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Please don't take my plate away

One of my pet peeves is when waiters feel the need to take my plate away before bringing the check.

I'm a slow eater so I usually finish last and in an effort to please my fellow diners, waiters will continually offer to take my plate away when I'm not finished. I don't mind if they bring the check so we can get squared way while I finish eating. To me, that's not a problem. But more often than not, waiters will not bring the check until they have cleared my plate. It's annoying!

How do you feel?

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  1. I think one simple "Please leave my plate, I'm going to keep eating this" should be enough. The truth is that most people get annoyed when their plates aren't cleared, so they are just doing what they have been trained to do.

    1. "I don't mind if they bring the check so we can get squared way while I finish eating. To me, that's not a problem."

      tell them that!--servers are not mind readers. they don't think they can bring the check w/o clearing your plate because that is how they've been trained. in fact, most mgrs would have words for a server who delivered the check before the plates were cleared: 'whaddyatrynadoo, rush these nice people? didja even offer them dessert? what are you, the worst waiter ever? why, i oughter. . .' --if you tell the server it's okay to bring the check out while your plate is still there, the server can shrug at the manager and say: 'sorry boss, the nice lady said that's what she'd like. customer's always right, y'know, boss?'

      1 Reply
      1. re: soupkitten


        This is a good idea. It should work well, but often does not. In Europe, the check is most often not presented, until it is specifically asked for. I like that plan. However, I do agree that one should make their wishes known, whether it is the norm, or how the waitstaff has been trained.

        A great dining experience is about many things. Unfortuantely, in the US, especially, it is more about turning the tables.

        Now, we normally do multiple courses, ending with a cheese-course, then a dessert course. We normally have several wines with both. Wife will often add decaf at the end. We usually open many restaurants and then close them. We do not linger, but are ordering all the time. Maybe growing up in/near New Orleans has led me to believe that dining is something to be taken seriously and to be savored - every bite, every sip. Snatch my plate/wine glass and incur my wrath.

        I usually start by telling the waitstaff that I will be a slow diner, and will likely order several more courses, than the average diner. That takes the "mind reading" out of the equation.

        Yes, the staff needs to know the wishes of the diner. In several other threads, too many complained that the staff did not present the check, when the dessert/coffee course was served. It's up to the diner to make these wishes known. Let me summon them for the check.


      2. Two questions here:

        1 - When to clear the plate - jfood falls into the camp of all plates come together and all leave together. He does not want one party to feel rushed because the other plates have been removed
        2 - When to bring the check - the check should not be delivered until the meal is completed and the customer asks for it. There are exceptions to this, i.e breakfast, diners, etc.

        57 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          I agree with JFood. I also use the phrase, "I'm not ready yet" as well as, "I'll wait until the others are finished."

          1. re: brendastarlet

            I say the same in response to the server or busboy asking if they can take my plate, "Not till the others are finished."

            Quite a while ago, when I was in culinary school, we had several classes of classical table service, and the rule we learned was not to clear the table until everyone had finished eating. And not just because it makes the diners still eating uncomfortable when others have already had their plates cleared.

            There's another aspect to this, a visual and psychological aspect, which we also learned in culinary school. It's called table symmetry. The table looks unbalanced when some plates are cleared and others are not. Having that visual unevenness psychologically places people into two separate camps --those eating and those not -- and adversely affects the sense of table unity.

            Another current thread on this:
            "When the waiter wants to clear the dishes before everyone is done "

            1. re: maria lorraine

              My wife always gets mad, but I actually prefer to have the dirty plates cleared when people are finished. I'd rather not sit and look at a dirty plate while others finish. Maybe that's not the correct thing to do manner wise, but it is my preference.

              1. re: Rick

                If you knew that having your plate cleared caused others who are still eating to feel rushed or uncomfortable, would you still want your plate cleared?

                Have you asked your dining companions their preference?
                Is your wife's preference important?
                Do you consider a plate that has remnants of fresh food on it "dirty"?

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  i can't believe how strongly people feel on either side of this, as in many other issues, here at CH. I do not like having my check brought before i ask for it, true, because it it up to me and not the restaurant when i am finished. I prefer not having an empty plate in front of me, comfortwise, but i am not bothered or disgusted by a dirty plate, nor am i bothered by an empty plate being taken. What other people in the restaurant wear does not matter to me. if the waiter does or does not tell em their name, does not matter to me. if the waiter is informal and calls me "guy" i don't care. I care about good food, good company, and friendly service. the rest... pfft

                  1. re: thew

                    Well, I look at it at this way...and I know you may not agree.

                    A dining table of two or more persons is a micro-community, and I am willing to put aside my preference if it makes others feel uncomfortable.

                    Especially if my preference is a minor one.

                    If I like having my plate cleared, but it makes my fellow diners feel uncomfortable or rushed, then I don't wish to cause those persons discomfort.

                    Some diners may not even be aware that having their plate removed has this adverse effect on those still eating.

                    1. re: thew

                      I am so with thew on this one. I do have my preferences, but in the end, none of this stuff really matters to me. I hardly even notice. If the food and company are good and the service staff is trying, then i've enjoyed myself!

                      1. re: thew

                        It bothers me because when i'm the only person with a plate a feel self-conscious. I have some social anxiety, so I often reach the point where I can no longer enjoy my food, because I feel like everyone is waiting for me. More often than not, I surrender my plate rather than finish eating alone. Of course, i could choose to keep it, but my discomfort is so great that it overwhelms. I doubt I'm the only one.

                        1. re: nc213

                          Not to fuel the fire, but if you're the only one with a plate left, perhaps you SHOULD feel self-conscious. I don't think one should shovel their food in, but I believe in keeping the approximate pace as my guests.

                          Frankly, if you're the only one with a plate left, your fellow diners ARE waiting for you; the waiter clearing or not clearing plates doesn't change that. Maybe your companions mind, maybe they don't, but they ARE waiting. Being the only one to linger is flat-out rude.

                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                            funny - i think rude is expecting people to eat at anything but their own pace, not eating faster or slower to appease others

                            1. re: thew

                              You're saying it wouldn't be rude to nibble for 45 minutes after everyone else has finished?

                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                i'm saying that it may or may not be depending on the situation. if it's good friends or loved ones, i would enjoy their company, assuming i didn't have someplace to be. and if i had to be someplace, and the nibbler didn't, i would kiss them good bye and go when the time came. if it was someplace we needed to be together, i'd say.. we have to go in 5 minutes or we'll be late.

                        2. re: thew

                          Thew, congratulations on being so unable to be bothered. It must save you a lot of anxiety! Just curious, what has happened that you can recollect in a restaurant that has bothered you? The things you mention above would bother me to various degrees.

                          1. re: SamuelAt

                            bad service. bad food. people fighting at my table. people on the verge of sex at the table (if im not invited)

                        3. re: maria lorraine

                          Maria, I don't understand how my empty plate sitting there for 10 min. makes one feel less rushed. If my plate is empty it's obvious that I'm done eating whether the plate is in front of me or not.

                          1. re: Rick

                            I'm glad you're trying to understand. That's admirable.

                            This is a matter of nuance and subtleties, and the idea that dining companions go through a meal *together.*

                            Let's say you and I are friends and we're dining together. If I am still eating when your plate is removed, then I feel hurried. You are essentially waiting for me to finish eating, and that puts pressure on me to speed up, and I don't enjoy my food as much that way. We are also out of sync at that point. I'm still on one course, and you are waiting for another to begin. If your plate remains on the table for a few minutes more, then we are still in sync -- we are still on the same course even though you have finished eating that course.

                            The visual thing is more subtle yet. The table looks funny when some plates are cleared and some are not. It's visually out of balance. I know this is lost on some people, but it's the same as if a flower is missing some petals -- it doesn't look quite right.

                            I do find that women are a little more tuned into these nuances than most men. Not all men are unaware of the discomfort that is caused by having their plates cleared when others are still eating, but some are. And generally, men are more efficient eaters than women and finish before them! Obviously, there are exceptions to this.

                            Finally, something very dear, and I hope you can hear this from me. If I were your lovely wife and loved you and you loved me, and she was mad when the plates were cleared before everyone was finished, I'd yield to her preference. It may seem like a little thing but if it pleases her, I'd try to make her happy. And in things like this, it's a two-way street -- I'd certainly yield to your preferences too sometimes!


                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              In addition, if the dirty plate is so horrible one simply must have it removed for comfort, there's a lot more wrong than different eating speeds. :)

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                if you feel hurried, that is not because i am putting pressure on you, but you are pressuring yourself. If i enjoy your company, i don't want to rush away just because my plate is empty or cleared. In fact, i'm done eating by exactly the same amount, with or w/out the plate in front of me. And if one is trying to watch their food intake, they might not want the temptation of picking at food they are really done with, just because the plate is still there.

                                and while many men are "more efficient" eaters i think it is complete nonsense to say that women are more tuned into the nuances.

                                also - not being affected by something is NOT the same as having that something lost on you.

                                1. re: thew

                                  I gather that you don't understand or agree with me, or agree with the rule taught in culinary and hospitality schools around the world.

                                  While *you* may feel that something does not affect you or your dining companions, your dining companions may feel affected by that something.

                                  <<<if you feel hurried, that is not because i am putting pressure on you, but you are pressuring yourself>>>

                                  You're personally not putting pressure on the diner who is still eating -- your empty place-setting is -- the visual void is. The other aspect is the lack of being in sync.

                                  But I can see that you feel otherwise, and feel strongly that your viewpoint is the correct one.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    I think some people need the visual void to make a point. Most of the time when I go out and someone is much slower, they are either monopolizing the conversation and not eating a thing or are attempting to use utensils that they are not the most familiar with or are not necessarily the correct one for the meal.

                                    I am with thew about food intake. Typically if the portion is too big, I try to eat half and then stop. Most higher end places don't seem to have huge portions, so it is less of a problem there. But at a lower-end establishment, if I am given a meal for three, I want the other two meals wrapped up when I am finished.

                                    1. re: queencru

                                      When we dine with others, there will be at least two persons' dining preferences, hunger level, eating speed, conversational ability, and skill level in using utensils and chewing.

                                      It's rather easy to be aware of our own preferences, but not as easy to be aware of others' preferences.

                                      How often do we even check in with others about their dining preferences?

                                      And when do we put aside our own personal preferences for the comfort and happiness of another or the group?

                                      Someone eating much slower because of monopolizing the conversation or utensil ineptitude is an interesting issue.

                                      The absence of dinner dialogue could reflect a lack of social skills, or it could simply be a diner excitedly sharing stories from his recent mountaineering trip to a willing listener.

                                      The second situation is one of coordination. A lack of coordination with utensils could be because the diner is an old-timer or a toddler or simply inexperienced with chopsticks and wants to get better.

                                      In both situations, one diner finishes eating before the other(s).

                                      Because my elderly father chews more slowly than I do, do I wait for him to finish eating his appetizer before I move on the entree or not?

                                      And, though my preference is for plates to be cleared when everyone has finished eating, Thew's comment about not wanting "the temptation of picking at food they are really done with, just because the plate is still there" is not lost on me.

                                      Let's say -- hypothetically -- that Thew and I are close friends and are sharing a meal. [Just to be clear, we are not friends, and I gather he does not respect my viewpoint on plate-clearing or the reasoning behind it!] Let's also say -- hypothetically -- that Thew is attempting to lose a few pounds, and he has eaten what he feels is best to achieve that goal and doesn't want to be tempted by the food remaining on his plate. I, however, am still eating. Now even though I'd prefer the plates to be cleared after we both are finished eating, I'm sensitive to Thew's not wanting to be tempted, and I want to support Thew in his goal of weight-loss. So yes, in this case, please clear Thew's plate ahead of mine, and possibly box the remainder of his course for him to enjoy at another meal. He has the greater need in this particular situation. His preference in this case overrides mine.

                                      I bring this up because it's one way to ascertain the best course of action when dining as a group -- who has the greater need in an specific situation? Who will experience discomfort or dissatisfaction by a certain action, and who will not? Is one aware or oblivious that an action MAY cause discomfort? Has one inquired? And even if one *is* aware of another's discomfort or preference, does that person *care*? Is someone willing to put aside his or own preference for another who may have a greater need?

                                      No one rule is the best for all situations. The rule of waiting for all diners to finish eating before clearing the plates *seems* to be the best to keep the most people happy at a table, to keep the table unified, to help the restaurant in firing and serving courses to the table as a unit, and to keep the table visually balanced. But, like I said, there are exceptions, and determining what's best for a specific situation requires an awareness of others' preferences.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine


                                        Interesting observation, as usual. I have many opportunities to dine with various wonderful ladies, who are always on some diet, or another. Most will only pick at a plate, and allow the majority of the food to go back. I respect this. I am not on any diet (though maybe I should be, especially a non-foie gras diet, according to my cardiologist), and enjoy great food. Whether I am the host, or just a guest, I have no problem with their plates being cleared before mine.

                                        I do agree that it is wonderful orchestration, when each course is presented with great fanfare and the covers are all pulled at once. The same goes for the clearing of plates. It's nice to have the staff all arrive and retrieve every plate in one group swoop. I love the pageantry of this level of service. I also understand if some of the folk around the table do not really wish to eat. That is their choice, but it does not have to be mine.

                                        To coordinate the removal of all plates at once, should these diners be forced to sit in front of their plates (mostly ladies, but some gentlemen as well), or should I stop dining, to acquiesce to their pace? From your comments, I think that you would allow me to finish, given these circumstances. I have come to expect this latitude from you.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          My preference, if I have finished eating the food on my plate before you have done so, is to wait for you to finish. It's no chore to wait, and I don't in the slightest feel "forced" to sit in front of my plate. I enjoy you, enjoy your company, and want you to enjoy your food, as many bites as you wish to take. When you are finished, we will both move on to our next course. There's a beauty in that, a peacefulness and elegance to that.

                                          Plates may be delivered to the table without fanfare, but they usually are delivered at much the same time. I like the plates to be removed at much the same time also -- not only for visual symmetry, not only because the arrival of plates simultaneously is symmetrically "bookended" by the simultaneous removal of plates, but also because of conversation. When a server/busboy/backwaiter is asking, however politely, everyone at the table if they want or not want their plate removed, the conversational flow is interrupted. I'd prefer that to not happen.

                                          I like a pause between courses, to clear, to set up, but once the next course starts, I like it to continue as uninterruptedly as possible, just like the chapter of a book or movement of a symphony.

                                        2. re: maria lorraine

                                          I am not sure about the "greater need" point except in extreme situations like you brought up about your father. If someone's eating is slowed down due to a physical limitation, that's an entirely different story...however, after I had dental surgery and could only eat very very small pieces of food at a time, I routinely asked for half of my food to be boxed for me to eat later so I didn't make everyone else wait for me. It's a two-way street - if I know I am going to be slower than average, either I have to make sure my dining companions are fine waiting for me, or I have to figure out how to keep pace with them (e.g. boxing some of the food) or decline the invitation. I think it's weird for someone to impose their will on the rest of a group and make everyone wait until he/she is done to "release" the table from that particular course. It sort of seems like a power trip/entitlement thing.

                                          1. re: akq

                                            If someone is imposing their will, that's one thing, and that person is obviously oblivious or uncaring of others' preferences.

                                            If it's simply a matter of being patient and allowing others to finish, that's another.

                                            The concept of the "greater need" is a huge one, and applies to many human situations. Compromise doesn't always lend itself to a solution. If you want the window closed, but I want it open, the compromise of having the window open halfway is not a solution. If you want to eat Italian, but I want to eat Chinese, how we do we decide which restaurant to go to?

                                            Who has the "greater need" helps decide. You want the window closed because you feel a cold coming on, so you have the greater need. You may have a preference for Italian, but I've really been craving Chinese, so in that instance, I have the greater need.

                                            In a dining situation, several things determine who has the greater need. Even though I prefer to have the plates cleared together, Thew had the greater need in his desire to not be tempted to eat more on his plate.

                                            In terms of the meal's pacing, my father, who chews slowly, has the greater need. It's not merely because he has the slower eating speed, or a physical limitation. I don't want him to feel rushed in any way. I want him to enjoy every bite, and so I try to be patient. I also wait for him because he is my father, out of respect and deference, and because I feel it's the right thing to do. Does my patience always come easily? No. But in this funny kind of way, it feels good to be patient. I am sharing a meal with my father, after all, and the meal is not about food or me -- it is about our sharing time together as happily as possible.

                                            In the case of "utensil ineptness," it sounded in your post as if you were annoyed at this person's lack of skill level. Was this person simply trying to become more skilled at using chopsticks and you could have been a little more patient and allowed him a little more to do that without too much skin off your back? That person might have had the greater need then? Or did that person choose an inappropriate time to improve their chopstick skills, say your rushed lunch hour at work? In which case, that person was insensitive to the timeframe and your needs. Or was something else happening? My father is not as fast with a knife and fork as he used to be -- do I get annoyed or do I give him time?

                                            After your dental surgery, were your friends accommodating of your slower eating speed? If there were not, would you have preferred them to be more patient? Would it have been much of an imposition on them to be more patient? What would have the been the best way to proceed given everyone involved? Your dining companions being more patient *and* your having the rest of your course packaged for another meal?

                                            Your other example was monopolizing the conversation. Was this person trying to dominate the conversation and you were annoyed? That wouldn't be about eating speed then, but about that person's insensivity to others. Or, did that person monopolize the converation because he had something especially interesting to share and say? If you were extremely interested in what this person had to say, would you still be annoyed he was a slow eater? This may be more about not liking the the person than about that person's slow eating.

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              "If you want to eat Italian, but I want to eat Chinese, how we do we decide which restaurant to go to?"

                                              Why a Korean B'Bq place with a killer tiramisu, of course!

                                              Joking aside, you make some very good points, even if you do not agree with me...


                                          2. re: maria lorraine

                                            maria i do respect your viewpoint. i just do not share it.

                                          3. re: queencru

                                            Obviously, you do not play the role of host/hostess at many dinners. If one is doing their job, a lot is happening that takes time from eating. Conversations amongst the guests are started. Wine is ordered and the service is often supervised. All guests’ services need to be checked and their promptness and correctness need to be verified. The service staff needs to be monitored, so that each guest has what they wished, when it is appropriate. These are the things that I juggle weekly and then must find time to eat.

                                            Your allowances that there are only two reasons that one is slow are totally baseless to the point of absurdity. With regards to the various utensils, I can juggle them in either American, or Euro-style and diners in either areas will never know how I was originally trained.

                                            I also maintain that one should not “wolf” down their food, but should savor each bite. Heck, that is what we are there for, right? Now, on occasion I do dine with folk, who act like the restaurant is afire and they are starving. That is their problem, not mine, except that I then have additional work to be done– to insure that their frenzy does not affect any of my other guests.

                                            By your suggestions, I should not be allowed to also enjoy the food on my plate, even though I have usually carefully chosen that particular restaurant for that group of guests. I have also carefully chosen the wines to pair perfectly and have orchestrated their service. Sorry, but this does not play well with me.


                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                              I don't really see how you inferred so much out of a relatively short post. There are plenty of reasons why people take longer or shorter, with portion control, overtalking, and utencil ineptness as three of the many possibilities. Chances are if you eat 1/3 of your plate while someone else eats the whole thing, the former is going to finish much faster even if he/she is savoring the meal. It's one thing to savor and another entirely to slow down to the point where the food is getting cold.

                                              The reality of the matter is that for most meals, people aren't really there to savor the meal. If I have people over to eat at my home, it's for the company and enjoyment of being with my friends and it's usually the same when I go out to a restaurant. It's simply a reason to get together. I think this is common for many people who go out to eat, especially for the work lunch crew. I wasn't aware this topic was solely for the high-end establishment.

                                      2. re: maria lorraine

                                        Maria, I'm on your team. I'm a slow eater and it makes me uncomfortable when everything is cleared away except for my lonely plate. And usually when thats the case,I notice it makes the waiters more anxious to speed me up and asking me if they may take my plate away every 5 minutes while still chewing in mid bites.

                                        Must we have to go to an high end establishment to avoid this now ?

                            2. re: jfood

                              Ditto. My mother, especially, is a slow eater, and it does seem rude for the waiter to take away all the other plates and leave her eating alone. I avoid letting them take mine, but I like brendastarlet's directness, and will work on that (usually my request seems a mystery to the waitstaff). Also about bringing the plates -- I grew up with "don't eat till everybody's served" UNLESS it's something that's really best eaten hot (like breakfast).

                              1. re: juster

                                My training indicates that no gentleman shall touch fork to food, until all of the ladies have been served, and at least one has taken the first bite.

                                Old school? Yeah, but I also stand when a lady arrives at the table, or leaves from it. Events can be a bitch, but that is part of the drill.


                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  You stand when a lady leaves from the table? That sounds akward.

                                  1. re: Rick

                                    Only when we are seated in a booth. I also stand, when a lady arrives at the table. This can take some time, at an event, as many come to our table to chat with one of the guests. It's part of what a gentleman does, when a lady either arrives at, or leaves the table. It does slow down one's dining, but I live with it.

                                    I also pull the chair for a lady being seated, and insure that it is at the proper place for her to dine, unless there is someone else to do this.

                                    Only problem that I have is when a lady "springs" from the table and disappears to wherever, too quickly to acknowledge. Some of my friends do this, just to bug me. Some have even had fun by standing in unison, to see what I'd do.

                                    Yeah, as admitted elsewhere, I'm old school, but I learned my lessons well. I still tip my hat to ladies on the street...


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      just curious bill - where do you live?

                              2. re: jfood

                                i don't even like those exceptions. i'm not one of those fawning europhiles, but this is one thing they have right - they almost never bring a check until you ask for it.

                                in my snarkier younger days, if someone brought me an unasked for check, i would usually order a cup of tea or something after.

                                1. re: jfood

                                  In theory I agree with Jfood - all plates should be cleared at the same time. However, in practice - my SO is a REALLY slow eater and I end up picking at my food for a good 10+ mins after I am done while waiting for him to finish. I realize it's a personal responsibility issue and I should be able to just stop and not pick at the food left on my plate while I wait...but I just have a tough time with it. I will often ask for my food to be boxed or plate taken away while he is still eating...

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    I absolutely hate having to ask the waiter to bring the check. I've always considered it an example of bad service, like he's forgotten about us or something. I do agree it should wait until the meal is finished, of course...but if the waiter asks if we want dessert, and we say no, the check should be coming soon after, without us having to ask, in my opinion.

                                    1. re: Six_of_One

                                      Interesting, definitely 2 schools of thought on this one and jfood on the other side.

                                      He does not want the check delivered until he asks for it as it seems that the wiater is now asking them to leave. Sorta leaves a bad taste in jfood's mouth when all of a sudden the check appears.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        In every restaurant I've worked at, after desserts, after-dinner drinks and coffee mention is finished (either offered and declined, or offered and served) you have to present the check. If you present it really nicely and make it clear when doing so that you will continue to service the table and add to the check in whatever capacity they'd like, it's usually not a problem even for people like jfood who would rather ask for it. Unfortunately, this also often creates "campers" as they're known in the business, and these people feel comfortable enough to sit an extra half hour to an hour after they've finished eating, and you instantly quit making money on that table, just keeping refilling their coffee and water or what have you. I have *never* had a table of campers that ordered anything else that added to their check, and it just means instant stoppage of income on that table. I like being nice and delivering good service, but I'm there to make money. If you've finished your meal and want to go hang out somewhere and drink coffee for an hour, go to Starbucks. JMO.

                                        1. re: rockandroller1

                                          a restaurant does more than sell food, it sells a place to have a meal. If you just want to sell food, and move on to the next customer open a take out place. if you want to be a restaurant, expect people to sit and talk. and i will tell you when i'm ready for my check.

                                          1. re: thew

                                            I know what you're saying, that's just not the way it's worked at anywhere I've ever worked. Now I am not a "career" server but I have worked at about 10 restaurants.

                                            1. re: thew

                                              And once you've finished eating/drinking what you've purchased, it's time for you to go. Your lease is up.

                                              1. re: JonParker

                                                maybe you can hover over my table saying "eat faster, eat faster" too... or try to take my plate everytime i put down my fork. that would make the meal even faster. if fact, a place that treats customers like that will soon have such a streamlined operation there will always be empty tables.

                                                remind me not to eat in your restaurant.

                                                1. re: thew

                                                  I don't own a restaurant, nor am I in the business. I just recognize the contract between patron and establishment, and understand the need for politeness and consideration on both sides.

                                                2. re: JonParker


                                                  I agree 100%. It is the push to turn the table, while the cheese course is being served, that gets my ire. While I am still dining (and paying), I do not wish to feel rushed. If a restaurant is so concerned about getting the paying patrons out, then they should not offer desserts, or cheese courses, and NO after dinner drinks, of any sort. Maybe they could move through the dining room with cattle prods, or something...


                                              2. re: rockandroller1

                                                as jfood has stated numerous times eating in a restaurant is a relationship that goes both ways. If there is a bunch of people waiting then if the server has not rushed jfood then he will finish his coffee, ask for the check and not camp out. If the server has been pushing and rushing jfood to turn the table is a less than acceptable manner then jfood will not cooperate as much.

                                                But if there are no waiting customers then jfood has never been asked to vacate.

                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  Now don't get me wrong, jfood, I basically agree with your approach and am likely to do the same as you (though if I truly felt rushed I might just get annoyed and be inclined to leave and never come back)...

                                                  Nonetheless, for some reason I am reminded of a study I once read, back in the day when people actually used pay phones, that concluded that people tended to stay on the payphone longer on average when there was someone waiting to use it...if true, I wonder if that behavior was a reflection of feeling rushed (just because someone was hovering around waiting)?

                                                  1. re: jfood


                                                    Good plan, and one to which I subscribe. I respect a restaurant needing to make a profit on the night. However, as long as I am spending well and tipping high, I do not expect to be rushed, regardless.

                                                    Even with designated seatings, I always tell our waitstaff that we are likely to enjoy all possible courses. So far, no one has complained to me, especially if I'm doing a couple of US$25/glass Ports. If they cannot handle this, then I go elsewher. There is no restaurant on Earth, that will get my business, if they push me out. I don't care if Jack Nicholson is waiting for my table. When I am done, I leave, and not before. I also like to request my check, but then I'm rather "old school."


                                              3. re: Six_of_One

                                                In some cultures it's considered rude & inhospitable for a check to be presented before it's requested by the diner, especially if the restaurant's not expecting to turn the table.

                                                1. re: Six_of_One

                                                  In our restaurant we are instructed to wait until the customer asks for the bill before bringing it to the table. This creates a little annoyance with some people, usually those who are used to the whole Nth American dine and dash routine. Most people don't seem to mind asking for it, and honestly I prefer to be asked for the bill.

                                                  1. re: kiwiFRUIT


                                                    Good call. Yes, some will become annoyed, but they should be in the minority. If they want it all fast, regardless, they should be dining at a Denny's.


                                                2. re: jfood

                                                  Normally, I agree with you 100%, but on the clearing of the plates, I have no problem with them leaving at different times. Yes, it's nice to have the staff make the presentation at once, but as different diners eat at different paces, I have no problem with a plate, or two, remaining, until that/those diner(s) is finished, especially as it is usually me.

                                                  The only time that I will tolerate plates being cleared at the same exact time, is with events. Otherwise, I'm cool with the bussing being done per the diner.

                                                  I know, a minor quibble, and a personal one at that.


                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                    I think this may be the only time I have ever disagreed with you.
                                                    I'm still a huge fan...................

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      Remember, ML, you are allowed only one disagreement per year. This is IT for '08!!!!!! Thank goodness we're more than half-way through, so you can start anew in a couple of months. [Really large grin inserted here]


                                                    2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                      Not to worry Hunt.

                                                      There are many times that halfway through his meal jfood decelerates the pace to allow him and at least one other to finish simultaneously.

                                                    3. re: jfood

                                                      I agree with Jfood. For me, the flip side is irritating. I was at an establishment recently where the check was dropped mid-dining and the waitier stated "Let me know if you want anything else and I will take that back". To me, what he did in fact made it seem like he was "closing out" our table. I was annoyed by that. As far as we were concerned, he was implying his remaining responsibilty to us was to take the check and payment. I think the check should ONLY come after you are asked if you would like to order anything else and the answer is no. (As jfood says, the exception is diners, and casual counter type restaurants.) Regarding repeated questioning about clearing plates, I agree with you. You should not be asked repeatedly. Perhaps you take long breaks to converse which makes the waiter wonder? If not, a good waiter will know just by looking when you are done.

                                                    4. I don't like seeing my "finished" plate in front of me -- so I vote for taking mine away when I'm done. It seems everyone has their own view -- what's a waitperson to do and not offend?!

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Sarah

                                                        I'm like you in that I don't like the finished plate in front of me, however that's a personal quirk. The correct thing to do is to clear the plates together, so I just live with it. It's my problem, not the waiter's.

                                                        1. re: Sarah


                                                          I agree, though mine is never the first one finished. I say to bus the finished plates, as they are empty, or the diner has indicated that THEY are finished. No qualm from me on this. Just do not grab MY plate, when I have a bite on my fork and major portions on the plate. I am usually entertaining my guests and trying to enjoy the food. This takes time. Still, a gentle reminder *usually* works wonders, or it should.


                                                        2. I find that waiters don't take any plates away until everybody is finished eating. But I tend to more or less keep pace with everybody. Are you perhaps leaving your utensils in a position that cues the waitstaff that you're done even if you have food left on your plate?

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                                            I'm in the, "if it's empty take it" group. I hate my empty plate sitting in front of me.

                                                            1. re: bubbles4me

                                                              That's fine but you need to realize that proper service requires all diners to be done before the plates are cleared, under the theory that it makes the slow eater self-concious to be the only one left with a plate. If you really can't stand it you can push it aside.

                                                              Just don't ding your server on the tip for not clearing it, because they are doing their job properly. It's also more efficient for the server to make one trip with the plates rather than two or three, which makes a difference in a busy restaurant.

                                                              1. re: JonParker

                                                                I'm starting to wonder if there are regional differences. I live in NYC, and nobody has taken away any plates until everybody was finished. But I was in New England this weekend and everybody took the plates away when he or she was finished, regardless of whether other people were finished eating.

                                                                1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                  No, the proper standard is still to take them together. It's just that in NE there is a longstanding problem with servers being undertrained about proper service.

                                                                2. re: JonParker


                                                                  Not sure that I ascribe to this theory. As I am most often the host, and have to spend extra time with each guest, plus the wine list, I am never finished first. I also do not feel "self-concious," as I have other duties and responsibilities to perform. Goes with the role. Good service should NEVER be designed to make any diner feel "self-concious," especially the one paying the bill.

                                                                  Pull that stunt on me, and my business goes elsewhere and in a hurry. As it is not uncommon for me to host a rather large group, this could translate to many thousands of dollars to the restaurant.

                                                                  When doing four candidate dinners, I was made to feel uncomfortable by the sommelier at one resturant. Our tab was US$3000 for that meal. Guess what. The next three dinners were at another restaurant, and we've never been back to the first one. I do not like to be made to feel uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, I'll go elsewhere. In this case, it cost the first restaurant US$9000 +/-, just for the act of their sommelier. Bad move. Make me feel good, and give me great food, and we're patrons for life. Make me feel uncomfortable and you're history. I'll take my business elsewhere.


                                                            2. The question raises another issue that my wife and I vehemently disagreed on. I believe that having paid the bill it's time to leave as promptly as reasonable. My wife felt that it was acceptable to stay at the table as long as she wanted.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: mexivilla

                                                                The short answer is that you should leave.

                                                                The real answer is that it depends -- if they aren't busy it's more acceptable to linger than if they aren't. Remember, both the restaurant's and the server's income depends on how many tables they can turn over. If you're just sitting there when other people are waiting then it's just rude -- rude to the people who are waiting and rude to your server, who i guarantee will not look upon you kindly.

                                                                It's a restaurant table, not a rental property. If you want to hang out, head to a coffee shop.

                                                                1. re: JonParker

                                                                  It depends on where you are eating. At Chartier, one of Paris' cheapest restaurants, you are mot allowed to have coffee, as the French drink their coffee after the dessert, it is a low profit item and very cheap places need to fill their tables several times a night to be profitable.
                                                                  However, if you are spending $100 per person or more, a restaurant should plan on allowing you at least 2 hours to dine.

                                                                2. re: mexivilla

                                                                  Your wife is only correct if there are no people waiting for a table. Otherwise, you are correct. And your rule is the presumptively correct one.

                                                                3. It might be the places I eat but I have gotten very quick on the "oh please I'm not done!" or even lunging for the plate or bowl if the restaurant is noisy and the person attempting to take my food away from me is busy. Sometimes the busboy or girl or support staff can be very fast. To make sure I get to keep eating I've learned to be faster. It is hard to shift gears some times when I am having a nice relaxed time and a wonderful conversation but I like to decide when I am done. I don't blame the people doing it or shave any money off the tip because I figure they are just trying to do their job. I tried using humor once at my favorite diner and let out with a horrified nooooo! But not too loud. The waitress told me to relax. LOL. I still left her a nice tip. This is one of the good arguements for being a regular customer. At this same diner they now know some of my quirks. For example, half the time I need a to go container for the rest of my breakfast. I have just started going to a different chinese restaurant for lunch and we are learning about each other. But twice I had to practically dive to save my little bowl of white rice. Pant pant! Yeah I have been reading the blog of an American adjusting to life in Spain and he says you always have to ask for the check before they bring it.

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: givemecarbs


                                                                    I have never learned to be quick. Dining should not be hurried. I agree with JohnParker, that one should not linger, but to hurry a dining experience is not in my nature.

                                                                    Even in Europe/UK we often open and close many restaurants. Yes, we are still dining and on many courses, but we do not like to feel rushed. In the US (broad generalization to follow), it seems that too many places are about filling the diner up quickly, and turning the table. I do many things quickly, but not dining.

                                                                    You are correct about the check not appearing, until it is summoned, in most of Europe. Too many folk complain about this practice, but it is how things are done.


                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                      Not clear who complains about asking for the check. I've not heard a soul complain about it in Europe/UK.

                                                                      As for the plate clearing, it's great for you that you want it done your way. I just hope that you remember to ask for that and not ding someone for service issues simply because they are going by standard protocol and not reading your mind.

                                                                      1. re: Lizard


                                                                        I do agree, concerning Europe/UK. My references have been regarding US diners, and mostly on CH. I have expressed my views, that the check is most often NOT presented, until it is summoned. Beyond a diner, I do not expect the check, until I have expressed a desire to receive it and will often discuss its premature arrival with my server. What if one of my guests wishes an after dinner drink?

                                                                        I try to never ding a server for anything that I have not made clear. I guess that it does happen, but I always try to make my wishes clear. When hosting a dinner, I'll usually meet beforehand, or pull our head-server aside to explain what I expect. I have had very few problems. Servers cannot be mind-readers, and I respect that, or certainly attempt to.


                                                                  2. At all the restaurants I've worked at, I've been told to clear dirty plates as soon as possible once a person is finished. Bus people are told to do this if the server is too busy.

                                                                    I often think of a higher end dinner party and what would be done there. Can you imagine fine ladies and gentlemen sitting and trying hard to ignore slowly congealing leftover soup or uneaten remnants staring you in the face while you try to conduct polite conversation while waiting for the slower diners to finish? To me, it seems obvious that dirty anything should be removed from the table once the person is finished with it. The onus is on the other diners to help make the slower diner feel comfortable while they continue, by having happy, casual conversation amongst each other and the diner, just like they did when everyone is eating. The presence of dirty plates doesn't make it more comfortable.

                                                                    8 Replies
                                                                    1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                      At a high end dinner party, the host is not clearing plates while any guests are still eating, and if they've got staff, they've similarly trained the staff (or should have).

                                                                      The clearing of plates before everyone is done has long been considered extremely rude. No one is supposed to notice what remains or doesn't remain on a plate, only whether anyone is continuing to eat or not.

                                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                                        I agree - I would never, when hosting a dinner party, remove a plate until everyone was done eating. (Well, if a guest asked me to, I might, but I'd think it a might odd request.) Presumably my guests who are done eating are so riveted by the dinner conversation <grin> and not paying attention the plates of other diners or their eating speed. On the other hand, I keep an eye out to identify when everyone is done eating, so that I can begin to clear the plates. The same applies for dinners with family, or even just the two of us.

                                                                        Edit: It can be a bit tricky if guests don't place their silverware together when they are done. In that case, if some time has elapsed since they stopped eating, I'll ask if they want more of xyz ... that usually elicits the "No thank you, I'm done". I'm always surprised in restaurants when the server tries to take plates away while other people at the table are still eating.

                                                                        1. re: Karl S

                                                                          My staff clears plates as they are finished. They all also know that I will likely be the last to finish. That's part of my instructions to them.

                                                                          The one thing that happens is that the next course will not be served, until I am finished (or the last guest is finished).

                                                                          Just the way that I do it.


                                                                        2. re: rockandroller1

                                                                          I subscribe to this way of thinking. Clear finished plates, if for no other reason than to provide space in front of those diners. A good staff should be able to pick up on the pace of the various diners, and act accordingly.


                                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                            Actually, if you clear a plate, a clean plate is supposed to go immediately in its place in proper service. There is no space in front of the guest, or there is not supposed to be,...

                                                                            1. re: Karl S

                                                                              Karl S,

                                                                              Now that is a good idea. It could hit a snag, if we're talking about the last course, but I like it. Thanks for adding this.


                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                Typically, a last course (assuming it is not the main course) is small enough that there is much less variation in speed among diners, so the issue should really not be one at that point in time.

                                                                              2. re: Karl S


                                                                                The way I was trained - in a four star, continental, old school, table-side cooking, front & back tuxedoed waiters, sommelier present restaurant (I think you get the idea) was to be conscious of your customers. When you felt a diner was done with that course, you approach the table and either ask by silently indicating or quietly ask if they are done. Once I got the hang of it I rarely had to speak.

                                                                                As Karl says, however, *something* should be placed in the front of the customer - a clean plate, a bread plate, or even a cup or glass. This serves the functions of both removing the "dirty" plate but not making the other customers feel that either the waiter or the finished customer was rushing them. If it's the last course you can use the coffee cup, after dinner drink, or even the water glass.

                                                                          2. From Emily Post: "Once upon a time it was actually considered impolite to remove a single plate until the last guest had finished eating! In other days people evidently did not mind looking at their own dirty plates indefinitely...Good service to-day (sic) requires the removal of each plate as soon as the fork is laid upon it; so that by the time the last fork is put down, the entire table is set with clean plates and is ready for the next course."

                                                                            I find generally that people are split 40-40-20. 40% do NOT want to sit in front of their dirty plates. The other 40% absolutely do NOT want the plates removed til everyone is done. The other 20% don't really care either way.

                                                                            12 Replies
                                                                            1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                              That's fascinating - surprises me, I'll confess.


                                                                              That comes from a 1922 Emily Post book:


                                                                              I happen to have a copy of that - will look at my newer one.

                                                                                1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                  It is interesting, including, despite the poll results, the conclusion:

                                                                                  "In this day of overfilled plates and overly cluttered tables, one can understand the wish for quick plate removal. But at the expense of making the rest of the table feel rushed, interrupted or uncomfortable? We think not. In this case, we believe that courtesy and consideration for all those at the table outweighs a cluttered table. As one writer put it, "Dining is something you do with others. To have your plate removed while others are still dining, in effect, abandons them. It breaks the association." Well said."

                                                                                  Edit - anyway, I suspect that this is one of those topics about which people's minds won't be changed!

                                                                                2. re: MMRuth

                                                                                  There's context missing from that 1922 edition: in that day, guests were expected to eat at an even pace with each other and and not to lay their fork upon their plates until they were done (that was the original flatware signal). And notice that the next course would be set immediately.

                                                                                  That context rarely obtains today.

                                                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                                                    And, of course, another issue is that theoretically one eats one's food in such a way that the what remains on the plate is not some unappetizing mess. I confess that I often don't achieve that, and marvel at how tidy my husband's plate always looks when he's done eating.

                                                                                    1. re: Karl S

                                                                                      "in that day, guests were expected to eat at an even pace with each other"
                                                                                      That's what I was taught, the issue wouldn't come up if everyone at the table had proper manners. If you're inclined to wolf down your food, slow it for the last few bites, if you're a really slow eater,stop talking and concentrate on eating.

                                                                                      At a restaurant it would be very bad form to clear the plates while others are still eating, IMHO it would highlight the cleared person's bad table manners (unless it's a large group).

                                                                                      1. re: hsk

                                                                                        I was talking to my husband about this last night, and his comment also was that it shouldn't be an issue since diners should be pacing themselves and all finish at about the same time.

                                                                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                          I don't really think it's bad table manners today. Portion sizes are so huge in some places that I typically eat 1/3-1/2 of the plate and sometimes that plate gets removed before the other people finish eating the entirety of the plate. You also have situations where people use chopsticks and not everyone is equally adept, people who order overly spicy food and can't eat it at a reasonable speed, etc.

                                                                                          1. re: queencru

                                                                                            Oh - I'm not saying that people have to eat everything on the plate, and you make good points that I'd not thought of.

                                                                                      2. re: Karl S

                                                                                        I think that's an important point - when you're in a more formal setting be it a business dinner, or just a formal multi-course meal, everyone is supposed to keep pace. If you're slow, you just have to either keep up or go a little hungry. In that case, all plates should be cleared simultaneously. This does come up for me with business banquets - if I've been talking or taking a little longer to eat than others, when they are done, I am done, even if that means I go a little hungry. On the flip side, most situations are more casual and so it's fine for a slower eater to take his/her time (within reason...) and when people are done, if they want their plates removed before the rest of the table, no problem.

                                                                                    2. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                      "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" (Post) describes what to do "When it comes time to clear the table" - this is at home, from which I infer that there is a time to clear the table, not multiple times per course.

                                                                                      "Elements of Etiquette" (Craig Claiborne) " When all the guests are finished with each course - and only then - the host may clear the dishes."

                                                                                      1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                        Thanks for that tidbit. I always place my fork and knife (substitute fish knife, spoon, whatever) on a diagonal from 10:00 to 4:00 o'clock, when done. This is the signal that I am done. Then, the plate (and utensils) can be removed.


                                                                                      2. From a servers perspective: Most places I have worked pushed for removal of plates as each individual diner was finished. I found it came from three points. (1) the manager just felt dirty dishes were unappealing (2) there was a continual shortage of dishes, so a need to get them washed and available quickly (3) "busy hands" many stress that the server never have empty hands in or out of the back, so you are encouraged to continually bus the tables as you walk by.

                                                                                        A large segment of the population is unaware of signaling with silverware placement.

                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: meatn3

                                                                                          i'll add 4) subtle prompt to the customer to order next course/menu item. rushing the customer ever-so-slightly does make for bigger tickets overall, as more folks will order more apps, dessert etc because they have not had time to feel full. you do see the plates cleared faster and faster, the less formal the eating establishment is, while fine dining places with 2 hour seatings will leave the plates until the last diner has finished eating.

                                                                                          barware is a different subject. many savvy servers will leave an empty beer or cocktail glass for the customer to stare at :) it is a psychological nudge. . . looking at the empty alcohol glass often will lead to an order for a refill, while if the empty glass is cleared, the psychological pressure for another drink is also in many cases removed. it was so interesting as a bt to watch the drink ticket traffic take an immediate uptick after a large tray of refreshing bevs was carried high through the restaurant, and the orders tended strongly to be for whatever was on the original drink tray. people are so funny, and more open to suggestion than they realize!

                                                                                          1. re: meatn3

                                                                                            "A large segment of the population is unaware of signaling with silverware placement."

                                                                                            I'm so glad you mentioned that! In my family we were taught "proper table manners" at a very early age. We have dined in many fine restaurants here and abroad. It's only recently, within the past several years perhaps, that I heard of placing the silver at a certain set pattern when finished eating. Formerly it was just placing the fork down....presumably the knife had already been placed at the top of the plate after cutting....blade facing in.

                                                                                            1. re: meatn3

                                                                                              the problem with this approach IMO is that the server feels an obligation to please management by removing plates rather than not having enough to do: just the other day I ate with some friends at a restaurant where food was served family style, and yet the server, who appeared to be new and clearly wanted to please, kept trying to remove SERVING plates that still had food on them! I finally just said, "no, do NOT remove plates that have food on them please!" I felt like I had to be stern. And as I say, I also think he wanted to please: my assumption is that he had been instructed by management to keep the removal process moving along.

                                                                                              I absolutely HATE having to guard food like a hawk when I am enjoying a relaxed meal with friends...

                                                                                              1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                It can be a problem. When I had a manager who was irrational on this, I would try my hardest to make sure the manager could overhear the table respond "no" when I asked if I could remove their empty plates.

                                                                                                The real key is to try to determine (with minimal intrusion) what "style" dining a table is comfortable with and be able to deliver it within reason without having to be raked over the coals for doing so by a manager.

                                                                                                1. re: meatn3

                                                                                                  Yes, I agree. In the instance I mention I think part of the problem was that the server was green (and for that matter, the restaurant was new) and just didn't have the sophistication yet to figure out the 'style' we wanted and how to balance it with the restaurants demands.

                                                                                            2. This doesn't really address the original question, but a new waiter at our favorite Chinese restaurant had an annoying habit of trying to clear plates before we were finished eating (we stopped him, but barely in time). After the third time he tried this, my wife brandished a fork as if she was about to stab the back of his hand. No more attempts at early plate-clearing after that.

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: Steve Green

                                                                                                This is a slippery slope for servers. While in proper formal service plates should be removed after all have finished, there are LOTS of people who don't want a dirty plate in front of them (or are not aware of the custom) and get annoyed if it isn't. I have seen people turn purple over this in exclusive private clubs when the poor server was following procedure.

                                                                                                As far as the CHECK goes, leave the check too early and peeps think you're pushing them out to turn the table. So most don't, unless you tell them, or it's THEIR procedure (e.g. diners). Of course, having to hound a server to PAY them is also annoying. So, if a sever is "slammed" as they say, sometimes ya just can't win with some people. Hence, if you have a show or a train or something else do yourself a favor and mention it and ACCEPT the fact that it's better for you to get the bill sooner than you may otherwise.

                                                                                                As far as silver placement goes, HAHAHAHAAAAA!!!! A lost art. A great skill. That unfortunately many Americans never even heard of.

                                                                                              2. At any high-end restaurant I've ever dined at, this isn't an issue: No plates are cleared until everyone is finished with that particular course. If you don't request the check at the end of the meal, your server might gently enquire if "that will be all?" followed by "would you like your check now?" Hastily grabbing plates while diners are still eating is unseemly, and really spoils the mood of a great dining experience.

                                                                                                1. CoT,

                                                                                                  I am with you on this. I love to talk with my dining guests and also enjoy savoring each bite of my food, plus every sip of my wine. Unless we are at an event, where there is a schedule, that needs to be maintained, I inform the waitstaff that I am still working on my plate, and my wine in a jovial manner. If they persist, I brandish an edged weapon and wave it about in a very menacing way. This usually gets their attention. As I do not linger, once the meal is finished, I do not hog the table, and understand turning it for a profit. Still, I do not like being rushed. If they (the waitstaff) cannot take a few nice hints, I dismiss them, until I summon them, and expect them to stay hidden, until I call.

                                                                                                  At a "chef's table" recently, I had eight glasses of wine, that I was playing with, for each course. None was nearly empty, but the staff kept trying to grab the earlier glasses. I finally told them rather loudly that if they were out of wine glasses in the back, they needed to go buy some more, but to leave mine alone, until they were all empty.

                                                                                                  I'm with you. In general, pacing of a meal gets graded almost as highly as the general service. Monitor the table and get a clue as to how each diner decides to eat. If I am NOT savoring each bite, it's because the food is not that good. Bad sign.


                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                    Mr. Hunt, I do agree, and I wish more US servers understood the placement of silverware signal. Its all about efficiency here, and as the world's slowest eater, this topic is dear to my heart.

                                                                                                    I've grown accustomed to watching my tablemates empty dishes being rushed away by enthusiastic busboys while I defend my remaining food. Yes, it does make me feel rushed, and because of this, I choose my meal items carefully to avoid the problem. In business situations, when my clients order themselves big platters of food, I might choose 1-2 appetisers which means that with less food for me to eat, we all finish together.

                                                                                                    A few years ago in a Greek restaurant in NYCity my bread plate was persistently removed by an overly-efficient waiter every time I picked up my piece of pita to take a bite. It was a casual place, but there didnt seem to be a shortage of plates. About the 3rd time (in one meal) that this happened, I simply got up, followed the waiter to his service station, and asked for my plate back. Problem solved.

                                                                                                    1. re: Cheflambo

                                                                                                      Cheflambo (being from the New Orleans Area, I'd have spelled it Cheflambeaux!), that is a good way to handle an unfortunately awkward situation.

                                                                                                      Being a slow diner, myself, I feel your pain. I think that a lot of it comes from two different dining philosophies: eat to live vs live to eat. I ascribe to the latter.


                                                                                                  2. I'm just surprised how passionate people are on a subject that I never realized was a point of contention at all when dining. I can get the people getting passionate about tipping, or screaming kids in nice restaurants,.... but clearing dishes. It is interesting to read, although I just don't get it.

                                                                                                    1. I prefer for my plate to be taken away as soon as possible when I've decided I'm done so I don't continue to pick at it. And as a server I've been scolded both ways. I understand that some people want the plate to go away asap and others prefer to keep it until everyone else is finished however, servers have not been trained to read minds. Just don't be rude when we ask. We're not (at least we shouldn't be) trying to rush you out the door, we're just offering assistance. You're allowed to say no. Also worth noting is that your server may not have gotten the chance to notify the busser to leave your plate alone so if they also ask to take it they are not (or shouldn't be) being pushy.

                                                                                                      20 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: Stillwater Girl

                                                                                                        All good points Stillwater Girl. I've NEVER been offended by being asked if I wanted my plate removed or not. Even if accidentally asked a second time. It's just a nice dance of respect. You're courteous to me and ask, I'm courteous to you back and respond. Simple.

                                                                                                        1. re: Stillwater Girl

                                                                                                          Well, the approach I've taken when dining with my parents on the rare occasions they go out is to take the server aside before ordering (or right after) and inform him or her that plates should not be cleared from a course till all in our party have completed the course. This spares the server the horror that awaits them when my mother gets upset at being rushed and my father intervenes to protect her - you do not want to go there, ever (to this day, my octogenerian parents do not undertand that table service standards have shifted to make this a battle it used never to be, and they adhere to what their generation was told, that it was a mark of rudeness and poor service - it doesn't help when it's pretty clear that they are indeed being rushed, which is more common than I'd care to admit). It's not that they overflow with hot anger - it's that my father's cold glare might remind you of the Hydra, my mother's tearing eyes will remind you of your grandmother, oh, and your tip will suffer.

                                                                                                          (Oh, and woe unto anyone at the table who allows a server to take a plate away before the course as done. It's not just servers.)

                                                                                                          Of course, in days when there was a proper host for each table (other than those rare folks going dutch), the servers could request direction from the host about how he or she preferred the courses to be served.

                                                                                                          It's easy to dismiss this all as rather irrational. I would rather say it's pre-rational. Dining is a highly ritualized human social activity. Americans do their damnedest to de-ritualize things, but humans are built for ritual and ritual will eventually return like the tide. You can no more de-ritualize dining than King Knut could hold back the tide.

                                                                                                          When dealing with rituals, you are fussing with lots of atavistic impluses, however socially learned. You trip those wires, and you should expect strong reactions.

                                                                                                          1. re: Karl S

                                                                                                            What this thread reveals is that some people are unaware that the same action -- plate clearing -- is experienced differently by different people. What's innocuous to one diminishes the quality of the meal for another. We often inaccurately use ourselves as a barometer -- thinking, if this is way I experience the situation, then that must be what everyone experiences. What's staggering is all the other small actions that we have no idea that others are perceiving and experiencing differently.

                                                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                              And this is why dining is usually attended by very strict rules of etiquette in different cultures. That way, people don't have to try to grasp the conflicting subjective preferences of [N] guests. Americans, in trying to de-ritualize dining rules, actually make things *much* harder and virtually guaranteed to offend people.

                                                                                                              Just as planting a wildflower meadow where a lawn had previously grown may seem like it will result in less work, when it rarely does....

                                                                                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                                                                                The United States is a multicultural society. Each culture brought its own dining customs with it when it came here, so I think it's a bit of a misnomer to say that we are trying to "de-ritualize" dining rules. Everyone is just so different that there aren't necessarily the commonalities here that there may be in France or other countries not inhabited almost completely by immigrants.

                                                                                                                Some people were never brought up to consider plates being taken away as they finished as something that could make people uncomfortable. In some cultures, eating quickly is the norm (for instance, when I worked in Japan, some school lunches lasted no more than 15 minutes) while in others it's more of a leisurely affair. We have all of these cultures in the US.

                                                                                                                1. re: queencru

                                                                                                                  Well, yes, but the culture I am talking about is within the Euro-American context, people who largely inherited the same rules. That still accounts for a large majority of folks in the US.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                                                                                    I have to respectfully disagree. Meal customs vary dramatically from one European country to another in terms of how much time people expect to spend on a certain meal and what time the meal takes place. Even within the US you can see these differences going from one state to another. I went to college in the Midwest and the dining halls closed to new diners at 6:30. This was a big shock to me coming from Florida where people tend to prefer to eat closer to 8.

                                                                                                                    1. re: queencru

                                                                                                                      Uh, the issue of removing plates was not a variable like those things. It was a very well established custom in US dining. The variations now appearing are not the result of multiculturalism. Wrong diagnosis.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                                                                                        While that may be true, our lifestyles are simply not the same as they were when the traditions were in place. When people's expectations and needs change, it seems silly to expect everything to stay the same. We're to the point in our society where, for the most part, dining out is not seen as the same type of experience it would have been ages ago. There are periods in some people's lives where they may eat out daily out of necessity.

                                                                                                                        1. re: queencru

                                                                                                                          Ah, that is the issue of de-ritualisation,not multiculturalism. My point is thus reinforced.

                                                                                                              2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                I would put it a different way:

                                                                                                                What this thread reveals is that some people are unaware that the same action -- plate clearing *or sitting in front of a finished plate while waiting for another diner to finish eating* -- is experienced differently by different people.

                                                                                                                You have made it very clear that you don't mind waiting and you know that some people mind having plates cleared before they are done, thus, barring some particular special circumstance (like someone on a diet), the plates should not be cleared until after everyone is done. You also clearly do not think slower diners should be made to feel rushed.

                                                                                                                What it still seems that you overlook is that - the slower diners should try to keep pace with other diners and sometimes stopping before you are completely finished (or leaving sooner than you'd like, or skipping that 4th coffee refill when others want to leave) is required for politeness. You seem to put no onus on the slow eater to keep up and not to delay the rest of the party. But, sometimes good manners requires going a little hungry - if you're at a party and clearly the hosts have not supplied enough food, should you eat your fill (first come, first served!), or should you take less than you really want, in order to make sure that everyone gets something and the host isn't embarassed by running out of food in 10 mins? You could say, I suppose, that guests should not be made to feel uncomfortable and should take what they want...but in practice, isn't the better answer that everyone should take less (and maybe the hosts don't eat at all)?

                                                                                                                In some cases I agree with you about the required patience - when I go out to dinner with my grandparents, I do not book anything else that night and I know that I am there for the duration, however long that may be. I am not going to rush my grandmother. On the other hand, this does limit the amount of times I dine with them - I can't just "squeeze them in" like I can with other dining companions.

                                                                                                                But in other cases, I disagree - for most meals, there is an acceptable pace and timeframe in which the meal should be completed (which differs, clearly, on the event, meal type, time of day, etc.). If someone isn't keeping up to their end of the bargain by keeping pace, they are being impolite. No, it's not the perfect solution to rush them overtly, but having your plate cleared is, imo, fine and a clear signal (unless stated otherwise) that your dining companion should pick it up a bit. I often take half a lunch back to my office because after years of eating with my SLOW eating SO, I now eat slower than the average bear. I am not going to insist that people take a two hour lunch to eat with me, nor would I like people to refuse to meet me for lunch because they worry that it will take two hours. People's time is important and valuable, and for me, people who do not respect and value my time (as I respect and value theirs) are a huge pet peeve.

                                                                                                                1. re: akq

                                                                                                                  <<<What it still seems that you overlook is that - the slower diners should try to keep pace with other diners and sometimes stopping before you are completely finished (or leaving sooner than you'd like, or skipping that 4th coffee refill when others want to leave) is required for politeness.>>

                                                                                                                  You obviously missed what I wrote directly in response to your earlier post.

                                                                                                                  Earlier in the thread, in response to your post, I agreed with you.

                                                                                                                  I clearly differentiated between being patient with a slow(er) diner and allowing that person to finish, and your example of someone whose slowness was "imposing their will" -- to use your words -- upon the other diners.

                                                                                                                  In the same post, it was ME who first brought up the timeframe of the rushed lunch hour, and that *if* that was the time your friend decided to learn how to use her chopsticks, that probably wasn't appropriate to the tight timeframe.

                                                                                                                  You may not have read that -- it *is* a long thread!

                                                                                                                  Bill Hunt may eat more slowly than me, and I am happy to wait for him to finish. Whereas, in your example, another diner may be eating SO slowly that that he is impeding the flow of the meal.

                                                                                                                  But that's not about plate-clearing. That's about the slow eater being oblivious or unaware of others' needs and preferences. If the slow diner had glanced about the table, he would have noticed that his slowness was impeding the flow of the meal. Most diners do glance around the table, and accelerate or de-accelerate accordingly. That's also part of the "greater" need -- the greater need of the group -- I talked about before.

                                                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                    "Bill Hunt may eat more slowly than I do, and I am happy to wait for him to finish."

                                                                                                                    ML, that is so kind. Can I pull your chair, should I ever be so fortuante to dine with you? Regardless, you know that I will !!!

                                                                                                                    I do have to admit that there are many more points, raised in this thread, than I had ever contemplated. I have learned some things and appreciate that. I do not yet know how this will affect me next time, but at least I will have something to think about.

                                                                                                                    It also shows me that I might need to restructure my instructions to the servers, and I will contemplate many of the feelings raised here.

                                                                                                                    OK, I'm an "old dog," but might still have a new trick - or maybe not.


                                                                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                      Actually, Bill, I would hate a bunch of guys standing up heralding my (or any woman's) trip to and return from the ladies room -- just seems kinda yucky, don't you think?.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Sarah


                                                                                                                        In my experience over the last dozen years, I will be the only one. I will also stand, when you return from powdering your nose.

                                                                                                                        While dating (1960's) I had to reinforce with my wife, that if she returned to the table, she should do so in a manner that I could see. She should then stand, near her chair, until I could move it for her. Now, she is an independent young lady and is physically capable of doing this for herself. Still, she finally fell into my way of thinking.

                                                                                                                        At events that I am hosting, I still stand, until all ladies at my table are seated, and if their escort does not pull their chair, I will silently do so for them. I also introduce myself to all and welcome them to my table. Just part of my station in life.

                                                                                                                        To me, it makes no difference if you are leaving to return a cellphone call, checking on your auto in the valet lot, or heading to another table to converse. You would get the "treatment." Hope you do not mind. Trust me, no one will know what your mission is, unless you tell them.


                                                                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                          I would just find it embarrassing. People like to make stealthy getaways for whatever reason to make as few waves as possible. I think at this point, it just seems a bit disconcerting that a man can steal away without any fanfare but a woman cannot. I would find it to be especially inappropriate at a business lunch where you'd hope that people would be on equal footing.

                                                                                                                          1. re: queencru

                                                                                                                            I'm with you on this point. I hate attention. If i'm dining with a group of people and need to be excused, i don't want to feel like the whole table is staring at me.

                                                                                                                    2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                      I read your response to my post earlier in the thread, but I think you were/are confusing my post with someone else's because I didn't write talking about chopsticks or "utensil ineptness". Your reference to the hurried lunch hour had to do with trying to use chopsticks, in response to someone else's post. My reference to the lunchhour was to illustrate how give and take comes into play with people's time.

                                                                                                                      I still question your greater need theory. Is the "greater need" of the group greater because of the number of people or something else? How do you weigh the "need" of 10 people eating at normal speed with 1 person eating more slowly due to personal preference? What if that one person REALLY likes to eat slowly? Is that a greater need? You are still confusing wants and needs.

                                                                                                                      I am not sure what restos you eat in, but most that I experience don't grab your plate as soon as you stop eating. It takes a while, especially when other people are still eating. So, generally, for this to even be an issue for me the slow diner would have to be eating considerably more slowly than others at the table.

                                                                                                                      You say that you would be happy to wait for BH to finish, even if he eats more slowly than you. That's great. But why? I assume that you've employed your greater need theory to arrive at that statement and in doing so, you have decided that BH's slow eating is a greater need than your need to keep the meal pace up. What if I decide differently? How does the greater need theory work when everyone gets to decide for him or herself whether theirs is the greater need in any particular situation?

                                                                                                                      I think you somewhat misunderstand my comment about imposing one's will on other diners by eating slowly - obviously the person who does this intentionally is rude, but many people do this unintentionally because they are self-absorbed or just oblivious. Those people may need the clues from other diners that they need to speed things up.

                                                                                                                      1. re: akq

                                                                                                                        "but many people do this unintentionally because they are self-absorbed or just oblivious. "

                                                                                                                        Self absorbed or just oblivious in anyone over the age of eight is rude. A large part of social interaction is about exhibiting consideration and awareness of how your actions affect others...almost impossible to do if one is in the midst of either of those states!

                                                                                                                        Good manners is not about control or holding to archaic ritual. Manners provide a framework designed to remove doubt in tricky social situations, a framework designed to maintain comfort, respect an civility.

                                                                                                                        Yes, the specifics may vary from culture to culture, family to family - but in any country there will be a generally accepted set. It behooves everyone to have a working knowledge of it so you can interact comfortably at any occasion. This view point of disdain is becoming very prevalent. I think it often stems from lack of confidence in situations where "traditional" manners are more obvious. I know a woman who has become extremely well off providing remedial seminars and one-on-one lessons with employees of Fortune 500 companies. They consider it an investment in their people and cheap insurance when those people represent the company!

                                                                                                                        1. re: akq

                                                                                                                          >>> I read your response to my post earlier in the thread, but I think you were/are confusing my post with someone else's because I didn't write talking about chopsticks or "utensil ineptness". Your reference to the hurried lunch hour had to do with trying to use chopsticks, in response to someone else's post. My reference to the lunchhour was to illustrate how give and take comes into play with people's time.>>>

                                                                                                                          Three days ago, I said the same thing. I wrote that to delay another diner during the rushed lunch-hour may be insensitive. But it doesn’t matter the reason for the slowness: the inept use of the chopsticks [that example came from queencru], the extra coffee refill or something else. Apologies for mistakenly combining my response to you with my response to queencru.

                                                                                                                          Just above, I wrote about glancing about the table to make sure one is keeping pace with other diners. And I wrote in direct response to your dental surgery situation, asking you what would have been best “given everyone involved.”

                                                                                                                          So I've written three times about the issue of the too-slow diner in a group setting. But please differentiate between the too-slow diner and the slow diner.

                                                                                                                          >>>I still question your greater need theory. Is the "greater need" of the group greater because of the number of people or something else? How do you weigh the "need" of 10 people eating at normal speed with 1 person eating more slowly due to personal preference? What if that one person REALLY likes to eat slowly? Is that a greater need? <<<

                                                                                                                          The "greater need theory" isn’t my own — I learned it in graduate school more than 20 years ago. And the principle is termed the “greater need, ” hence my use of the word "need."

                                                                                                                          Yes, the greater need is most often determined by the number of people, but it is also determined by intensity of need. I gave the Italian-Chinese example above.

                                                                                                                          >>> How does the greater need theory work when everyone gets to decide for him or herself whether theirs is the greater need in any particular situation? <<<

                                                                                                                          That’s a situation in which people don’t care about others.
                                                                                                                          I don't have the answer to how you make an uncaring person care. Or how you get several uncaring people to care.

                                                                                                                          Presumably, you are dining with people who do care about others and want to get along. If you’re not, the problem is far bigger than eating too slowly.

                                                                                                                          >>>I think you somewhat misunderstand my comment about imposing one's will on other diners by eating slowly - obviously the person who does this intentionally is rude, but many people do this unintentionally because they are self-absorbed or just oblivious. Those people may need the clues from other diners that they need to speed things up.<<<

                                                                                                                          I understood you. You can choose not to dine more than once with an uncaring, intentionally rude person or self-absorbed person.

                                                                                                                          But a person may be benignly oblivious — their mind is on something else that evening, for example. You cut the person some slack in that instance, give them a nudge, so to speak. Sure, you could use plate-clearing as a “clue” to the slow-diner.

                                                                                                                          But what about talking?

                                                                                                                          What about nicely communicating your needs and preferences?

                                                                                                                          What about a simple, "Dolores, most of us are ready to move on to our entree now." Or, saying to the lunchtime diner, "I don't really think we have time for dessert if I have to be back by 1:30."

                                                                                                                          The too-slow diner doesn't have a monopoly on "imposing their will." The “too-fast” diner can do the same -- expecting everyone to move at his speed and rushing them when they do not.

                                                                                                              3. I agree with the poster who observed that plate-clearing is something that is people may bring different expectations to. This can be very confusing to a server, so unless an enlightened host informs them beforehand on what the tables expectations are (a sotto voce "One of my guests has a strong preference that all of the plates should be cleared only after everyone has finished that course" or "My wife simply abhors a dirty plate and your vigilance would be appreciated") then there is a good chance that even a well-intentioned and well-trained server will manage to get it wrong. I instruct my servers to quietly ask a guest "May I remove that for you?" or something like it BEFORE they reach for the plate. That way a simple nod or shake of the head tells them what they need to know to serve the table in the way that they prefer.

                                                                                                                Of course, like many others, I have had the experience of being asked the question by a server who already has the plate in his hand. Awkward! And if I am, indeed, not done with the last perfect bite, I am sometimes loathe to engage in a tug of war. Not always, though.

                                                                                                                But will someone please tell me what you do when a guest appears to have finished, and the rest of the table is done, and waits until the very last second to pick up their fork just when the server approaches the table? I've seen it done repeatedly. I always feel that they're just messing with me.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: chefbeth

                                                                                                                  In regards to the last paragraph, I feel like I'm guilty of this. I notice them approaching and realize I'm not done so that's when I start eating. I don't want them to take my plate away yet.

                                                                                                                2. I think I want to go out for dinner with Bill and his wife.

                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                  1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch


                                                                                                                    Nice of you to say. However, it seems that there are many on this thread, who would have a horrible time. Hey, I'll also pull your chair!


                                                                                                                  2. Those of us who work in corporate or franchised restaurants are taught to immediately clear any finished or unused plates. If more people knew about the "I'm done" fork and knife position or simply placed their finished dinner plates on the edge of the table, I'm sure this wouldn't happen as often.

                                                                                                                    1. Let me give you the opposing viewpoint. As a server, I feel very uncomfortable dropping the check off while someone is still eating, unless it's been specifically requested. If I am out to dinner and the server brings the check while I'm still eating (which happens on occasion), I feel like they're rushing me. It's easily one of my biggest pet peeves when I'm dining. It's very insulting to feel like the server is completely unconcerned with my experience and is only worried about getting me in and out so that his table can get re-sat and he can make more money.

                                                                                                                      I know many servers who feel just as I do. The last thing we want is for our guests to feel like we're rushing them and we don't give a damn about their experience. So unless you make your preference explicit, I'm afraid this is a problem that will continue to plague you.

                                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: Al_Pal

                                                                                                                        i dont like whenever a server brings the check before it is requested - plates or no plates

                                                                                                                        1. re: thew

                                                                                                                          I would agree completely. However, in my experience, many people simply will not request the check. Loads of people expect it to be brought automatically, and some get angry if they have to ask for it because they perceive that the server isn't paying attention to the table and isn't on top of things. And servers often don't know what to expect in this regard. I think the best they can do is clear the plates and wait several minutes before dropping the check off. This gives the people who want it immediately room to request it but also leaves enough time that the people on the other end of the spectrum won't feel they're being hurried out.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Al_Pal

                                                                                                                            it my younger more in your face days if someone brought me an unasked for check, i would order a cup of tea or espresso or something, just because..... but i've mellowed with age