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Don't touch my plate!

I wonder if any veteran servers could give me some perspective on the following practice common at many, many restaurants (though not, in my experience, at really upscale places): taking a patron's plate the *instant* s/he takes the final bite and/or before the other people at the table are finished eating. Are they trying to stay on top of things? Is it just bad training? I invariably end up feeling rushed and watched. Plus, if you're the first one finished and your plate is suddenly gone the whole dining vibe gets screwed. Suddenly you're just sitting at a table watching the rest of your party eat. It's uncomfortable.

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  1. ABSOLUTELY!! In my opinion, a server should not even touch the table until everyone has un-buttoned their pants and the bill has been laid down!! Nothing annoys me more than a server who starts clearing the table before I am finished eating. And even worse -- a server who asks me to pass the empty plates!!!

    1. This subject was exhaustively discussed in recent months, for example


      1. I for one prefer to have my plate cleared even when others are still eating. I just don't enjoy looking at a dirty plate in front of me. I know it's not proper etiquette, but I still prefer to have the dirty dishes gone rather than just sitting there.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Rick

          So do I, but manners is not about what I prefer, it's about deferring to the comfort of others. If my plate could magically disappear when I'm done with it, that would be nice, but it usually involves some untutored serving person reaching between us while asking, "You still workin' on that?" thus annoying everyone else AND me.

          1. re: Will Owen

            The humor television program Candid Camera once had a segment dealing with restaurant etiquette, variations on bizarre things that can happen to people while they are eating. The skits are too numerous to mention here, but each was hilarious. Howie Mandel with his hidden camera annoyed buffet goers by taking away their plates WAY before they were finished. It was hilarious, as only he can be.

            When I have been at lunch buffets, I sometimes need to return to get more of an item so as to compliment the remainder of items left on my plate. More than a few times, servers have come to my abandoned table and have either removed my plate or attempted to do so, even though half the plate still contained food. When I go to the buffet table for seconds on an item, I have to be vigilant and watch my table to make sure the server does not take off with my plate. When you go to a buffet, there is alot of thought and careful placement involved, and to see a server cavalierly walk off with your plate can ruin one's day.

            I have thought of bringing along some sort of sign to place on my table to alert the server to stay away. I'm sure that some enterprising chowhound has such a business that has such signs. Think of the business for fellow chowhounds! Signs could be relevant for all kinds of notification purposes ... short trips to the rest room, need for water refills, time for the check, do not disturb, lower/raise the background music level, compliments to the chef, etc. Sometimes servers are not sure if a diner has finished with their "course", such as their soup, salad, appetizers, main course, etc. I think it might be helpful to have a traffic light kind of visual prop to help the server, that is, red light, yellow light, green light. Hopefully, the diners wouldn't tease the server by changing light colors just as he/she approaches their table.

          2. re: Rick

            I really like places that take the dirty plate away but place a clear charger in its place. I've only been to a couple of places that did that and, unfortunately, neither had food good enough to return for.

          3. Just because I've finished everything on *my* plate that doesn't mean I've finished eating.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

              I agree... there were a few nice morsels on my companions plate the other night and as I was reaching to snag them the waiter grabbed away the plate. I was so shocked I couldn't even say STOP!

            2. My husband and I were having dinner at the Outback one night and it was so crowded that we ended up sitting at the bar. We were having a drink, chatting away and nibbling on some cheese fries. When the waiter brought our meal he reached in to take away the fries! My reaction was so swift I ended up slapping his hand and asking him what he thought he was doing! He said "nothing" and slunk away sheepishly! But needless to say he didn't bother us for the rest of the meal ;-)

              3 Replies
              1. re: BabyBee

                I think that sums up the issue best of all: it's a practice that makes diners want to
                hit their waiters.

                In a proper world, waiters do not behave in a way which makes diners want to hit them.

                  1. re: srr

                    GOOD POINT!! But I have to say, I am a considerate diner if treated properly - I can't help myself and always stack up all the dirty plates and silverware to one corner of the table! Provided there are any left!

                    Must be the "mom" in me :-)

              2. Several times recently either I or my companion have been approached by the waiter who is attempting to clear a plate-- but we haven't finished eating. It annoys the hell out of me. I don't like to gobble my food, I may want to savor the last few bites, or to wait a minute and see if I am really full, but then I end up feeling like I am defending my plate, and even worse, our conversation is constantly interrupted. I've taken to cradling my plate with one wrist to fend off waitstaff. Granted, I don't eat at high end places, but I'm also not hogging a table at a place that has a line waiting.

                1. I find that wrapping a protective hand around my plate and uttering "Grrrrrrrr..." stops overzealous plate-clearing servers in their tracks!

                  1 Reply
                  1. S'pose...but generally the bared teeth and the menacing growl are enough!

                    1. My mother taught me that taking away a plate when others are still eating is considered rude because it makes the other diners feel that they must hurry. It drives me crazy when that happens at a restaurant. I am much happier when a server asks before he/she takes a plate. And, I either reply, "thank you. I'm done now" or " please leave my plate, thanks".