How Waiters Secretly Predict Your Every Need

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Waiting tables is more of an art than science. Gone are the days when waiters struggled off rote dialogue or pushed appetizers and dessert on you. These days, it’s more about “situational selling” and how waiters can anticipate your needs.

The secret to good service is all about learning to “read the table,” reports the Wall Street Journal. Waiters and restaurants are ditching the scripted dialogue and are learning to adjust to diners’ needs. If you order a salad, you might be offered tea or coffee, instead of dessert. And even if the script is still there, they are being used to dig guests for information. Catching a movie at the end of the night? The waiter might bring your check to the table faster.

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Waiters are being taught to note body language, eye contact and remarks all in an effort to improve service. Even if there is high turnover rates among wait staff, restaurants are putting in the effort to adequately train their servers, with orientation often lasting weeks at a time. But what’s all this new emphasis, even though the number of diners out is barely expected to increase over the next few years?

According to the Journal:

“… restaurants from Applebee’s to fine-dining spots like Press St. Helena in California’s Napa Valley say guests expect better service as they continue to demand top value for their dollar and learn more about restaurants’ behind-the-scenes operations through TV shows and books.”

It’s hard to deny that better service also leads to better tips, a still integral part of the restaurant business. But some tactics may just be pure common sense. Lauren McDonagh, a 23-year-old waitress at the Cheesecake Factory, fondly remembered one of her first waitressing jobs at 18, which threw her in the field. “It took me three months to realize you give the dessert menu quietly to the mom, otherwise kids scream.”

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Ho is a contributor at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.