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Sep 18, 2006 04:28 PM

'Helping the server' at your table...

Hi... When dining at inexpensive-to-moderately priced sit-down restaurants, I have a bit of an odd habit. I tend to 'tidy-up' the table during the course of the meal (if there are apps, entree, dessert) and especially toward the end of the meal prior to the arrival of the check. I will stack my salad plate and bread plate together (when finished) and nudge them toward the edge of the table for removal, 'bus' the table by wiping crumbs into a used napkin, and even wipe up spilled sauce or condiments from the table surface. I will also 'cover up' unsightly gristle or uneaten fat with a paper napkin, prior to the removal of plates from the table. I generally only do this when the co-diner is my wife, who has accomodated such fussy compulsive behavior for lo these many years. My question is: do servers appreciate this behavior, or am I really just making more work for them? I like to have a non-cluttered table as I work thru apps, entrees, dessert courses, etc.. And since I do not expect fastidious and prompt table clearing service at inexpensive restaurants, i tend to do the small micro-mangement of clutter and mess removal from my own table between courses. I also try to do this unobtrusively, so that other diners do not gawk at the guy cleaning his own table. Do any of you also 'police' your table-top as a part of the casual dining experience? Is this behavior very silly? And more importantly, do you think it bugs the restaurant staff? Just wanna do my part, I guess, and mamma always taught me to clean up after myself :-)

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  1. Good question. I tend to do this as well at more casual places. I stack plates on top of one another, group utensils together, etc etc. Nothing major, but if I see something that can be done, I do it. What worries me is when the busboy is in the process of cleaning up and I see him/her having difficulty getting to a particular object on the table. More often than not, I'll reach for that object and try to place it on some dish already on their arms, but I'm always worried that I'm placing it in an incorrect place as to throw off their plate balance or whatever.

    1 Reply
    1. re: fascfoo

      I think that moving an item into the person's reach is generally far more effective than putting whatever it may be onto something they are holding. If it's the last thing on the table, they have a free hand and are reaching for it, by all means pick it up and give it to them if you're physically in a better position to do so. I personally cannot stand when diners put things on plates I am holding. Pick it up and put it closer to me, hand it to me if you think I'm reaching for it but please don't put it onto what is probably a very carefully balanced potentially heavy stack of plates on my arm. We are not pack mules! I'd rather return for a bread plate or even a utensil than have someone plop or even carefully place it on what I'm already holding.

    2. I work in a bar, and my SO works in a restaurant; we both stack glasses and plates whenever possible and appropriate. It's appreciated.

      1. I'm guessing it doesn't bug the restaurant staff, but if I were dining with you it would definitely bug me! Sounds like you are aware of this, but personally I'd make sure this is ok with your dining companions (including your wife: why should she not get the same level of politeness as other diners?) before you do it: personally I would find it unappetizing; not to mention the fact that some folks, including me, consider it rude to buss a table before ALL persons at the table are done eating (which seems to be more likely to happen in this scenario).

        8 Replies
        1. re: susancinsf

          I completely agree with you! My grand father does that all the time, even at high end restaurants, and it annoys all of us! I personnally find it vulgar...

          1. re: Frenchie

            Okay, yeah, I would never do it with a group of people and I would never do it at a high end restaurant!

            1. re: Katie Nell

              Well, if it truly was a higher end place that knew what it was doing, then the opportunity to DO this would never even arise, as the plates and such would be magically whisked away leaving only what's necessary for each course at the table at any given time.


              1. re: TexasToast

                There is always a moment, high end or not, when you can put your bread plate into the big plate and professionnal "server helpers" such as my grand father work faster than the servers themselves...;-)

                1. re: Frenchie

                  I disagree - there is never such a moment.

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    My rule is, if in doubt, then don't do it. Every person likes to stack plates a different way. That's what they get paid to do, so let 'em take the stuff away as it suits them. Your trying to be helpful, just creates more work if they have to undo what you've done, and then pile it back up how they like it.


                    1. re: MMRuth

                      Outside of the most informal places (clam shack, cafeteria, e.g.), the only time "helping" might be in order would be to hand a plate to the server who is in the process of clearing if the table is placed such that the server cannot politely reach for it. Finer dining establishments normally design table logistics to avoid it, but one does encounter tables in middling places wedged into unfortunate spots in this regard. Then again, one is not forcing the plate on the server but truly responding to timely action by the server.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        I really agree with you. Unless you have a really bad service, you should never stack up plates or glasses etc. It is really more annoying than anything else.

                        The fact is that most people don't realize that there is a way to do things such as stacking plates and most people that do so don't do it right and so it ends up being more complicated. And if it is more complicated, it will take more time than it would have if you would have let the server do his job.

                        Lets repeat this :"Let the server do his job," and don't forget that if you have eaten your meal in 2 seconds and that your company is still eating, your server will most probably not take away your plate unless you ask him or her to do so. If you want something removes from your table you should simply ask.

            2. We had this topic a while back, and several people were annoyed by customers tidying up the table: other customers and wait staff. One waitress, or perhaps former waitress, said that that was her job and she took offense to someone else doing her job for her. That being said, I tidy my table- can't help it!

              1. Wow! I'm not the only one! I have a real problem with sitting over the remains of my meal and in an ideal world the plate would disappear as soon as I've finished the last bite -- I like sitting at table for hours, talking, but I really need the remains of the meal to be whisked away immediately. So, I often exhibit the same kinds of behaviour you're all talking about and have often wondered the same thing. I've never done it in a high end restaurant because I've never had to (which is the joy of an expensive dinner in a restaurant with good service), but at a busy chain, you can bet I'm stacking the salad plates to the side as soon as I'm done with them.