guests. 

  • Open-hand service improves the guest experience, reduces the risk of spills, contributes to faster table turnover, and enhances communication between servers and kitchen staff in fine-dining restaurants.

  • To consistently provide a remarkable guest experience, it is important to combine the principles of open-hand service with other strategies for success, e.g., by leveraging technology solutions like Eat App.

What is the open hand service method?

The open hand service method is a serving technique commonly used in fine dining restaurants that emphasizes placing items on a dining table without ever reaching across a guest. It ensures a smooth and respectful dining experience by following specific guidelines for serving guests on their respective sides. 

This method ensures that servers maintain proper fine dining etiquette at a fine dining restaurant and avoid any potential discomfort or intrusion.

When practicing the open-hand service method, servers always use their right arm to serve guests on their right side and their left arm to serve them on their left side. When using the correct arm when serving guests, servers can position themselves in a way that their elbows don’t point towards them, preventing any awkward or unintended contact.

Open-hand service enables fine dining restaurant staff to gracefully navigate around the dining table, approaching each guest from the appropriate side. The servers maintain a respectful distance at all times and allow guests to enjoy their meals without any unnecessary disturbances.

Benefits of the open-hand service method

  • Improved guest experience — implementing the open-hand service method helps servers establish a better connection with guests at fine dining establishments. The unintrusive level of interaction creates a welcoming and attentive atmosphere, making guests feel valued and well-cared for throughout their dining experience.

  • Reduced risk of spills — fine dining restaurant servers has better stability and control over the dishes and glasses they are serving when they aren’t forced to cross their arms in front of a guest. Getting the angle right and using the appropriate arm when serving eliminates the potential for accidental tipping or collisions, minimizing the chances of spills or breakages. 

  • Faster table turnover — serving items properly contributes to faster table turnover, which is beneficial for both the restaurant and its guests. In order to implement the open-hand service method, servers need to carry items carefully so that they are able to lower them onto dining tables smoothly. With this kind of etiquette in place, guests are typically seated, served, and attended to in a timely manner, reducing wait times and accommodating more guests during peak hours.

  • Improved communication between servers and kitchen staff — with a clear view of the dining table settings, servers can easily communicate any modifications, special requests, or additional orders to the kitchen. Likewise, kitchen staff can provide necessary updates or information to servers, ensuring accurate and efficient service. This improved communication minimizes errors, avoids delays, and ensures that guests receive their orders precisely as requested. 

The most important server etiquette tips

The most important server etiquette tips

Presenting the menu

When presenting the menu to guests, servers should first introduce themselves, greet the guests, and offer assistance if needed. Servers can then provide recommendations or highlight any specials or promotions available. 

Fine dining restaurant staff should also always make sure to give guests time to review the menu without rushing them. 

If the menu has any unique or unfamiliar items, servers can offer explanations or descriptions to help guests decide what to order.

Taking orders

Taking orders requires active listening and clear communication on the server’s part. Servers should give their full attention to guests and be patient while they decide. 

As part of fine dining service, staff should be knowledgeable about the menu, able to answer questions, and provide suggestions if requested. They should also inquire about any food allergies or dietary restrictions before explaining menu items to accommodate guests’ needs. 

Always repeat the order back to the guests to ensure accuracy. 

Serving food

When serving food in an elegant ambiance, the open-hand service method comes into play. 

Servers should carry the plates on their open palms using the appropriate arm based on the guest’s side. They should approach from the right side when serving the guest’s right and from the left side when serving the guest from the left side. 

This technique avoids awkward movements where the elbow points toward the guest. 

Great fine dining server tips include serving one guest at a time and ensuring that each person is attended to before moving on to the next. Servers should maintain a pleasant and composed demeanor while serving.

Serving wine

Serving wine should also follow proper etiquette. Servers must serve wine by first presenting the wine bottle to the guest, showing the label, and providing a brief description if requested. 

Then, for proper wine service, servers should pour a small amount into the guest’s wine glass for tasting, starting from the guest’s right side. Once the guest approves, the server can proceed to fill the wine glass, again using the right side of the guest. 

Restaurant staff should handle the wine bottle gracefully and avoid spilling or dripping on dinner plates.

It is also important to offer assistance if guests need further wine-related services, such as opening a different bottle or providing a wine bucket.

Addressing customers

Addressing customers with respect and professionalism is at the core of formal restaurants’ practice, especially for private dining rooms. Servers should address guests using appropriate titles, such as Sir, Madam, or Mr./Ms. Last Name, unless the guest has indicated otherwise. 

Staff should also maintain eye contact, listen actively, and respond promptly to any questions or requests using appropriate restaurant lingo. This demonstrates that they are attentive to guests’ needs throughout the fine dining experience, in addition to offering refills, condiments, or any other assistance. 

Clearing the table

When it comes to clearing the table, servers should have a good sense of timing by being attentive to what is going on at the dining table. 

In fine dining restaurants, there are certain indicators that can be used to determine when customers have finished their meals. These include placing napkins back on the table and positioning cutlery vertically on top of the dinner plate. 

When customers temporarily leave the table for purposes such as using the restroom or making a phone call, the napkin is placed on the chair to signal that the meal is still ongoing.

At the right moment, servers should approach the table with a smile and ask if the guests have finished their meals before removing any plates or utensils. 

The table should be cleared from the right side of the guest — reaching across must be avoided. 

Servers should also be mindful of any personal items or belongings that guests may have placed on the dinner table and avoid removing them without permission. 

Other ways to boost guest experience

There are various other ways to enhance the overall guest experience in your fine dining restaurant. One of them is to utilize the features provided by Eat App, a top-notch hospitality and restaurant management platform designed to streamline venue operations and prioritize customer satisfaction.

Here are some of the main ways that Eat App helps you streamline your restaurant operations and make your customers happy:

  • Intelligent booking engine — Eat App offers an intelligent booking engine that enables you to accept reservations 24/7 from various online channels without incurring commission fees. You can directly receive reservations from your own website, as well as platforms like Google and social media. 
  • Waitlist management — with Eat App, you have complete ownership of guest data, allowing you to track their preferences and effectively manage your waitlist. This feature empowers you to address guests properly, pinpoint their dining preferences, and deliver personalized experiences.
  • Pre-payments — this feature enables you to maximize your restaurant’s potential and cater to the unique needs of your guests. Reservation deposits also reduce the occurrence of no-shows, ensuring that your tables are filled and optimizing your restaurant’s revenue.
  • Hospitality CRM — Eat App’s centralized CRM allows you to collect and store all guest data in one user-friendly interface. This will help you deliver exceptional service that guests will remember, send targeted marketing campaigns, and keep track of your loyal customers. 

Simply put, incorporating Eat App into your fine dining restaurant operations can effectively ensure seamless and personalized customer service. The platform empowers you to optimize your online presence and cultivate strong customer relationships. 

Eat App helps you boost guest experience


The open-hand service method offers a timeless approach to fine dining server etiquette and enhances the overall guest experience in fine dining restaurants. It works best with traditional restaurants in particular cultures, such as Japan, Ethiopia, and other parts of East Africa. However, open-hand service is just one aspect of delivering exceptional hospitality. 

Restaurant management technology like Eat App helps restaurant owners properly address guests, track their preferences, streamline operations, and build lasting customer relationships.

Remember, every interaction with a guest is an opportunity to make a positive impression and leave a lasting impact. Investing in guest satisfaction and continuously seeking ways to improve service and communication will undoubtedly contribute to the success and reputation of your establishment. 

Therefore, embrace the principles of proper fine dining service, use our fine dining etiquette tips, and sign up for Eat App to elevate your restaurant’s performance and consistently deliver exceptional experiences that keep guests coming back for more.



Do you serve ladies first?

In traditional table service etiquette, it is customary to serve ladies first as a sign of respect. However, modern dining practices have evolved, and it is now more common to serve customers based on their seating arrangement or in the order in which they placed their orders. To ensure inclusivity and avoid assumptions, asking all the guests if they have any specific seating or serving preferences is recommended.

Do you serve food from the left or right?

Food is typically served from the guest’s left side. This means that the server approaches the guest from the left and serves or places the food on the table from that side. This method follows a counterclockwise direction around the table. The open hand service method, which emphasizes avoiding reaching across guests, also influences the direction in which food is served.

What is the proper way to serve a plate?

When serving a plate for formal dining, it is essential to approach the guest from their right side. With the open hand service method, servers at a fine dining establishment use their right arm to serve at the guest’s right side. The server positions themselves slightly behind the guest while delivering food, placing the plate gently on the table with their right hand. This technique ensures a smooth and respectful serving motion without reaching across the guest or obstructing their view.

Do you serve drinks from the right or left?

Drinks are traditionally served from the right side of the guest. In the dining room, the server approaches the guest from their right and places the drink on the table from that side. It is important to maintain the same principles of the open hand service method by using the appropriate arm and avoiding crossing over the guest’s personal space. By serving drinks from the right, servers can provide a seamless and unobtrusive beverage service.




Senior Content Manager at Eat App

Elana Kroon used to work in restaurants before becoming a journalist and expert restaurant industry content creator at Eat App.

Reviewed by

Nezar Kadhem

Nezar Kadhem

Co-founder and CEO of Eat App

He is a regular speaker and panelist at industry events, contributing on topics such as digital transformation in the hospitality industry, revenue channel optimization and dine-in experience.

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