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When do plates get cleared?

I've always been irritated when I sit with my plate in front of me too long after I've finished my meal. A friend recently stated she hates when a server clears her plate when other people are still eating. With a little research I discovered it is actually etiquette to wait until everyone is done before plates are cleared so that the people still eating don't feel rushed. That makes sense but I think most people equate having their plates cleared promptly with good service. Which is it? I'm curious what the chowhounds prefer.

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  1. I'm in the "wait for everyone to be done" camp. I always feel the person still eating is being rushed, and I don't mind a few dirty plates on the table. I will admit I'm particularly sensitive to feeling rushed out of a restaurant; nothing ruins a good meal for me like feeling pushed out by the staff. I hate sitting down too close to closing time for the same reason, though I'm probably remembering my own far away waitressing days of wishing ill on the 3-martinis-after-closing people.

    1 Reply
    1. re: corgette

      Im with Corgette on this one too, but probably because I am usually the slow eater, and the last one finished. I also have a pet peeve with busboys who persistently remove plates I am still using (i.e.the bread plate after Ive had my last bite of one piece, but still looking forward to another).

      And while I'm venting ... some of my co-workers are hoping to move up through the company, and I've emphasized to them all the little things that Upper Management notices and keeps score on, one of which is table manners. Im trying to break them of the habit of bussing their own dishes. They finish their meal (well ahead of me as usual ...) and they start stacking their smaller plates on the bigger one. No no, I tell them, you're not the busboy. "But Im just trying to help" is the usual reply. I resist the temptation to suggest they just walk their dishes back to the kitchen....

    2. My theory is the dishes arrived together they should be removed together. I do not want numerous interuptions to the flow of conversation as each dish is removed. Breaks the mojo at the table.

      there are definitely two camps on this subject and i am camped in the all at the same time. I very much dislike the grab the dish as the last bit is taken by each person at the table. I feel thatthe busboys are almost laying in wait, ready to pounce when that last morsel of duck crosses the lips. just feel over-aggressive.

      i am a quicker eater than mrs jfood and have learned to "slow down" and pace myself so that we can finish in a tie. in the event that i do quicken the pace and finish first, and the busboy arrives at the table to remove my dish, i politely ask him to wait until everyone is done before removing any of the dishes.

      http://jfoodonfood.blogspot.com

      1. Personally I much prefer that all plates are cleared when everyone is done and would agree that according to etiquette that is truly good service.
        I think when servers clear plates individually the slow eaters tend to feel rushed and it also interrupts the conversations of those at the table. As a slow eater I have on occasion even had my plate cleared with some food still on it and I wasn't quite done. This is one of the worst server offenses IMO.

        7 Replies
        1. re: SweetPea914

          I'm with SweetPea, but perhaps as equally offensive for me is to have the the first diners finish their entree and have one or more diners still eating and the waitstaff will appear & offer dessert & coffee! "Would you like some dessert & coffee?"
          My reply is, "Why, I really don't know yet, I am still eating my entree!"

          Let me say that rarely happens in New Orleans where I live, but travelling out west this summer, plates flew off of the table as soon as the first person finished. I sat there with my lone plate finishing my meal, which was clearly 2/3s still on my plate. I asked my host & hostess about this & got different responses. My hostess said, "Time is money! Clear those plates & get them out!" My host, who I believe travels a little more, which might explain his answer, "I think it is just a matter of different styles. <then inserts jab> But at the rate you eat, you would still have been alone eating whether the plates would have been there or not!" I might mention he inhaled his food at every meal we shared.

          1. re: Isabella

            How terrible, not the most hospitable of hosts IMO. I would much rather enjoy my food than inhale it. BTW, Love your name, as it is my daughters as well!

            1. re: SweetPea914

              Thanks Sweet Pea, I appreciate your comments. I was wondering if maybe it was just me. I did poll a group of friends out west about the incident all but one said clear the plates all at once.

              I am happy to hear most folks still go with clearing all at once. I am by no means on an ettiquette trip and love casual dining too . . . but rude is rude!

              1. re: Isabella

                Isabella, as a server we are taught to not clear until everyone is done, unless someone stacks their plates or pushes them to the side. Same with offering dessert. In fact one time I had a man asking me to bring dessert menus before everyone was finished and I (politely) said (as one of the people was an elderly woman) "Perhaps you would like to wait until everyone is finished?" Oh no you can just bring the menu, was his reply.

                1. re: Missmoo

                  Missmoo,
                  Good for you! The more I read of these threads it seems , good servers AND good dining partners are hard to find!

                  1. re: Missmoo

                    Good job, Missmoo!
                    Just curious- in what area are you located?

                    1. re: Isabella

                      That would be the Bay Area (San Francisco)!

          2. "wait for everyone to be done" ABSOLUTELY.

            2 Replies
              1. re: MMRuth

                add me to the wait for everyone camp.

            1. I'm with everyone else--wait till everyone's done. My worst experience was last week when I went to a restaurant where little individual dishes were placed on a sort of modified bento box (about 6 in. by 4 in.). Our servers actually removed some of the dishes as we were still eating out of other ones in the same box! This was at a high concept place in town, not your local sushi joint.

              1. I'm one of those slow eaters, and when the server takes everyone's plate while I am still eating; I feel awkward and rushed. Sometimes, I like to take a break while I am eating to talk. Servers immediately try to take my plate, sometimes I have had them try to grab it without even asking! Sometimes, I just feel so awkward that I have them box up my leftovers even though I would like to continue to eat.
                Absolutely, the server should wait until everyone is finished eating before removing plates.

                3 Replies
                1. re: mschow

                  Apparently I was more "specifically" schooled in the finer details of table manners, but I was also taught that if you are going to pause in your meal, you leave your utensils at 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock on your plate. When you are FINISHED, both utensils should rest at 4 o'clock. When I was a server, this was a signal to me that the diner was ready to have his/her plate removed. When they rush in to grab my plate as I'm putting the last bite of something in my mouth, it makes me feel like they really can't wait for me to leave. I don't mind sitting with my friends with an empty plate in front of me, but I do know that others consider it poor service if the table isnt swept clear the moment they're done.

                  1. re: Cheflambo

                    Cheflambo, I was taught the same thing with utensil positions - is this a disappearing element of table etiquette? It's an incredibly useful signal.

                    I've had a few experiences opposite of the early-clearing as well - having put my utensils in the "take this, I'm finished" position. It seemed that the wait staff wasn't trained in that clear cue. But maybe most people aren't any longer. Curious to know.

                    I, too am in the camp of wait-until-all-are-finished, and can't abide having a server ask me if I am finished-with-that when I actually still have my fork in my hand! (Has happened more than a few times, unbelieveably.)

                    1. re: Cheflambo

                      I learned the 4'o'clock trick in Europe. I couldn't figure out why the servers would NEVER clear my plate. With a little observance I caught on. I think that's when I got irritated when I came home and placed my fork and knife in the proper position and my plate was never cleared! Now it turns out that maybe they weren't being inattentive they were just waiting for the rest to finish!

                      The other issue why I want my plate cleared is totally selfish and does not take into consideration the other diners at all... I don't have a lot of self control the longer the plate sits in front of me, the more I will eat.

                  2. The longstanding etiquette for American fine dining was that courses were cleared after all had finished, and it was considered a deep rudeness to do otherwise. It's still the rule in most of the finest establishments. It remains the benchmark for proper service in the US.

                    Unfortunately, practices have migrated from the clarity this once offered. Many servers are trained to clear as people finish, even at the risk of rushing people who have not finished.

                    There have been huge threads on this in the past.

                    One of the problems nowadays is that tables usually lack a "host(ess)" (the person who arranged for - and paid for - the dinner for all the guests), because most meals are "dutch". It used to be that most tables had a clear "host(ess)" whom servers could approach discreetly for inquiries about service issues like this.

                    When I dine out with my elderly parents (and other family members), I make sure to take the server aside out of earshot early in the process to inform him/her to clear courses after all are done - else risking the wrath of my father (who eats fast) on behalf of my mother (who does not). Woe unto the server who ignores this direction; I still remember a waitress in Arizona who unsuccessfully tried to pull an unfinished plate from my sister's hands for the *third* time - the waitress was lucky my implusive sister didn't stab her hands with her fork (which would have mortified me, of course).

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: Karl S

                      Indeed - and amazing the controversies that have arisen in those huge threads, though I suspect that Karl S and I are "partners in crime" on this subject!

                      1. re: Karl S

                        Who's left to train servers properly? American life has become so casual that most people have forgotten long-standing rules of common courtesy and simple social skills.
                        Many American families no longer sit down for family meals. If they do, when people finish, they're free to get up, put their own dishes in the sink or dishwasher or throw the paper plates in the trash and go back to their computers or TV shows. Or they head out the door to some other activity. They leave people sitting at the table to finish their meals alone. Maybe the TV is on during dinner or people are talking on the phone while they eat.
                        Once everybody sat at the table and talked until the entire family finished their meal. That taught kids proper social skills - even if it was only simple soup and sandwiches. They practiced at home so they knew how to behave when they went to restaurants or other people's homes.
                        This isn't about fancy restaurants. It's common courtesy.

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          I'm in that choir you're preaching to here, btw....

                          1. re: Karl S

                            I'm in the Alto section...with the rest of my family.

                            1. re: Gio

                              I'll represent for the Soprano's. I moved back home for a year after college. Even then as a working adult I had to call my mom and let her know if I wouldn't be home for dinner.
                              I was one of the only kids I knew growing up that ate dinner as a family pretty much every night. We sat at the table, no tv, etc. These things definitely contribute to having proper dining etiquette in my opinion.

                          2. re: MakingSense

                            Can I join the choir too? Someone wrote a book recently about the "Sunday Family Dinner" - very similar to what your talking about but I agree, every day for dinner - kids should be staying put until everyone is done and you are excused - it's an awesome time to bond once a day with each other. We had all four gr kids overnight this past weekend (an awesome joy) and although they don't practice that at home, we practice it at our house and they enjoyed it. I made it fun by reading a book to them while we ate pizza but we also talked , like about the new baby coming, etc. We weren't done, until we were done. The toys would wait.

                            1. re: lexpatti

                              Don't suppose you have the authour's name handy, do you?

                              1. re: aussiewonder

                                I'm pretty sure it was this - Return to Sunday Dinner by Russell Cronkhite

                            2. re: MakingSense

                              I'm not a very good singer, but I'd like to join that choir too.

                            3. re: Karl S

                              Although i agree with almost everything here, I'm not sure i agree with the correlation between tab splitting and plate clearing. If they are so intuiotive why do they not bring separate checks automatically if they clear the plates as finsihed?

                              Yes clearing Henry IX's plate before Henry VIII was finished may have led to "off with their head" (maybe it did given that there was no Henry IX) i do not think that having a host would solve the problem. Like you I try to inform the server to clear when all are done, and truly done, not when the last bite from the slowest is midair between plate and mouth. But there are so many little nuances that separate good service from great service a whole thread could be started.

                              Servers need to learn that quick to bring, slow to take is an acceptable MO. Since I am usually the first to finish when the busboy comes to take my plate I normally tell him to please wait until all are done.

                              I sometimes inform the server when ordering and given the fact that i normally order last, the rest of the table are usually re-engaged in conversation and normally do not noitce my telling the server this tidbit.

                              http://jfoodonfood.blogspot.com new blog 10/8/07

                              1. re: jfood

                                Well, JFood, it seems you are taking some of the table service direction responsibilities of a host. I heartily applaud that and do so myself. Normally, it seems most people these days don't even think to do that. But that was part of the overall hosts role in the not so distant past, and waiters knew whom to ask, as it were.

                                1. re: Karl S

                                  As manyof us are statingthere needs to be more communication to make the dining experience a better experience, you have to walk the talk, so to speak. I have done this for the last couple of years and i can not think of any time that i slip that in at the nd of my order that anyone at the table hears it, or if they do say anything. And the two best parts is that the service is nicer and mrs jfood is happier. Imagine all of that from a simple "could you please inform the bus staf to wait until everyoneis finished with a course before removing the plates." Always responded with, "absolutely."

                                  So simple, so easy, so much nicer.

                                  http://jfoodonfood.blogspot.com new blog 10/8/07

                              2. re: Karl S

                                Further agreement. Personally, most of this etiquette stuff doesn't bother me in the least. Be reasonably courteous and commonly considerate and I don't really care what specific things are done. (Eg, if your elbows don't get in my or another diners' way, I don't care if they're on the table or in your ears...)

                                But waiting to clear is definitely "the rule." As one of the slower eaters I've known when time permits, I'm usually the one left with a plate in front of me when they ignore the rule, but honestly, I could care less, as long as my fellow diners don't start acting like THEY want to get up and clear the tables of themselves. That IMHO is unspeakably rude, but that's really a horse of another color...

                                Trying to take a plate before I'm done, especially repeatedly, does however create a strong risk of the fork Karl S speaks of stuck squarely in the back of your hand (or at least a glare when I see you approaching the table for the 4th time), though I'm often the first to move the last slice of something onto another plate to get rid of superfluous dishes anyway...

                              3. I hate when servers remove my plate before others are done! Usually I'll eat most of my meal pretty quickly but leave a bit to nibble on throughout the rest of the meal and conversation. Many times I have no choice whether or not my plate gets removed before my last bites are taken. It is particularly sad if I was saving a choice bite for my final taste and my plate gets swept up and stacked under another.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Lixer

                                  It's become a family joke that I am always rushed by buspeople because I eat very slowly. What I usually do is eat until the others are done and then ask to have my food packed up so I can finish in peace at home.

                                2. I'm firmly in the "wait" camp. Too many times I see busboys pressured by managers to clear when we've firmly given the directive to wait. I guess turning tables sometimes gets in the way of dining.

                                  1. I was raised pretty much they way all of you were, except we were taught to place our knife/fork/spoon at the 9 o'clock position. Probablly b/c we are from NYC and feel that need to get ahead of everone else, lol!
                                    Anyone who is in the restaurant business, including wait staff, please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think in most restaurants, especially busy chains, or very popular places, it's probably more all about the Benjamins than anything else. The faster a table is cleared, the faster it's turned over and the more income is produced. Lots of places run on a very small profit margin. Additionally, I don't know about other cities/towns but here in NYC, there are a lot of people vying for those bussing jobs. They are often non English speaking, unskilled, and I think they are anxious to demonstrate to management that they are busy doing what they consider to be a 'good job' by cleaning plates as soon as diners are 'finished' eating. I'm not saying it's correct to do so, merely explaining a few reasons why I think it happens so much.

                                    12 Replies
                                    1. re: Tay

                                      I worked in places where patrons would put their dirty dishes on nearby empty tables if you didn't clear them when they finished. I'd rather clear the plates individually than have a clean table covered in dirty dishes.

                                      1. re: mojoeater

                                        Would you mind giving an example of what kind of "places" you are referring to here? I find this behavior you are describing so offensive as to be bizarre. I can hardly conceive of it- not even at a picnic would I do such a thing.

                                        1. re: vvvindaloo

                                          oh, I've seen it happen in restaurants from medium chains to high-end dining. I was always baffled by it--why on earth would you put your dirty dish on a clean table--but it happens every night. Seriously, every night.

                                        2. re: mojoeater

                                          Another table? you're kidding.

                                          jfood agrees w vvvindaloo, please let us know what type of places these are so we can avoid.

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            I know for a fact that a relative encountered this at a restaurant where the tables were close together.

                                            The couple next to them put their dirty dishes on their table.

                                            Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to manners or the lack thereof.

                                            1. re: dolores

                                              OMG, I thought it was bad enough that pp said someone put dirty dishes on an empty table. But to put them on a table someone is sitting at?! That's offensive. Was it someplace local?

                                              1. re: SweetPea914

                                                Not to me in NY, no, I believe it was either New Hampshire or Rhode Island.

                                                1. re: dolores

                                                  i've seen dirty dishes moved onto a clean, open table in manhattan many times but never on a table that is currently in use. this typically occurs when the appetizers arrive just minutes before dinner, and then the wait staff disappears immediately thereafter, never to be seen again until they are hunted down for the check. [makes sense. they brought you all the food at once and now they can hang. 'the heck with y'all.'] folks at the table will move the appetizer plates onto other tables to make room for the other plates. but i think i've only seen this when the table is really being neglected. i still shudder, though, b/c it's wrong.

                                                  living in manhattan, i agree that there is a great deal of pressure to keep turning the tables over quickly . rents are skyrocketing and they can't afford to lose any money. sometimes i feel like they use
                                                  the "don't ever leave a dirty dish on a table " idea as an excuse to do what they do as a coverup for merely wanting you to get you OUT!!

                                                  i gotta tell you, though, this type of thing has occurred in places well before closing, with many open tables and no one waiting!!!!!! this i do not understand. i agree with lixer, and when they clear other plates and leave me sitting there with my plate, i feel like a dork. suddenly, the room grows larger and brighter and i am the only one pigging out at a table with no one else eating in the entire place. this tactic works for them. i have to admit i never heard about the 4 and 8 o'clock position. i 'm sure this could be the case in some of the finer establishments and i agree it's a shame that few (servers and customers alike) follow these rules.

                                                  i've enjoyed hearing from the servers and chefs here on this topic and am hopeful that others who aren't in this camp will hear us. what i'd really love is to hear from those in the business who disagree asthey may very well be something we're missing.

                                                  1. re: nativeNYer

                                                    Native NYer, you hit the nail on the head!
                                                    While I have pretty much gotten over how I feel when I am the only one left eating at the table when everyone else's plate has been cleared - unless I am with a group of people I don't know very well. At that point I will sometimes get looks from my dining companions & I still occassionally feel like they think I am eating too much or something. The truth is I was served exactly the same amount as they were, they just polished theirs off in a hurry. Hopefully the conversation is going strong & I can still somewhat enjoy my food.
                                                    It does feel weird if I am with a group I don't know very well.

                                            2. re: jfood

                                              Happened regularly in a chain resto where I worked as a teen. Then again in a Mexican place in my twenties. I've seen it in lots of diners and lunch spots. I saw it done recently in a place where the entrees are $25+. Some people just don't like dirty dishes in front of them.

                                              1. re: mojoeater

                                                And they don't signal to have it/them removed why?

                                                1. re: dolores

                                                  Most likely b/c they're impatient, self-absorbed and rude. Emily Post would drop over dead (if she weren't already dead).

                                        3. This is very interesting. I never knew that there was so much emphasis placed on the clearing of plates. Personally, I want my plate out of the way when I'm done. But only when I'm done with it.
                                          I really don't like to see patrons sitting in front of a dirty empty plate, but if the general assembly prefers for clearing when it's all said and done, I may have to change my practices.

                                          1. I'm in the "wait until everyone is finished" camp. I've also been taught to cross my utensils with the fork tines facing down to indicate that I am finished...never heard the 4 o'clock/9 o'clock thing. (Maybe there are regional distinctions...I'm definitely a southerner.) However, I do HATE sitting there for an eternity after everyone is finished staring at dirty plates. And, if they bring a check before clearing, it REALLY pisses me off.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: SweetPhyl

                                              SweetPhyl, it is a good thing that you were not dining with me Friday night. My sister joined my husband, my two preteens, and me for dinner. We were at one of our favorite local places. Hubbie and kids were finished. Sis and I were still eating. Waitress gave hubbie our check and Sis her check. Waitress then started picking up hubbie's and kids' plates. Hubbie pulled out credit card and Sis and I continued to eat. Waitress came to the end of the table where Sis and I are sitting and set the stack of dirty dishes down on the table between the two of us. She then asked Sis if she was ready to pay. Sis was stunned. She put down her fork, grabbed her purse, and pulled out her credit card. Waitress left with the checks and cards, leaving the dirty dishes of hubbie and kids on the table. It was very unappetizing and unprofessional.

                                              1. re: Sister Sue

                                                I hope there was no tip given for that performance. And a word to the manager.

                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                  My husband is one that will leave something no matter how bad the service is ----- and it started off badly that evening. She did get about 10% out of him. My sister left less. The manager was no where to be found, but we do go there at least once a week to ten days. The opportunity will come up and I will speak to the owner / manager about it. I have never seen this server there before, and I will be surprised if I see her again.

                                                2. re: Sister Sue

                                                  I'm afraid I would have given in to the temptation to push the dishes onto the floor.

                                                  1. re: Sister Sue

                                                    look at the bright side, the money you did not spend by leaving a zero tip can be used at the ice cream shop for sundaes for the kids.

                                                    http://jfoodonfood.blogspot.com

                                                3. Having worked many years in the biz, it was always understood that you wait until all guests are finished eating. HOWEVER, if a guest pushes their plate to the side or asks for it to be removed, then of course you get it out of their way.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: lynnlato

                                                    Agreed, that's the method that I was taught.

                                                    I am also from the school of 4 & 8 pm for flatware placement as a form of communication.

                                                    1. re: dbug31

                                                      If there's one thing that bothers me more than a server taking away one plate when others are still eating, it's when one person's food is brought out while the others are still waiting, sometimes for a long time.

                                                      1. re: ekammin

                                                        You're right. Their intentions are usually good tho. They don't want to leave one meal dying in the "window" (under heat lamps) while they are finishing up another plate that, for whatever reason, took longer than expected. But who wants to eat while your dining companion watches & waits for their meal. If they handle it w/ apologies and maybe an offer of dessert on the house then all's well that ends well.

                                                  2. I am frequently one of those annoying restaurant patrons who stops busboys/other waitstaff in their tracks and requests that all plates be cleared together. As they should be. I also don't like to be asked "Are you done?", as 99% of restaurant staff now do. When did this become the proper phrase? How about asking, "may I remove your plate?"??? This topic really gets me steamed.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: vvvindaloo

                                                      How about: "Are you done workin' on that?"

                                                      Who raised these people? No manners at all...

                                                    2. Growing up & living pretty much my whole life in Europe we have the daily family dinners. You start eating once everybody has their food on their plate and do not leave the table until everybody is done (and sometimes hours after that, haha). You put your knife & fork at 4 o'clock when you are done. (think it might not be as known in the US because a lot of people don't use their knife & fork at the same time or don't even use their knife at all)
                                                      In restaurants only clear after everybody is done (except when asked to remove of course) and when it's buffet just clear as they go, don't have to wait till everyone is done.
                                                      Another one of my irritations, people start eating their food before the whole table has been served! very rude (in my opinion)... Everybody got their food, "enjoy your meal" and start eating.....

                                                      1. It's good manners to pace your consumption so that you don't wolf down your food and finish before everyone else at the table. So, if it happens that you finished before everyone else, it's not very nice for the server to highlight your lack of manners by clearing your plate.

                                                        If you indicate that you want your plate cleared (by pushing your plate away, stacking your bread plate on your dinner plate, or dumping your napkin on it, or asking to have it cleared), then your server should clear it.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: hsk

                                                          Re: Makingsense, worse than "Are you done?" is "Still picking?" That just makes me cringe. I do not pick at my food and please don't infer that I am, I AM however eating at a normal pace and would like to be able to continue to do so.

                                                        2. Almost all my dining out is at "casual" or "family" restaurants. They invariably clear the plates as they percieve each diner has finished their meal. But they do, generally politely, ask if I have finished. On occasion - mostly to throw them off - I have said "yes, but I will keep my plate till everyone has finished." It results mostly in confulsion. They tell me its no problem and attempt to grab the plate. I reiterate that I perfer to keep it, and they generally walk away looking like I have abused them.

                                                          From a bussing perspective I can see why they do it. It is much easier to take away one plate at a time than to try to acrobatically balance an armful of half eaten dinners, trying to keep some of the food for doggie bags, and others not. After all, in most restaurants the bus person not only has to clear your table, but four or five (or more) others. Spreading the work out as much as possible is certainly easier that way. I do understand that the customer is the one who's needs are important. But having seen a pile of dishes cascade from a busboy's arms back onto a table, I'm not entirely convinced that the "old way" is the best way. As with most things, it comes down to economics. Staffing a restaurant with enough bus people to clear tables simultaneously costs money. That results in higher prices.

                                                          22 Replies
                                                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                            I'm unclear. Why do you keep your dirty, empty plate?

                                                            1. re: dolores

                                                              Dolores, go back and read the whole thread. Most of us have agreed that it is rude to take plates away one at a time, and that all plates should be cleared together, when everyone at the table is done.

                                                              1. re: SweetPea914

                                                                In my business, my co-workers are generally blue-collar, but seem to be interested in the finer points of dining. When we lunch in restaurants like Olive Garden (their favorite) I've been trying to suppress their urges to stack up their empty dishes before the busboy arrives. "just trying to help" is their reasoning. "You dont work here" I tell them. I guess this is one way to tell waitstaff that you're finished.......

                                                                1. re: Cheflambo

                                                                  You're 100% correct and yet I sometimes find myself doing the stacking thing in chain type restaurants. I think it must be some sort of automatic response to helping out in that, "Family style' environment. Almost like 'clearing the table' when at a friend's house.

                                                                2. re: SweetPea914

                                                                  I've read the thread. I don't agree, and I don't see the logic in it. If I were sitting with a group, I don't fear the server dropping the plates on the table. I'd much rather not have my dirty plate in front of me while others are still eating.

                                                                  I still haven't seen a good enough reason to sit with a dirty dish while the slowest at the table eats their food -- and no, I'm not going to slow down my food consumption to keep pace with a verrrrry slow eater -- so again I ask, what is the harm in asking the server to remove my plate?

                                                                  1. re: dolores

                                                                    While I agree with the "don't clear until everyone is done" rule for various reasons that posters have stated, if you find having a dirty plate in front of you unpleasant while others are still eating, it seems to me that that is a personal preference that isn't going to be changed by anything other posters write. The only potential harm is that it sends a signal to your fellow diners that you are in some sort of rush for the dinner to end or be conducted at a certain pace - not that you mean to send that signal, of course. What do you do at dinner parties in someone's home?

                                                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                                                      Since I pace my drink to outlast my meal, I am comfortable toying with my drink while everyone else continues to eat.

                                                                      In someone's home, I am usually comfortable enough to clear my own place.

                                                                      Good point on many of these threads, MMRuth. From what I've read, most of the opinions, whether they are tipping or rudeness, are personal preferences and aren't going to be changed by anything anyone says. It is interesting to see the various reactions to other people's lifelong habits.

                                                                      1. re: dolores

                                                                        Yep - Certainly these discussions reveal an intersection of sorts between "etiquette" and "personal preference". I have to say though, if I had a dinner party and a guest got up and put his plate in the kitchen while others were still eating (or at all, actually, since I always clear myself when my guests are done with a course) I'd be a bit taken a back. I'd feel as if you were rushing my dinner party along and I would feel somewhat hurt, feeling that you wanted to hurry things up so that you could go home and also then concerned that perhaps you weren't enjoying yourself - just something to think about, and by which I mean absolutely no disrespect. Of course, if you were my guest I would not say anything to you or otherwise indicate my discomfort.

                                                                        1. re: dolores

                                                                          Sometimes "lifelong habits" should be re-evaluated. What might have been appropriate in one's home might not be appropriate in a social situation and might actually give offense.

                                                                          A meal taken with others is a social situation - not just getting yourself fed. Getting rid of your dishes and "toying with your drink while everyone else continues to eat" could signal impatience that you're ready to be done with it and get on to the important things in your life - and that your companions aren't those important things.

                                                                          Even at home, my kids didn't get clear the table until everyone was finished - and that included breakfast or a snack - if we all sat down together.

                                                                      2. re: dolores

                                                                        I am one of those "verrry" slow eaters, dolores. I must say in defense of all of my ilk that when we are in a social situation it would be so appreciated if the other diners would try to slow down just a tad to keep pace. I eat as quickly as I can to try to keep pace with the prandial speed demons.

                                                                        1. re: lucyis

                                                                          I have absolutely no problem with that, lucyis, none at all.

                                                                          But what doesn't seem to be in large supply on these boards is the idea of 'living and let live'.

                                                                          Just as I wouldn't dream of asking you or expecting you to rush through your meal, I wouldn't expect you to ask me to sit with a dirty dish in front of me.

                                                                          1. re: dolores

                                                                            Eating a meal with other people is an area where "live and let live" is not a principled approach. Because it is essentially (even the quintessentially) social activity, and social activities are always governed by rules, whether express or assumed. Live and let live is fairly meaningless in that context.

                                                                            1. re: Karl S

                                                                              The only thing I slightly disagree with you about, Karl, is phrasing this in terms of "rules," which seems to get a lot of backs up.
                                                                              Social "etiquette" is really no more than sensitivity to others and the situation that you are in. You adapt your behavior to the situation. Nobody cares how you eat when you're alone on your own couch in front of your own TV.
                                                                              If someone finds that they are always finishing their meal well ahead of those they eat with, maybe they're not participating in the conversation. Perhaps they're wolfing down the food. On the other hand, those who always finish last may be talking too much.
                                                                              We should pay attention to others at the table because we did after all choose to eat with them. We assume a certain obligation for at least the duration of the meal.

                                                                              1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                I see what you mean, but I was being descriptive about prescripitive behavior. Social groups have rules, even when they don't formally and explicitly adopt them - that's how they come into and stay in being. Rules is just the shortest description, even if it has baggage. In any event, the more un-expressed the rules are, I tend to see it as the more advantageous for the socially powerful and adept and the less advantageous for the socially anxious and awkward. So I tend to like a hefty dose of transparency about the "rules", as it were.

                                                                                One of the nice rules that goes with having everyone's plates cleared together is the rule that people are not supposed to take direct notice (let alone ever comment to others) of how quickly or slowly others are eating. If places are cleared individually, that "live and let live" "rule" has a much harder time of it, as it were.

                                                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                                                  I agree with everything you have written on this thread. I don't like the idea of even the most basic aspects of social occasions/interaction being bogged down with "rules" either, but the fact is, they are. There are infinite unspoken gestures and habits that we practice when dining in company, and allowing a certain amount of time to elapse between the last person finishing eating and getting up to clear the table is just one of those customs we practice to allow the meal to progress smoothly, and make sure that our companions feel at ease.

                                                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                                                    I was talking about 'live and let live' in terms of accepting what other people are sharing on these boards and how they live their lives. We none of us are going to change the attitudes of those who are offering up how they live. We may even glean some interesting tidbits.

                                                                                    Of course there are 'rules' in a restaurant, or there would be chaos. But there aren't rules in a dinner party I have with my family. If I see someone sitting with a dirty plate in front of them, I take it away from them. If I am at a family member's house, I am comfortable taking away my own plate. Live and let live as it relates to me doing what I want in my own home and saying on these boards -- and as it relates to my opinion on restaurants. I offer up the same to the other posters.

                                                                          2. re: dolores

                                                                            as long as you know that it is actually proper service for the server to wait until everyone's finished. the rule i learned is actually "wait...unless the guest requests that you remove his/her plate" so if you want your plate taken, just ask politely. nothing wrong with that.

                                                                      3. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                        KaimukiMan
                                                                        News Flash: If you're doing that "just to throw them off" then, to some degree you are abusing them. Why on earth would you do that to the hard working, lowest members of the food (literally) chain? I'm puzzed because the rest of your posting indicates thought and reason.

                                                                        1. re: Tay

                                                                          Quite a reasonable comment. And I suppose I don't do it just to throw them off. I learned that all plates should be removed at the same time. It used to really annoy me when they did it piece by piece - now it just bugs me sometimes. I tend to ask them to leave my plate when I am with more "formal" friends.

                                                                          After giving it some additional thought the only reason I don't like the piece by piece approach is that the repeated "interruptions" can disturb the flow of conversation and the ambiance of the meal. I find that less and less true the more I get used to having my plate cleared individuallly. And in some ways I agree with Dolores, not having an empty plate there can be good. And if I am trying especialy hard to watch my calorie intake, having my plate cleared when I am finished eating can be very helpful so I wont feel compelled to be a member of the clean plate club.

                                                                          None the less, if I ask that my plate be left, whatever my reasons - pure or impure - that should be my choice as a diner, not the busperson.

                                                                          In some ways I think this topic is similar to asking which way the toilet paper should be put on the spindle. It is certainly not a life or death issue, and both sides have their points. I'm not even gonna touch the plate stacking.

                                                                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                            Exactly, KaimukiMan. Many choices should be left to the diner in a restaurant since as someone mentioned somewhere, it is an unsigned contract I enter into when I go into a restaurant.

                                                                            I will pay them for their food, hopefully it will be good, and they will treat me as I expect to be treated via their servers, within reason on both our sides. I won't talk on a cellphone at my table and they won't serve me my entree while I am still eating my salad. Hence we will both presumably be happy at the conclusion of our interaction.

                                                                            Respect for the individual goes a long way in this world.

                                                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                              Reading this thread, it seems that the majority of restaurant staff seem to clear plates as they become 'available', Whether or not they were trained that way or simply found it to be the most efficient/time saving way, is unknown. I think if the plate clearing issue is something that matters to patrons they should agree as a group, how they want their table to be cleared. Then the Servers/Bussers should be informed. These hard working people are not Mind Readers. If directions are given at the start of the meal, there should be no problem. I say decide as a group because It would be ridiculous to expect them to know the preferences of individual patrons

                                                                              1. re: Tay

                                                                                I'd say that most places that I eat at wait until all the diners have finished eating - this is in Manhattan - and I'm not just talking about upscale places. Agree that servers shouldn't be mind readers though. I do, of course, appreciate it when servers remove the serving plates when empty in "small plate" style restaurants - those I don't particularly want to see.

                                                                        2. Add me to the "wait for everyone" camp, with one caveat:

                                                                          Call it overly sensitive or polite, but if I notice I'm halfway through and everyone's almost done, I'll stop talking and start eating. And if I notice I'm chugging my food and everyone's enjoying conversation, I'll slow down. Of course I do this within reason so I'm not forcing myself too much or look too ridiculous, but it is in the back of my head.

                                                                          9 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Pei

                                                                            Well, Pei, that's exactly what etiquette is about! Not so much those nasty, fusty "rules," but the simple things that make it possible for everyone to be civilized and pleasant one to another! That means waiting until everyone is finished before the plates go away, not stacking the plates (Aiiieee! You don't stack plates to clear them unless you are at home and eating in the kitchen!) and pacing one's eating and conversation to make the table and dinner pleasant for everyone there. Making Sense was right - the erosion of common (e.g., ordinary) courtesies in every day life isn't a signal that we're all simply more casual - it means we're taking less responsibility for the effect(s) our own actions have upon those around us. "Me-me-me" may not want to sit at the table while the rest of the group (or family) complete comversation and dinner, but unless you're rushing off to soccer practice or your next lab experiment, sit and be pleasant. (and no! I am NOT "still working on that." I may, however, be still eating my dinner! )

                                                                            1. re: Alice Letseat

                                                                              i am most definitely in the camp for waiting until everyone finishes. i, too, am a slower eater and it's really embarrassing and rude when the plates are cleared as they are finished while others at the same table are still eating.

                                                                              i was so glad to find this post b/c i always wondered about this. what is even worse is when you've just stuck the last bit into your mouth, the fork is still in midair and they are leaping over to remove the plate while you are chewing. at the very least, i think there should be a rule about not removing your plate until you finish chewing!!!!!

                                                                              i was cheering for the person above who made the comment about the bread plate being removed when you've wanted another piece. i am a huge bread lover and this kills me. actually, i've been in decent restaurants where they have attempted to remove my bread dish with bread on it (as i was chewing!!) when they cleaned the table after appetizers and before the main entree. huh? bread, side plates must stay during my meal!!!!!

                                                                              one last note. i had a terrible experience in my most recent visit to turkish kitchen . we ordered an appetizer and then an entree each. as we were finishing the appetizer (the last few calamari rings) , i noticed the waiter circling, circling and circling. i kept telling myself it was my imagination as we really were still eating, there was enough in the plate and we weren't taking long. i am also aware that i am a bit hypersensitive about this so i attributed it to my imagination.

                                                                              WRONG!!!!! as soon as we were down to the last three rings, he swooped down as our forks were still dipping into the plate and began to grab the dish as he said, "your entree is ready" as in "you friggen pigs. your entree is ready. finish up and take the entree already!!"

                                                                              worse yet, he was the least bit sheepish about it - just plain rude. i shot him such a look and then we finished. he actually stood there until we finished with his hand practically on the dish. i was appalled. this isn't an exaggeration.

                                                                              i have a complete appreciation about the nonsense they sometimes have to tolerate with people who come in at the last minute and then take forever to eat while they talk without eating. we never, ever do this. regardless, even then, this is nearly as bad as asking customers to eat something off someone else's table. i just don't understand it.

                                                                              1. re: nativeNYer

                                                                                Oh my goodness, such bad service. How can you enjoy dining out with that kind of service? Hope you tipped appropriately!!! I'm tempted sometime to actually write my tip on a piece of paper like "Tip - Next time, don't rush me through my meal - I came out to relax and enjoy an evening out- this is your tip". :-)

                                                                                1. re: lexpatti

                                                                                  "Tip - Next time, don't rush me through my meal - I came out to relax and enjoy an evening out- this is your tip". :-)

                                                                                  LOL!!!

                                                                                  1. re: nativeNYer

                                                                                    As in the dictionary definition: A piece of confidential, advance, or inside information: or A helpful hint: LOL!!!

                                                                                    1. re: lexpatti

                                                                                      I like it, lexpatti. It might behoove us for whom this is a hot button to have cards printed up. :O)

                                                                                      1. re: dolores

                                                                                        The one thing these threads always prove, is that all customers aren't created the same, we all like different things, define dining differently, define service differently - what all servers should be taught so early on is HOW TO READ YOUR CUSTOMER!!! More customers might be happy if this would happen. Some servers can do this with such ease, others just don't get the concept and work on automatic pilot so matter where they are working (type of rest, etc.). It does take a lot to be a great server, some of it is personality, some of it learned.

                                                                                        1. re: lexpatti

                                                                                          i couldn't agree with you more, lexpatti. this is exactly what appears to be happening. if i ever had the courage and funds to open a place, i would definitely train my staff in this very basic principle that always seems to be overlooked.

                                                                                          although customers' preferences can vary, it looks like we are nearly all in agreement here on this topic, and have relatively strong feelings about having our plates cleared before everyone is done. sometimes, i can't help but feel that they use this "confusion" to their advantage and clear to get people out to appear that they are on top of things. it's not true, i'm sure, in many places but i do get this impression quite often. meanwhile, i'll get those card printed out.

                                                                                          1. re: nativeNYer

                                                                                            sounds like you would have a great place. I place a lot of value in service when i dine out, whether it's my favorite diner or a 5 star. My server has more to do with how my evening turns out then the food, even though I love food and consider myself a foodie. The server can make or break my night. Hospitality or customer service is really what makes or breaks a business IMO. Back in the day, I was in the business and made awesome tips because of this attitude - now I run a successful business because we put out the same kind of customer service and expect our employees to as well. It's still the same thing, read your customer well within a short period of time and you'll make most of them pretty happy.