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Hospitality: A Trail of Breadcrumbs

Hospitality: A Trail of Breadcrumbs

How do you keep your tablecloth pristine between courses?

Hospitality: A Trail of Breadcrumbs


My last column left off with serving your boss and their spouse coffee and dessert. I promised my readers pizzazz, so let’s make that coffee or tea service truly memorable.

Pocket crumber (Photo credit: webstaurantstore.com)

Pocket crumber (Photo credit: webstaurantstore.com)

I love a good crumber. Waitlet me explain. The table crumber was invented in 1939 by John Henry Miller, who owned a fine dining establishment in Baltimore.

Before the crumber’s invention, the only option for clearing away dinner remnants was a clunky brush and pan. Miller’s patent application provides a concise explanation of the tool: “It consists of a simple narrow piece of transversely curved strip of metal, plastic or like, bent on a segment of a circle of about 120 degrees.”

Miller’s table crumber was interpreted in various materials and designs. One sleek, faithful, early design is still on the market; snag one at crumber.com. This service magic happens after clearing the main course. These handsome table crumbers (especially the silver ones) are sadly not used as much these days, but they remain an affordable option, and vintage versions are plentiful for sale on eBay and other resale shopping websites.

Here’s a simple DIY crumber method. Fold a napkin in fours (see included diagram), before centering it on a dinner plate. Use a butter knife (or your new table crumber) to clear debris into the napkin’s waiting folds; safely sweep them up and securely cover them over, allowing movement while ensuring errant specks don’t make it onto guests’ person or clothes.


For a dose of high-class flair, clear away used napkins and replace them with clean linen napkins in a bright color and visually intriguing fold. Set our cream, milk, nondairy creamer, sugar and alternative sweeteners like agave syrup, local honey and sugar-free sweeteners. Place cups and saucers to the right of place settings; situate them close to, even touching the table’s outer edge.DSC_7720

Cup handles should be faced at the 4-o-clock position. This is the optimal situation for the index finger, which is itself uniquely well-suited to engage the cup’s dainty or sturdy handle. Never lift a cup from the table to pour. If guests move their own cup or saucer, simply slide them back into their proper place before you begin pouring.

Here’s a service-wow your guests have probably never seen. I learned about this during my freshman year at the Cornell Hotel School, and I’ve been using it ever since. Ninety percent of the world’s population is right-handed, so we naturally place glasses, cups and saucers to the right of our guests.

Left-handed persons are regularly inconvenienced by cold beverages being situated on their right. If you really want to make someone’s da01261y, keep an eye out for lefties; look for anyone moving their cups and saucers to the left of themselves. Notice if someone holds their knife or spoon in the left hand.

When you spot a left-handed person—and you will, they’re approximately 10 percent of the population—wow them by setting their cup and saucer to their left, with the handle positioned at 8-o-clock.

Approach right-handed guests from their right with your right foot anchored between the chairs and the table. Hold a 10-inch (or larger) plate or platter in your left hand, between the cup and the guest to protect them from hot splashes or spills.

Illustration by Rene Thompson

Illustration by Rene Thompson

I’ve engraved and etched the phrase “We Care About You” onto the splash-guards. It’s a nice reminder.. Hold the coffee pot a quarter-inch above the rim of the cup. Don’t lean on the rim, and absolutely never “waterfall” aka pour from much higher up. Leave a quarter or half inch from the rim, both for safety and creamer adjustment convenience. Religiously refill hot beverages and water or wine when glasses are half-empty (and yes, half-full, dear optimists).

If you’re pouring bottled water, wine or champagne when the dining table is tight, you might find yourself unable to perform a two-handed pour with napkin splash-guard in your left hand (between the glass and the guest) and bottle in your right hand, use a napkin-necktie.

Here’s how you do that. Fold a napkin in fours at the width of a necktie and wrap it around the neck of the bottle while allowing the label to show; tuck it in and smooth it out. It looks professional and allows for a one-handed pour and protects against spillage.

In my next column, I’ll dish on another knock ’em dead service-wow that I’ve copyrighted; it’s called a “Steaming Chimney.” How’s that for a cliffhanger? That’s an “86” aka “I’m out,” from Ian Maksik, “Professor of Service.” Address any questions you have on service, etiquette or catering via email to ian@usawaiter.com. The Professor will reply via email or in this column. 

Ian Maksik is a Cornell Hotel School graduate and a former Hilton general manager and catering editor for New York magazine CUE. Known as “America’s Service Guru,” Maksik has keynoted, lectured and trained owners, management and staff of hospitality facilities in 21 countries and at notable industry conferences. Contact him at ian@usawaiter.com or (954) 804-5413.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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