…one of many approaches to taking the order at a table…


First, I remember and use the given table numbers. Second, I number the seats at each of my tables.

I am sure there are as many ways to take guests’ orders as there are people taking such. Here is the way I use to take notes, how to write my guests’ requests on my notepad.

I have used this one and the same systematic approach since the 1960s and it has worked well for me. The beauty — of the method I use — is that it is used by many waiters all over this planet. This system does allow to communicate easily, without spending much time for long explanations, therefor it can be useful within teams of waiters.

It all starts with my becoming familiar with all the table numbers. First, I remember and use the given table numbers. Second, I number the seats at each of my tables. Standing with my back to the door – the one which leads toward the kitchen – I assign the number 1 to the first chair at my left and clockwise I number all the other chairs around the same table. At a table of ten, the chair to my left is number 1, the chair to my right is number 10.

5 — -6
4 —-7
3—- 8
2 —-9
1—- 10

As the group of guests gets seated I take their cocktail order first. I use a separate piece of paper for cocktails and mark it 1/10/BAR. While I get my guests’ drink orders from the bar, I place the ordered drinks in the seat numbers’ numerical sequence onto my cocktail tray.


Usually this method works like magic. I take the drinks off the tray as I put them on, in order of the guests’ seat numbers. This can be done clockwise or counterclockwise. I have made it my habit to take the orders clockwise and to serve counterclockwise. At the table, number ten gets his drink without me asking any question. Nine gets whatever nine ordered. Eight gets his order. I put seven’s drink in front of seven. Number six gets his champagne. Five has an iced tea. Four is having vodka. Lady number three has one too. Number two is a Cuba libre and the last one, she has a bourbon on the rocks.

I don’t ask “Who ordered what?” unless I am lost and I hate being lost waiting on tables.

At the same time as I take the individual guest’s order, I circle the number of each chair where a lady is seated. That is out of habit. In today’s equal rights world some say “Ladies first is not anymore important.” Not too long ago, one had to serve the ladies first. Back then it was critical to know the ladies’ positions to provide proper service.

If I work within a team I make sure my coworkers know how my tables are numbered. The same way as I did the cocktail order I write down the customers’ requests for food, one by one. I write each course onto my notepad, using a page each for appetizers (KITCHEN I), soup or salad (KITCHEN II) and main course (KITCHEN III).
On another piece of paper I write the wine (CELLAR).

Again I use separate pieces of paper for the desserts, coffee (COLD KITCHEN) and the after dinner drinks (BAR II).

The Roman numbers used suggest the sequence in service, what to serve first and what last. Number III shall only be served after # II which follows # I. Bar II stands for: There is already a bar bill, add it to the first one. On the days when I work with one or two other waiters I use a piece of carbon (black carbon paper from credit card vouchers work just fine) and make carbon copies of every order I take from my table. I hand a copy to each member of my team. On busy nights, a glass or a cup serves as a “mail-drop” for the team.

I take the order, leave a copy for each team-member at the “mail-drop” and go about taking orders, knowing that the team-member(s) will follow the simply instructions on their copy. I know my frontwaiter or backwaiter will order and serve drinks or food according to my notes. Using one and only one system makes such communication without words possible between team members.
It might sound complicated, yet all I record on paper are the basic information: These three important points are:

a) what has to be served, item

b) when (in what order) and

c) to whom has it to be served (the table #, guest count and seat number).

I take all orders one by one! To make it less confusing I write the different courses onto different pieces of paper. Later if I carry the food on a tray I put the dinners, plate by plate in order of the guest’s seating arrangement onto my tray. At the table I take the plates from the tray and put each in front of the guest, whose order it is, without asking one question as to who ordered what.

It’s very simple. Anybody can do such.

Being organized does save time which is important on busy nights. I recall working once with a talented young waiter at a party for a hundred Judges and wives. The function was held at the Stanton Center, the Monterey Maritime Museum. I had extra time on my hands and I tried to help him by serving drinks to one of his tables. He handed me a full tray with drinks and said: “The Sherry is for the lady with the glasses. The Champagne goes to the gray gentleman. Gibson is for the lady in red and Martini for her husband. The two whiskies are for the couple next to them. This all goes to my table, the big round one, to the left, the one who has no drinks yet.”
All the tables used were big and round. I happened to know which two tables he had. I had the ones right next to his station; therefor I found the right table with no problems. At his table, all guests wore glasses studying the menu. All the men, but one who was bald, had gray hair. All the ladies had some red within their outfits. I felt like an idiot asking, as I had to interrupt their conversation,
“Could you please help me? Who of you ordered what?”
They were exceptional nice people and I had no problem serving all the drinks. However later on, I saw the same waiter, whom I had helped with the drinks, sweating with his food orders. He had absolutely no clue who had what. It was a disaster. Most of his guests at the two tables did not remember what they had ordered. I watched him standing there between three trays of food. He was calling each plate as he took it off the tray. “A chicken!”… “Ribs!”… “Fish!”… “A different fish!”… “Another chicken!”… “Chickens who ordered chickens?” … “Ribs, don’t tell me nobody ordered ribs! Who wants the ribs?”

by helmut schonwalder