So what exactly constitutes excellent service at an upscale restaurant?

It starts with a reservationist who makes you feel glad you called and excited about your reservation. A manager or maître d' greets you when you arrive, acknowledging repeat customers.

You're seated promptly. After you've had a moment to soak up the atmosphere, the waiter brings the menu and wine list and introduces himself as the person who will be steering your dining experience. He asks whether you'd like an aperitif or cocktail; your answer helps him gauge the pacing you'd like.

Once you've had a chance to read the menu, the waiter goes over specials and any particulars about dishes, then takes your order. He presents the wine to the guest who ordered it, letting her examine the label and pouring a taste. During the meal, he watches wine consumption, making sure no glasses are empty at the start of each course.

Depending on the formality of the restaurant, bread is either offered tableside or placed on the table and replenished as necessary.

A runner delivers the dishes to the table, serving from the left and never reaching across the diner's place setting; all dishes in a course arrive at the same time. The waiter resurfaces as the dishes are delivered to make sure they're placed in the proper positions.

Two or three minutes later, the waiter returns to make sure everything's in order and the guests are happy. If anything's wrong with a dish, the waiter remedies the problem without question.

If a guest leaves the table for any reason, his napkin is refolded by the nearest staff person. When guests place their silverware in the "finished" position on the plate (parallel to each other on the right side of the plate), a bus person or back waiter clears them, never clearing more than two dishes at a time. If there are four guests at a table, two people clear simultaneously.

Tablecloths are crumbed before the cheese or dessert course. The waiter returns to take dessert and coffee orders and, eventually, to personally deliver the check.

-- Pascale Le Draoulec