A good server doesn’t have to wait for customers to ask, they know at first sight. Still, being able to anticipate what your guests want is another skill that will develop over time. But, there are certain things that your own common sense will tell you beforehand about what your customers need. This will be true whether they are just getting through the door of the restaurant or if they have already ordered their meals and/or drinks.
For bartenders (whether they are working at banquets or in a bar or restaurant) it can be somewhat easier to predict what their patrons will order, especially if they have lots of regulars. Remembering everything from the type of mixed drink to where their customer likes to sit during happy hour will get them lots of tips in their jars. Servers, on the other hand, have to have an eye that is a little keener to customer needs. That’s not to say that bartenders don’t serve their fair share of bar food from time to time, but waiters and waitresses will almost always have bigger groups to deal with.
For example, certain customers order particular foods that you can give the cook a heads up about. Your supervisor may know, for example, that a group of elderly folks will be coming in that afternoon, and that they always order lots of light things like soup and salads. If you can converse with your boss effectively, then the cook, it may even be possible to have the entire amount of food ready by the scheduled time they reach the restaurant. This will definitely get you major tips by thinking up ahead.
If it is not a group or a convention that you readily know about, it is still possible to stay ahead of the game when determining patron’s needs. If they order a steak and there is no sauce that is normally kept on the tables of the eatery, bring out both A1 and Heinz 57 before the order even reaches their table. If a child orders a Shirley Temple, bring a few extra cherries to the table for them (it’s a gesture that will make any child feel special, and their parents will want to tip you better just because you were so thoughtful). If someone orders chicken fingers, don’t wait on them to ask for sauce. Instead tell them what you have right there so they can make that decision as you are writing it initially on the ticket. Or, if you see half-filled cups, don’t wait for them to ask for a refill. Take it upon yourself to walk over to the table with the pitcher (while the tea is in your hands make a round to all of your tables for refills to free up time later for other possible requests). Then, at the end of your customers’ meal, they will ask for the check, but if you see extra food ask if they want a doggy bag.
Another rule that could help with efficiency and to accumulate more tips is to ask the family in the beginning if they will want to order dessert. If they aren’t sure don’t pressure them to make a decision, but if they do it is possible to have that part of the meal prepared around the middle of their dinner with a quick heads up to the cook. And, since you know from the start that this would be the last thing they order, you can now simply walk by after a while and check on them, with their bill on your person. Since you are about 95% sure they are finished eating, you now won’t have to walk all the way back to the register to print out the ticket, and can simply drop it at your final visit to their table.
Another thing you can anticipate as you hand them their check is them returning again in the future. If you feel that they had a pleasant time (and you enjoyed serving that nice family) politely ask them “So, when do I get the pleasure of being your server again?” They will feel happy that you asked them to come back, and see the human side of you, which likely will result in them digging deeper into their wallets and purses when tip time approaches!