As I've mentioned, we invite constructive criticism by asking the question on a comment card we leave with the check, "What one thing could we improve?" A recent card read, "Training". This is a hot button for me, because unlike more populated areas we don't have a labor pool. It's more of a puddle. It's rare to get an application from an experienced, professional waiter. Nearly everyone who has worked for us has been trained, from the ground up, and many of them were truly raw material.
I answer every comment that is relevant. I asked the person to be more specific. The reply revolved mostly around refilling of water and wine glasses and that the busser, when clearing the dessert plate, didn't notice that more coffee was needed. These things the person described as "the nuts and bolts of service." In my reply I agreed.
I have then been thinking about the nuts and bolts of service and realizing what has changed in this industry, regarding mechanics of service. For instance, I really doubt that many people care whether their food is delivered from the left, and cleared from the right, as long as it is done gracefully and unobtrusively. BTW, I was taught to remember how to deliver and clear by using a political analogy. Things are given to us by the left and taken away by the right.
I know the refilling of glasses sparked discussion some time ago on Gastronomie and I can see both points of view. The truth is some people like their glasses refilled and some like to be left alone. Some like conversation with their waiter, others don't want to know there's a person attached to the arm bringing them food.
At a basic level service is attending to a guest's needs. At a more refined level it is anticipating their needs. At a profound level it attending to their desires, or needs they didn't know they had. To do this, you must be part technician, (ordered steak, need to bring steak knife, before delivering food) part multi-tasker (while I'm bringing that knife I should drop off bread at the table next to them and refill glasses at the table next to that), part observer (ooops, the busser is refilling the glass and the guest is pushing the glass away, maybe we don't need to refill their glasses anymore), and part psychologist (because everyone's expectations of the experience are different).
Unfortunately, you have only moments to make these observations and decisions. And if you misread intent, you've blown it. The relationship has no chance to develop. Much easier if every customer let you know what their expectations are. "I'm in a hurry, I like my water glass filled to the top at all times and I prefer a small spoon for dessert, rather than a dessert spoon." That rarely, or never, happens. When you're successful at reading the table, and able to anticipate their needs while hopefully touching on some desires, you've made a new regular for the restaurant. They feel good about the place, they feel good about themselves.
From where I stand there are no longer nuts and bolts of service, nor are there rules. We are here to make people happy. How we do it will vary depending on the person.