Silver Service Protocols: There’s more to master than just table décor

Oct 19, 2022 by Alene Keenan

It’s not just about table décor, place settings and timing — there are verbal cues and body language to master as well.

A meal service on a yacht is more attentive and formal than in a restaurant. The ambiance is more sophisticated, there is more attention to detail, and the pace is slower.

Mise en place is a common silver service term. It means putting everything in order. Before meal service, the dining location must be put in order, including table décor, flatware, glassware, napkins, service station setup, and coordination with the chef to gather everything needed for plating before service begins.

  • All service pieces are polished. White cotton gloves are worn to set the table to eliminate fingerprints.
  • Additional silverware, glassware, plates, service cloths, and extra napkins are placed in the service station in case they are needed during the meal.

Open-hand service means that the server’s arms are never to be crossed in front of a guest.

  • If serving from the left, use the left arm to set the plate down. If serving from the right, use the right hand. This way, the active arm does not reach across the midline of the guest.
  • If serving to a table or booth that you cannot reach to serve properly, try to avoid having your elbow in someone’s face and be as graceful as possible. Say “please excuse my reach.”
  • The preferred side for serving varies from yacht to yacht. Be sure to follow the specific guidelines of your yacht.

Reading the table is essential. Servers must be able to read the table and match the pace of their guests through verbal cues and body language.

  • Food choices and menus on a yacht are frequently much more varied than in a restaurant, where the menu is the same each day. The chef relies heavily on the stews to communicate specific information so that plating and service proceed at the proper pace.
  • It’s up to the server to determine the steps of service, according to the mood of the table, while keeping the chef informed about what is going on.
  • Always inform the chef that a course is going to be cleared so that there is time to plate the next course.

Dining signals are a method of nonverbal communication used in dining service. Certain positions for resting cutlery on the dinner plate signal the guests’ needs to the server. This allows the server to meet the guests’ needs without interrupting conversation at the table.

In formal dining, the server must wait until all guests have finished before clearing plates from the table. At breakfast and in less formal dining, plates may be removed as each guest finishes. If guests push their plates away or stack their dishes (heaven forbid!), it is acceptable to take them away.

There are common signals to indicate that a diner is resting, or that the meal is over.

  • When a diner is resting and has not finished eating, the fork and knife are laid separate but parallel, with the knife on the right and the fork on the left. An alternative signal is to place the cutlery in an “x” position on the plate.
  • When the knife and fork are side by side in a vertical position, resting at the eleven o’clock position on the side of the plate, it indicates that the meal is over. In american dining style, the fork tines are up.
  • In continental or european style, the tines of the fork should be facing down, and the fork and knife should be crossed, not parallel. 

Alene Keenan is a veteran Chief Stew, Interior Training Instructor/Consultant, and the author of several guidebooks for crew.


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.

View all posts by Alene Keenan →