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I'm still eating so leave my husband's plate alone!

I don't know if it's standard restaurant practice, or if it varies from place to place, but why, oh why, must waitstaff feel compelled to take away my husband's (or whomever) plate the second it looks like he's done and leave me there to eat all alone?

I eat rather slow, but no exceedingly so. My husband eats at a "normal pace." It doesn't matter if we're in a $$$$ establishment or a $ establishment, my husband has taken to leaving just a bit of food on his plate so he can tell the waiter that he is still working on his food and I won't be eating alone. He usually gets a very strange look from the waiter because there could be just a tiny morsel of food left on his plate.

This has got to be my one pet peeve with restaurants. Most places will ask something like "can we clear your plate?" or "are you still working on that?" (like eating was laborious). But why can't they just see that I'm still eating and leave his plate there?

Is there a proper way of saying, "leave the plate" without having to resort to pushing around a bit of food? Would love to hear some waitstaff opinions. TIA.

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  1. It's not correct to take someone's plate before the rest of the party has finished eating. Just say, "please leave it."

    1. Funny, there are differing opinions on this but I am also incredibly irked by waitstaff partially clearing the table while someone is still eating...always have been. Some people feel just the opposite, they do not want the dirty plate sitting in front of them and the "rules" do not matter to them. Etiquette rules state that it is bad manners to clear anything while people are still eating, has that changed?

      1. i dont mind prompt removal of dishes. i think in modern times that manners such as that are rather subjective. i mean if the other party has a plate in front of them or not, you're not eating alone, per se.

        also, i think this probably goes in "not about food"?

        1. i agree that the dishes should all arrive at the same time and depart at the same time.

          i would never think of calling a wait staff over to remove my plate prior to all the others finishing so why is it acceptable for them to intrude on the table.

          i find it the same as someone in the family getting up when he/she is finished before the others and places the dish in the sink.

          i usually tell the wait staff the same thing i tell my children, please wait for everyone to finish before clearing the plates. never received anything other than a "yes sir."

          hopefully this is the biggest faux pas of the nite.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jfood

            I did not think of it at the time I posted but, yes I agree about the dinner table at home as well. Same school of thought. I think it is simply a reflection of the changing times (as the post below elaborates on further), not that this makes it okay, my children (first one due in December) will know the "rules".

          2. OK, here's the deal:

            For a very long time in the US, proper etiquette was that no course would be cleared until all at the table had completed the course. It was considered a deep rudeness to do otherwise without the consent of the host (remember when there was a host?).

            This still tends to be the practice at very fine dining establishments. In the past generation, however management of many lesser restaurants mistrained servers to reverse the presumption. Which has created that expectation among younger generations who did not know the old rules, and who now think it is rude to have a finished plate sitting in front of them while others are still eating.

            Btw, the proper non-verbal cue to show you have finished your course in the US is to arrange the cutting edge of the knife horizontally against the fork in the 10:20 position, imagining the plate as a clockface and the utensils as clockhands. (The clock positions vary from country to country, and I have to say it the cue is not as well known in the US by servers as it once was.)

            Needless to say, this creates a situation rife for miscommunication.

            My family follows the traditional rule. At anything less than the finest establishments, we direct the server at the time of ordering that plates not be cleared until all have completed the course. Woe unto the server who defies the direction (innocent mistakes of course are innocent): I can think of a time when a server in Arizona THRICE tried to pull an incompleted course from my sister who was still eating -- the last time a tug of war between them broke out. Obviously, the server wanted to get on her break (we had not tarried at all).

            9 Replies
            1. re: Karl S

              Most servers, even at fine dining estabilishments, are not aware of the fork rule. I was at Le Bernardin (four star NY Times, 3 star Michelin) and they clear just as they do at Applebee's, except the fact that they take your silverware and you are not in a booth.

              1. re: Karl S

                Amen. I will restrain myself from adding anything further, but both are pet peeves - both by waitstaff (removing when not everyone has finished eating) and diners (not using cutlery to properly indicate that they have finished eating). That's why the rules are useful, not just "arbitrary etiquette" or social mores designed to differentiate classes, as someone will inevitably suggest in defense of ignoring the rules.

                1. re: Karl S

                  I had a waiter try to remove a plate with food still on it at a brunch (service all around was just terrible)...not a small morsel, but something like half of a muffin, if I remember correctly. He didn't even ask, he started to reach for the plate and seemed surprised when I told him I was still eating. Unfortunately, my husband has also taken to leaving a small portion on his plate to give me time to "catch up" to him...pretty sad.

                  1. re: Karl S

                    This is a real pet peeve of mine because I eat slowly. I was taught to eat slowly and I was also taught that one never ends a course, much less leaves the table, until everyone has finished. When a server clears my husband's plate before mine I'm uncomfortable and feel that I must stop eating. This seems like such an intuitive thing (not clearing other plates and drawing attention to the slower diner) that I'm puzzled that servers can't figure this out even if they're not aware of proper ettiquette.

                    When we go to dinner, I don't like to have to give pre-emptive instructions to the server. But as many have noted, this is not a problem that only happens in family restaurants. It happens in restaurants where one is paying enough to expect reasonably good service. I might feel more comfortable saving the instruction until the server comes to collect the first dirty dish. But taking the step to simply say "Please do not clear until we both have finished" is going to be an uncomfortable one!

                    1. re: Kater

                      I also can't stand this practice. I'm a slow eater, and I'm usually running my mouth during dinner, so that leaves me way behind my husband who wolfs his food down, and can't get a word in. It often leaves me shoveling the last few bites in, or not finishing at all because I hate to be left with my plate while he has nothing in front of him.

                    2. re: Karl S

                      I do use the knife/fork cue when I'm done. Too bad there isn't some other non-verbal cue that indicates I'm done but my partner isn't -- other than common sense. My husband has also resorted to actually holding the fork in his hand and just poking at the little bit of food left on his plate. That seems to keep busboys at bay.

                      1. re: Karl S

                        We always called that the "4:20" position : the fork and the knife laid parallel, touching the "4" position. Few servers and fewer bussers in the US know it.

                        I once had a well-meaning but hopeless waitress try and take my great-aunt's plate before she was finished. She tried once and my great-aunt said, "I'm not finished eating, please wait." She tried twice and my great-aunt said, "I am not yet finished, young lady, you will need to wait." On the third try, she actually got the plate an inch or so off the table before my great-aunt whapped the back of the waitress' hand with the fork and said, "Are you deaf? Leave the plate here until you're told to take it. I'm not finished, and neither is anyone else."

                        It's one thing to try once... but take the hint! I had to call the manager at Chinois over once, because the busboy kept trying to take my plate while my wife, who savours her food more slowly than I, was still eating.

                        It drives me crazy. Usually, when I'm asked if I'm done, I'll say, "I'll wait until my wife is done, thank you."

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          4:20 position is also used in the US, but I think 10:20 is more common. In the UK, IIRC, the most common positions are 12:30 and 6:30.

                          Btw, one placement cue to show you are NOT finished when not using your utensils is 8:20...

                          1. re: Karl S

                            I always cross my knife and fork (tines down) at a 90 degree angle to each other, with the apex of the angle pointing toward the top of the plate, to signal that I am still eating. Then, when I am ready for the plate to be cleared, the knife and fork are parallel at 4:20. This seems to work.