Social Etiquette and Good Manners/Serving


Hello Nancy,

This is a serving question. I understand that while being served, you are to expect service on your left, and expect item retrieval from your right. I am also told that drinks are to be on your right side. Is this correct? If so, is a server expected to come from the left, and reach across the patron's face to fill their water, or bring a cocktail to a table, or is the server expected to place it on the left side, and the patron then moves it to the right side?
Also, when serving, should a server deliver items to guests in a clockwise, or counterclockwise order? And last but not least, when a server squats down to be eye level to a table, is it rude? Thank you for all your answers.


You are correct--food is served from the left and cleared from the right.  Beverages, however, are both served and cleared from the right.

Regarding the serving order of diners, please check with your management.  Some restaurants adhere to the tradition of serving ladies first.  That is a bit outdated, especially in business where courtesy is gender-neutral.

If it is clear who is hosting the gathering, guests should be served before the host. Normally, the guest of honor will be seated to the host's right and should be served first, but diners don't always arrange themselves in that order. Serving clockwise versus counter-clockwise makes little difference.

Personally, I don't like it when a server squats down to address diners at a table. I think this is much too informal, and it makes me uncomfortable.  Again, check with your management.  Some establishments instruct servers to do this, thinking that they will "bond" with diners more quickly. Savvy servers will read the body language of diners and know when this practice will be well received and when it won't.

Social Etiquette and Good Manners

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Nancy Mitchell


Social etiquette; Business etiquette; Entertaining etiquette; Wedding etiquette; Protocol, domestic (US) and international; Flag etiquette; Dining etiquette; Restaurant etiquette; Spa etiquette; Travel etiquette


Nancy R. Mitchell is a nationally recognized etiquette and protocol consultant and trainer with more than 30 years of experience in the field. She owns the firm The Etiquette Advocate and is an owner and founding partner of the firm Protocol Partners-Washington Center for Protocol. Currently, she is an adjunct faculty member at The George Washington University, where she developed and teaches protocol courses in the School of Business and the Career Center, and at Stratford University, Falls Church, VA. She serves also as protocol and special events consultant to the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library and cultural center. For 23 years, Mitchell was director of special events and protocol at the Library of Congress where she and her staff were responsible for planning and managing over 400 events each year. She coordinated the institution’s major special events, visits of heads of state and other distinguished visitors, galas, conferences and meetings. As the Library’s chief protocol advisor, Mitchell served as liaison to the White House, U.S Department of State, the Congress, the Supreme Court and other government agencies, embassies, academia and corporations.

Protocol and Diplomacy - International Protocol Association

Mitchell is quoted on matters of etiquette and protocol by CNN, ABC Nightline, Martha Stewart Living Radio, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Washington Business Journal, the Associated Press and Washingtonian magazine, has been featured on ABC Good Morning America, Fox News and National Public Radio, and is an etiquette columnist for, etiquette consultant to Alexandria Woman and to Engaged! magazine, and technical editor of Wedding Etiquette for Dummies (Wiley, 2010).

B.S., University of Utah, 1969

Past/Present Clients
America Online (AOL), American Bar Association, American Society of Interior Designers, Asian Development Bank (Manila, Philippines), Association of American Indian Physicians, Association of American Medical Colleges, BAE Systems, Inc., Capital One Financial Corporation, The Catholic University of America, Clark Construction, LLC, Choice Hotels International, Coppin State University, D.C. Bar Association, 40 PLUS of Greater Washington, Dress for Success, Inc., Emerging Leaders Institute(Fairfax, VA), Fannie Mae, General Dynamics Corporation, Georgetown University, George Mason University, George Washington University (Admissions Office, Career Center, Department of Athletics, School of Business, MBA Association), Grant Thornton LLC, Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, HITT Contracting, Inc., Howard University, Howrey LLP, KTA Group, Inc, Library of Congress, Life Technologies, Lincoln Military Housing Corporation, Marketing Directors Support Group (Baltimore, MD), Miss DC International Pageant, Montgomery County Commission For Women, National Center for Children & Families, National Press Club, Oberlin College, Orphan Foundation of America, Professionals in the City (Washington, DC), Ragsdale Liggett, PLLC, Ritz Carlton Hotel (Pentagon City, VA), Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, SOC Enterprises, Stratford University, Team Enterprises, Inc., Travel Industry Association, Trinity University, Umstead Hotel and Spa, University of Virginia, Washington and Lee University, The World Bank, World Travel and Tourism Commission, Year Up, Youth Business Initiative.

©2017 All rights reserved.