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When the waiter wants to clear the dishes before everyone is done

This is my pet peeve in a restaurant.

I eat slower than my husband. Is it up to HIM to say "I'll keep my dirty dish until my wife is finished"...usually it happens so fast I can't really fault my husband, but it makes me feel rushed, and a bother.

This is a tough board to search, so sorry if this has been covered already, but what is the protocol when this happens?

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  1. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/549073 - here's one from last week. I know what you mean about searching this board. In my opinion, the waiter shouldn't clear until everyone is done, and I think either you or your husband could ask him not to do so.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MMRuth

      Wow, MMRuth, that was a GREAT thread...because my OTHER pet peeve is when they DON'T bring the check...even though I may be the last one done, when I'm DONE I'm DONE.

      Can't believe that thread was so recent!

      You seem to be my guardian angel on these boards, LOL.

    2. My DH (twice my size) usually finishes his meal when I am half through mine. I like to take my restaurant leftovers home, but don't want to be stuck with the only plate at an otherwise cleared table. If an eager server tries to clear my sweetheart's place before I'm ready to pack up and go, he simply extends his hand over his plate, smiles up and says "Not yet." This way we can both eat at our own pace, with neither one feeling pressured to rush or slow down.

      1. Back in the Middle Ages, 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. When some plates are cleared, the persons still eating feel rushed. I like another one of the reaons for waiting to clear also -- the visual aspect, called table symmetry. The table looks funny when some plates are cleared and others are not. I have often quietly asked the server to not take my plate until my companion is finished.

        1. This drives me crazy. It is so rude and has the effect on diners of being pushed out. No plates should EVER be cleared until EVERYONE has clearly finished eating.

          I have had bus staff even try to take my plate while I had a fork in my hand. I am certain that they are trained to do this to keep things moving for the kitchen or the reservations.

          I am not a particularly slow eater, but when it happens, no matter whose plate at the table is being whisked away, I always say something like, "Please leave it. We're still eating." The person taking the plate away usually looks surprised or even a little insulted. Bizarre.

          The whole point of etiquette is not to impose some kind of arbitrary rules on people, but to be sure that everyone is comfortable. It is not comfortable to be enjoying a meal or a course, only to have someone trying to take it all away, presumably because they want to move your table.

          This is really one thing that I could rant about forever, but I'm awfully glad that I'm not the only one who is irritated by it or recognizes it as totally inappropriate.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chicgail

            I completely agree. The problem is that if one is out with a larger group, some clueless member will shovel down her food and reply "yes" when the server asks if she's done. This starts a chain reaction with the server, who will then assume that that's appropriate behavior.

            1. re: chicgail

              You assume that they are actually trained. Big assumption.

              I have found most waitstaff marginally trained, the exception being family-owned restaurants or some of the top end places. Most of the service employees at the chains and mid-level places appear to be students or part-timers. They get barely minimal training and often commit this and other service faux pas, including things like assuming that I will drink my beer out of a bottle instead of a glass without asking, neglecting to bring an extra plate when an item is shared, or even neglecting the silverware altogether. Of course, they NEVER come back to ask if everything is okay, except to mouth the always irritating ":How's everything tastig? (which, of course, you can't answer unless you have utensils to taste the food with).

            2. That's one of my peeves too, Eujeanie. When I'm finished first, sometimes I like to taste my companions' meals; when I finish last, then clearing the plates makes me feel like the waiter wants me gone. (Perhaps he does, but he should keep that to himself.)

              Mom taught me that when a diner places their fork and knife together and parallel on the plate, it is a signal to the waiter that they wish the plate to be cleared away. Other than that, all the plates should be removed from the table together, when the meal is finished. Was Mom mistaken?

              A related peeve is when the waiter clears away a family-style serving platter that still has food on it. Hello? Is there a dish shortage in the kitchen? Does the staff get to eat the leftovers? I paid for that, and I'm going to eat it, so keep your grubby paws off!

              9 Replies
              1. re: Bjartmarr

                Your mother was correct, but the convention, while widely followed in Europe, is rarely even noticed here.

                I know that this could sound really snobby, but that's not how I intend it: most Americans have never been taught anything resembling etiquette or good manners. We literally just don't know and many people think that the "rules" of etiquette are constricting or constraining. My point of view is that they provide a structure that allows for a kind of freedom that most of us never experience.

                Even in most restaurants, it's a bit of a wild, wild west, every man/woman for him/herself, including the wait and bus staffs.

                1. re: chicgail

                  Well, then, the problem isn't that there isn't a standard of behavior, or that the standard doesn't accomodate all preferences; the problem is that some diners are unaware of the standard.

                  Rather than have their waiters simply pick a behavior at random (and risk getting undertipped if they get it wrong), perhaps restaurants should start printing reminders down at the bottom of the menu, next to where it says, "18% gratuity added for parties of six or more".

                  It's a crude, clunky solution...but waiters getting stiffed or scolded by ignorant diners is even worse.

                  1. re: chicgail

                    no, americans are not ignorant of the rules of etiquette, nor have they "never been taught anything resembling etiquette or good manners. " americans have a different set of manners, and rules of etiquette than europeans.

                    1. re: thew

                      Actually, while that is true in some instances, I don't think it is true in all instances. My understanding of what is "correct" in the United States (whether one agrees with it or not) is that utensils be placed together to indicate that one is finished with one's meal. Whether Americans have been taught that or not is a different matter. But, I think you and I are destined to disagree on this topic!

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        I'm very old fashioned and I take it one step further - tines down on the parallel fork to indicate I'm done.

                        1. re: Eujeanie

                          Hmm - I think I keep the tines up when the utensils are in their "I'm still eating" position, and up in the "I'm done" position. Will have to look into it!

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Well MMRuth, I found sources that said one or the other, so let's just use this as the definitive conclusion that we are BOTH correct!

                            "When the diner has finished, he signals this by setting the fork and knife parallel to each other, so they lie either horizontally across the center of the plate or are on the diagonal, with the handles pointing to the right. The cutting edge of the knife blade should face toward the diner (again, avoiding all possible aggressive implications), and the fork may be placed with the tines either up or down. "

                            1. re: Eujeanie

                              There you go! Thanks for looking it up.

                      2. re: thew

                        sorry, i am replying to a very old thread, but i just have to get my 2 cents in.
                        americans i believe choose as a matter of pride to flaunt conventional or european etiquette to prove we are different and better. it is somewhat reminiscent of the concept of the ugly american. the different set of american manners is not necessarily the better set of manners.

                    1. re: Karl S

                      To add to BOTH of these threads:

                      Compounding this earth shattering issue is the fact that many restos and clubs have THEIR OWN policy regarding this practice and train the staff accordingly. So, while you TELL your server (instead of being civil and asking) your wife prefers whatever, your server's a-hole manager or captain may rip him/her a new one for going against what their practice is. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: you're paying, you're tipping, etc.etc. But possibly this dreadful breach of your dining rights has a reason other than the server's lack of consideration.

                      Oh and BTW, if a place has "team service", they often don't want ANYONE but the busser/backserver or however they have it set up clearing plates (or refilling water or pouring wine). But that's a whole other subject.

                    2. Alas, the simple rules of etiquette have been lost in our Silicon (Valley and other places we won't go into here).

                      Once upon a time, when a diner was finished, as you mentioned, they would put their knife and fork either across the plate or more appropriately, at a diagonal on the right upper quadrant of the plate, parallel to one another. It was a signal to clear.

                      In today's world........tell the waiter to buzz off until the the other (last) person is done. That means you may have to do a hand wave to get him/her back.

                      Since we now longer teach etiquette and things like ballroom dancing to kids, the servers may not know these rules. You might want to enlighten them.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                        First of all, how does a diner "enlighten" servers to the proper rules of etiquette without looking like a prig? That's the job of the restaurant in training their staff.

                        Secondly, since most diners know about as much about these rules as the servers, it hardly seems worth the trouble. It works when it is a policy of a restaurant to not clear dishes until all diners are finished, but if they wait for the signal provided by diners placing fork and knife in the appropriate position on the plate, they will likely wait a long, long time.

                      2. I really dislike when this happens. If I am finished eating, but someone else in my party is not, I will always stop (politely) a server/busser from taking my dish away by hovering my hand over it, and explaining that I would like to wait. I can't tell you how many times I have hoped that they'll get the hint for the future.
                        I am sure that millions of people across the country have done this. Obviously, there are plenty of fantastic restaurant workers out there who know their jobs well, but you'd think that more restaurant staff would know better by now than to pull the partial table clearing thing.

                        1. Im a waiter, have been for years, It is good manners to ask before removing plates, some want the plates removed ASAP... some don't. I work at a high end Mexican place and there are sometimes 10 dishes per person and it is quite a task to clear the table. It can be the difference of maybe 10 - 20 tables more being served during peak times. Some people do not want to wait for a table at a busy restaurant, they will simply go to another place if they are not sat quickly. Its hard to please everyone HOWEVER.. we are ran ragged in our jobs and we have managers sometimes literally screaming "RUN RUN RUN" at us. It is our job to clear the table so we can turn it quickly for another seating ASAP. We are paid $2.13 and hour and the Mgmnt really pounds the drums when it comes to making things move quickly

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: waiterdude

                            could this be a tapas style restaurant? how would the rules of clearing the table apply to a tapas style restaurant?
                            fyi. i am with team "don't clear till everyone is done eating", but i can see a difference iin a tapas ....

                          2. It hasn't really been mentioned in this thread, but in the other thread there are lots of opposing comments from those who dislike having a dirty plate in front of them when they are finished.

                            As a server, I just ask " May I clear your plate?" before touching it, so you have the option of keeping it you'd like, or getting rid of it if you'd like.

                            I try to clear plates as soon as I can, when I can, because honestly, it makes my job easier, and I personally I dislike having a dirty plate in front of me. If you want to keep yours though, by all means. Whatever suits the individual is just fine with me.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: upsidedownorchid

                              This is very appropriate as far as i'm concerned, as long as it's not "can I have it, can I have it, can I can I ???" ;) i.e. no hovering (although MadTV fans might get the reference)

                              Totally allows the diner to refuse or allow. Some diners might want to help finish off the last of their fellow diner's meal, rather than take home, who knows.

                              I don't mind a plate in front of me, unless the server keeps bringing additional dishes and not taking the finished away.

                              Also a personal peeve of mine when ANYTHING is taken from the table when there is still food on it without asking. Happens all the time with shared app's or other communal dishes when the mains arrive. Feels like someone is telling you that you've had enough, and you feel like a glutton if you stop them.

                            2. My pet peeve too. I eat slower than my husband. If someone tries to clear his plate it interrupts our conversation which I find very annoying. We generally say he's not done - and he isn't - because he's waiting to see what I'm not going to eat so that he can gobble that up too!!

                              1. Where I am, it just isn't done to remove crockery piecemeal.. Servers wait until everyone has finished.

                                1. Yes as a slow eater I too feel uncomfortable being the only one sitting there eating. Also, a fast-eatin' friend pointed out that when her plate is whisked away before other's it makes her feel like she's been, well, a bit piggy. Clearing piecemeal interrupts the flow of the meal. I agree with the poster who mentions that following a set etiquette isn't abt being priggish; it's only abt ensuring everyone's comfort and ease. Isn't that the point of hospitality?

                                  1. Hey, it's a restaurant not a campground. Eat up, get out, other people are waiting. They need the table!

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                                      Sorry, mrbigshotno.1, but your description of "eat up, get out, other people are waiting" sounds to me more like a campground than a restaurant.

                                      1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                                        sheesh, what's next, tasers for slow eaters ?

                                        1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                                          From your comments, its obvious that you eat NOT DINE.

                                          Enforced fast turn may be fine at a Mickey D's at an airport or highway rest stop, but certainly not at a white tablecloth place on a Saturday Night.....................

                                          If I'm paying $30 for a plate of pasta that has $1 worth of ingredients, it's because I want not just the food, but the dining experience. Time with wife and/or friends to relax, be waited on and certainly not to be rushed. The Higher the price, the more leisurely the dining experience may be.

                                          I resent being rushed, and would not tolerate it. And yes, in my younger years, I have worked almost all positions in foodservice. Turn may be important to the restaurant's profits, but a rushed customer leads to BAD word of mouth and loss of business.

                                          1. re: bagelman01

                                            I've been reading these comments in reaction to mrbigshotno.1's comment, and I am wondering if no one other than me read it as facetious rather than earnest.

                                            1. re: Karl S

                                              That is certainly a possible interpretation. The problem with posts like these is that facetiousness, sarcasm or irony are often lost in translation, hence the responses to mrbighotno.1's post.

                                        2. Most of the time when I was in the city on the UES, people finished eating at different times. And it was generally because of the conversation. If you're doing all the talking and he's done. It doesnt mean he's a faster eater. It just means you had a more interesting day. You'd be suprised on how many people dont want dirty dishes in front of them as well, or never touch their food because they are on their cell phones while eating. It's horrible. All you need to do it let them know you're not done when they try to clear your plate and you're all set.