Here’s an immensely useful article from the Wall Street Journal. Be sure to read the entire piece. Below is a snippet:
Blue Smoke does seven days of training with new waiters, five days of trailing an experienced waiter and two days of being trailed by the experienced waiter. Each day includes a quiz and a focus such as greeting guests.
With parties of four or more, “the most important thing is to read the dynamic between the group,” Mr. Maynard-Parisi says. Alcohol (who is ordering more or less) is a potential point of contention. He reads eye contact and body language to see if a group is friendly (looking at each other) or less secure, like an uncomfortable work meeting (glancing around the room, fidgeting). “Am I approaching the table to rescue them or am I interrupting them?”
Because people often resist speaking up when they’re unhappy with their meal, waiters are taught to detect if a guest is unhappy. When asked about dinner, if a guest says, ” ‘It’s OK.’ That to me is a red flag,” says Allison Yoder, general manager of Press.
At Cheesecake Factory, employees are taught to look every guest in the eye when moving through the dining room, watching for people looking up from their meal, pushing food around their plate, or removing ingredients from their dish—all signs they might not like their meal. Even if it’s not their assigned table, they are trained to ask if anything is wrong and try to fix problems.
Reading a table is still more art than science. On a recent night at Blue Smoke a couple came in with a baby in a stroller, usually a demographic looking for a quick dinner. Instead, the baby fell asleep during the meal. “They spent so much money,” says Mr. Maynard-Parisis. They “got another cocktail and dessert and an after-dinner drink.”