Stew Cues: Silver service protocol depends on preferences

Aug 3, 2018 by Alene Keenan

Stew Cues: by Alene Keenan

Stews frequently ask what is the correct way to perform silver service. There is more than one proper way to serve, whether from the left or the right side of the guest.

Silver service is synonymous with proper etiquette of table setting and multi-course meal and beverage service. The term originated in the 17th century and involves food served from silver platters with a silver fork and spoon. Guests may help themselves, or servers may place food for them. All platter service is performed from the left. Beverages are served from the right, and on many boats, all pre-plated food is, too.

Many restaurants train staff to serve food from the left and clear plates from the right. Beverages are served and cleared from the right, and bread is served and cleared from the left. Servers should maintain an open body posture and never reach across the midline of the guest’s body. Using the proper hand requires the first plate to be held and set in the left hand. The second plate is in the right hand and then moved to the left hand after the first plate is down. When clearing, the right hand picks up the first plate, then moves it to the left hand so the right is free to pick up the next plate.

Rules vary from boat to boat, but the correct way is always the way that the owners and guests want to be served, whether it is “proper” or not. Certain rules apply in every case, though, beginning with silverware.

Silverware is set according to the way it is used, working from the outside in, using only pieces that will be used. Forks are picked up with the left hand and go on the left side, while knives and spoons are picked up in the right hand and go on the right side. The knife blade faces in. Not all sets have a starter, or salad, knife. The same knife may be used for the starter and the main course, or you may set two knives on the table. Wear gloves while setting the table to avoid fingerprints on the cutlery and dishes.

Silver service is synonymous with proper etiquette.

The lower edge of the utensils aligns with the bottom rim of the plate, about one inch from the edge of the table. Avoid hiding a utensil under the rim of a plate or bowl. The bread plate goes to the left of the setting, glasses go on the right. The water glass sits above the main knife. Wine glasses are then arranged around the water glass. Dessert silverware may be set above the plate or brought in with dessert. Water, wine, and bread are served before the menu courses.

The seat to the right of the host/principal is the seat of honor and is the first to be served. Service continues counterclockwise. Two or more servers may provide synchronized service on both sides of the table by carrying plates to the table, standing to the left of guests, and with a nod or a signal, setting the plates down at the same time. Servers then move to the next guest,  repeating the process.

Proper etiquette dictates that plates are cleared after all have finished eating. However, if guests request it, plates may be cleared as diners finish. Once the plates are cleared, everything except beverages is removed. Dessert is served and cleared and, again, beverages remain on the table.

Rules are easy to follow, but dining areas on many yachts are difficult to serve in. There may be benches, bar stools, banquettes, country kitchens or other challenging situations. It may be impossible to walk around the table – and even if it is possible, servers may not be able to squeeze behind chairs once guests are seated. It helps to know the basics, but the best course of action for each unique situation must be determined by the stews.

Alene Keenan is former lead instructor of interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Fort Lauderdale. She shares more than 20 years experience as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht,” available at Comments are welcome below.


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

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