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Jan 19, 2013 10:55 PM

Is it ever acceptable to give service instruction to a server?

I have a couple of pet peeves when it comes to restaurant dining. I can tolerate less-than-ideal service at a low-end or moderately priced restaurant, but when I'm paying good money for a meal, I expect well-trained servers.

My biggest pet peeve is that my drink glass should never be empty. I would prefer that my glass be refilled before it gets to the point of being empty. Is it ever acceptable to explain that to the waitstaff at the beginning of a meal?

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  1. Servers are damned if they do, damned if they don't. I like to pour my own wine at the table; I don't care for someone having to hover to refill 4 sips into my water glass.

    But there's nothing wrong with politely setting expectations at the outset of the meal.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DuchessNukem

      I think tone is the most important for a request like that. If it's done in a manner of "this is how I will most enjoy the evening, and I'd like to let you know" - then I don't see it as a problem. However, if it's done in an attitude that implies "you should know that this is the right way to do your job" - I can see that leading to an antagonist evening with the server.

    2. Are you referring to all beverages or just to 'freebies' like tap water and (frequently but not always) ice tea?

      I've seen many a posting here where the OP was upset that a waiter kept everyone's wine glass filled nearly to the brim, in the end wasting a good deal of wine - which to the OP looked like an intentional ruse to encourage him to buy another bottle.

      This past fall I was at a fine dining restaurant where the service was so good I could have sworn there were fairies refiling our glasses because they were never more than half empty (water or wine) and I never once caught any of the servers doing any pouring. The only drawback was that 8 of us unwittingly went through 12 bottles of wine just at dinner. Had a marvelous time.

      3 Replies
      1. re: KaimukiMan

        'The only drawback was that 8 of us unwittingly went through 12 bottles of wine just at dinner. Had a marvelous time'

        You must of been with Hunt.

        1. re: Beach Chick

          heavens no, we would have gone thru 16 or 20, not 12. LOL

          it was with cousins and such, some of us haven't seen each other since before we could - legally - drink (and I'm in my 50s now) so there was much catching up to do. and obviously a love of wine, and good food, runs in the family.

          1. re: Beach Chick

            I scrolled back up to see who posted. I assumed it was hunt and he forget to sign at the bottom.

        2. Trouble is you are starting things off by antagonizing the server

          71 Replies
          1. re: redfish62

            Do you really think so? My biggest pet peeve is removing plates while other people are still eating....really drives me up a wall. If I can remember,I try to make the hostess aware of it first,if that doesn't work I have been known to look at the waitstaff and say "Please don't remove any plates untill we are all finished eating". I don't think that is offensive,plus any decent restaurant should train their staff to do just that. I had to laugh the other night when I said that to a waiter....the man at the table next to me applauded and then said to me that it was an American thing...he was not from the USA! Maybe so!

            1. re: Mother of four

              It's not the least bit offensive but it does create an antagonistic relationship because you have informed the waitstaff that they are not up to snuff.

              If the service bothers me I don't return to the restaurant but I don't see it as my role to tell the restaurant staff how to do their jobs, I find doing so unpleasant and there is always the chance that they have been instructed to remove all plates immediately by the management.

              1. re: Mother of four

                I so agree. It makes the person who is still eating feel like they should hurry.

                1. re: Mother of four

                  +1 My wife has been known to stop the server who lifts a plate while some at the table are still eatimg and instruct the server to leave the plate alone and come back and clear after we are all finished wwith the course. If ignored, she has been known to request the check and pay and leave and never return to the restaurant.

                  Clearing while some are still eating is extremely rude behavior and should not be tolerated. It sends a signal that those still eating are either slow or eat too much.

                  1. re: bagelman01

                    That's a bit severe. It is more likely the capatain or management instructing the wait staff to clear the table. She shoud take the matter up with them.

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      That is still the standard, although it is more and more called into question. Many diners are extremely calorie conscious and would prefer the plate cleared as soon as they are done eating so that they do not overindulge. It is very hard to resist eating the last 1/3 or whavever of a wonderfully prepared and presented plate.

                      I'm not going to disagree that the original intent on the part of the restaurant industry in starting this was to move the customers along, but it does have some benefits. My guess is that if there is one person still eating and everyone else is staring at their empty plates sipping on their water and looking at their reflection in the bowl of a spoon that the slow eater is aware of things whether there are plates on the table or not. But in formal dining, it is a bozo no-no.

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        Good for your wife! I have actually had to hang on to my plate to stop them from removing it! I can never figure out why they insist on it....I mean really,are they going to pack up and go home after clearing half of the table?

                        1. re: Mother of four

                          If by "they" you mean servers, keep in mind they are trained by the restaurant management on issues such as when to remove plates. In other words, their boss has told them when to remove the plates. So no, they aren't going to pack up and go home after clearing half the table...they are simply trying to keep their job.

                          1. re: carolinadawg

                            "...they are simply trying to keep their job."

                            Thank you for saying this. It amazes me how many people view wait staff as independent contractors that come to the restaurant, grab their tips and go home. Do people really think that a wait person could get away with consistently clearing dishes after a person is through eating if management did not set this standard? Front of the house management, captains, etc, have their eyes on every table. If this was not part of service then the wait person or bus person would not be doing it.

                            And as for the part about "packing up and going home" I wonder how many people realize that the wait staff has at least another good hour of work ahead of them after the last table has left? There are a lot of shift duties to perform after the restaurant has closed to ready it for service the next day.

                            1. re: ttoommyy

                              and that hour or two they are working for their base wages, often well below minimum, no tips after the patrons have gone.

                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                Yes, but their average hourly wage (including tips), is often much better than the kitchen staff, and many customer service people (retail, etc.). The base wage of the last hour or so doesn't really matter.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Yet again, I have to question what people think the job of waiting tables really entails. It amazes me how clueless most people are about the job details, pay rate, etc.

                                    1. re: ttoommyy

                                      When you waited tables, how did you feel about patrons sharing their dining desires with you - the topic of the thread?

                                      Was that a problem, or did you appreciate their sharing?

                                      Did it make any difference to you?


                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        Sharing, asking, not a problem. Treating me as an equal, fine. Instructing, demanding, hitting me, never acceptable. I was a professional providing a service; I knew my job and worked within the parameters of the restaurants rules and what I knew as a professional waiter to be correct. I was not a servant in the 1700s who was to be ordered around and told how to do my job. Just as any professional sitting in an office does not like to be told how to do their job, so goes the professional wait person.

                                  2. re: sweethooch

                                    Certainly depends on the restaurant. When I waited tables (less than 10 years ago), there were definitely nights I made $5/hour (below federal minimum wage at the time)

                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                  Thank you for saying that. I'm horrified by the way people treat and disregard servers.

                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                    You're welcome. Sometimes people on these boards talk about waitstaff as if they are indentured servants.

                                2. re: carolinadawg

                                  +2 for carolinadawg's explanation, and ttoommyy's concurrence.

                                3. re: Mother of four

                                  I agree with the other responses, but also want to add that you can ask your server to leave your plate until you ask for it to be cleared or only when others have finished.

                                  The other half of the diners out there are equally miffed when a server does not clear their dinner plate immediately. I guess expectations in dining is evolving. Old standards are, like everything else, slipping away.

                                  1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                    Quite right, Sal. When it is just the two of us we prefer if the plate of one is not clear until the other has finished. When there are 4 or more at a table we go with the flow. Sometimes it is convenient to have empty plates removed to provide more table room.

                                  2. re: Mother of four

                                    I have no opinion on this subject, but I will say that I've read many threads on chowhound where opinions were evenly divided between the people who hate to have their plates cleared and the people who hate to sit with an empty plate in front of them. It is by no means a settled question that it is always undesirable -- let alone rude -- to remove a plate when each individual diner is finished.

                                4. re: Mother of four

                                  I was a server in a nice restaurant years and years ago - and clearing plates was ALWAYS a problem (reference the damned if you damned if you don't mentioned above).

                                  Our intent was always to only clear plates after everyone was done eating. With a table of say 8 that is VERY difficult to orchestrate - even though it sounds very simple.

                                  With a table of 8 you will ALWAYS get one or two people at the table that are done first and often they will start giving you "the look", the "hey I'm done and I don't want to sit here with the parts of my steak that I decided not to eat in front of me all night" look.

                                  Or you get the one person who "plays" with their food. You can't tell if they are finished, eating, taking a break . . . you think they are done but then you glance over and their fork is back in their hand. Are they just eating the bits because the plate is still there or are they really done.

                                  Once you come to the table to "ask" if everyone is done, it's over - someone will pick up their plate and shove it at you, even if everyone isn't done - or you get the "yes, take my plate", even if everyone isn't done - and then you end up with a few people that are eating while other's plates are cleared. . . .

                                  Just a perspective to give your next server some slack . . . .

                                  1. re: thimes

                                    In a truly formal and traditional situation the host would determine when everyone was done and it was time to clear the plates. And if poor aunt Millie wasn't done yet then she would have to work faster on the next course. Seems to me there was one British monarch who was a fairly quick eater and somewhat impatient as well. The court all learned that they had better keep up or go hungry.

                                    Alas now it falls on the server to read everyone's mind.

                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                      It is so rare when dining out today for their to be a "host" - but yes that always makes it easier.

                                      We were always raised (right or wrong) to place our knife and fork crossed at the top of our plate when we were finished as well - but all those types of social indicators are gone. There was some benefit to all the stuffy protocols after all . . . .

                                      1. re: thimes

                                        Interesting. I was taught to place cutlery together on the plate when finished eating.

                                        1. re: CanadaGirl

                                          If I included a photo it would look similar to being placed together on the plate.

                                          Found one - similar to this but imagine the fork just crossed over the knife.

                                          I love etiquette and bygone rules - even if I don't follow them all the time. . . . .

                                          (I have no idea how to attach a photo anymore . . . . and I thought I was over getting used to most of the site updates - I guess no photo for now)

                                          1. re: thimes

                                            guess you can't attach a photo from a post you are "editing" . . . . ugh

                                            1. re: thimes

                                              Looks like we are on the same page after all :)

                                            2. re: thimes

                                              That is backward - knife and fork crossed is the "rest" position indicating you are not done and the plate should not be cleared. Knife and fork parallel means you are done.

                                              1. re: akq

                                                Isn't this one of those things that's different in Europe and North America?

                                                  1. re: splatgirl

                                                    actually, historically yes. Europe and America (in general) have always eaten differently and held our silverware differently leading to different table expectations.

                                                  2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                    No. There are differences in Continental and American dining ettiquette but this is not one of them. Crossed silverware isn't the "finished" position in American dining ettiquette, it is the "rest" position in Continental dining ettiquette. The "finished" position in both American and Continental dining ettiquette is fork and knife parallel. If you really want to get into it, the angle of the fork and knife on the plate and the fork tines up or down may differ between the two, but that's it.

                                            3. re: thimes

                                              Exactly. The used silverware should be put diagonally in the upper right hand corner of the plate to signal you were done.

                                              A picture:


                                            4. re: KaimukiMan

                                              Queen Victoria. She would wolf down food like a hungry college boy, and them the Duke of Windsoxbridgecaster would have his quarter-eaten plate whisked away too. Eventually the courtiers learned to treat state diners as a speed contest, or possibly had their valet smuggle them a pork pie and chutney after dinner.

                                              1. re: ecumer

                                                i thought it was, but i wasn't sure - and i've stuck my foot in my mouth too much already this year and it's not even february. thank you ecumer!

                                          2. re: Mother of four

                                            For us, we're usually chatting while sopping up the garlic butter from a steamed clam appetizer, or something similar. When they come to take salad plates away, etc. I usually comment on how great the broth tastes, and how much we're enjoying it. They've always gotten the hint and left the plate.

                                            1. re: Mother of four

                                              two approaches:

                                              "just one thing -- i know some staffs are trained to remove plates when individual diners are finished. please, i'm just letting you know, i really prefer that you don't begin clearing until everyone is done. just a preference of mine."

                                              early on, when the server is within earshot -- "hi, just want to let you know a strong preference of mine: i realize some diners prefer that plates are removed quickly, but i really would appreciate no plates being taken until everyone at the table is finished. would you be so kind as to make sure your bussers are told?"

                                              1. re: nosh

                                                I think this is a great way to put it. It lets the server know that you understand you are asking for something to be done differently from the norm. And that is very different from telling them that you assume they will do it 'wrong'.

                                                Etiquette be damned, my mother is one of those who cannot stand having her empty plate in front of her once she is done eating. I prefer it as well, but it's not a big deal to me...though it is nice having room to put my elbows on the table.

                                              2. re: Mother of four

                                                I share your annoyance at plates being removed while people are still eating.

                                                However, I think this is best dealt with by addressing if and when it actually happens.

                                                I don't think it helps things to site down and immediately dictate rules to the server based on an expectation of bad service.

                                                1. re: taos

                                                  Working for nearly 20 years in a restaurant in Austria, Europe, I can only say that here most people find it annoying if you don't remove the plate as soon as they are finished. It is seen as very rude if the waiter walks by your table and does not remove it. Also, I wouldn't want to sit there with an empty or nearly empty plate just because someone else is still eating.

                                                  1. re: NilesCable

                                                    " Also, I wouldn't want to sit there with an empty or nearly empty plate just because someone else is still eating."

                                                    I agree. I hate having to look at dirty plates sitting in front of patrons while others are eating. I have never once in my life felt rushed to finish my dinner because a waiter has cleared plates from others at my table who were finished eating.

                                                2. re: Mother of four

                                                  I worked in about a dozen chain restaurant and EVERY ONE of them instructs any server, bus person, etc walking by a table with a plate in front of someone who has quit eating to whisk it away as quickly as possible.

                                                  If you do not do the steps of service EXACTLY as you are instructed, you get admonished by the management, and eventually can get your pay docked. If you are "shopped" and don't do things perfectly, it's even worse.

                                                  Whatever you think proper etiquette is or isn't, this is policy at many places. Even if you told the server not to do it, others on staff might.

                                                  1. re: rockandroller1

                                                    I have noticed that at too many restaurants, and not just chains.

                                                    I assume that some comes from training at chains, or a stated desire by the management to turn tables, as quickly, as is possible.

                                                    At one high-end restaurant in Hawai`i, I had to slap our servers hand away, on about the third attempt to gather my plate, when I was clearly not done, and was just speaking with my wife. I instructed him that when he saw my utensils at about 5:00 O'clock, THEN I would be done. It made matters worse that there were a dozen empty tables, so turning tables should not have been an issue. I can only assume that at some point, he had been trained to seize any plate, that was not being actively worked on, at that moment. He was worse than trying to eat lunch in the CO High-Country, with robber jays around you.


                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                      Oy, Bill. I hear your frustration, but I can tell you that if you'd "slapped my hand away," you'd have likely ended up with a nasty suprise in your lap. Oh, it'd have been "accidental," you betcha!! But to actually smack your server? No. No no no.
                                                      And I'd gladly do it in lieu of a tip. I'd walk away from that one. Happy as hell.

                                                      1. re: mamachef

                                                        When a person goes into a restaurant, they are entering into an unspoken compact to behave in a certain way, usually dictated by good manners, including, but not limited to, treating the people in the restaurant with respect. Slapping someone's hand strikes me as a severe abrogation of that unspoken compact, to say nothing of being seriously ill-mannered. If I had been that server, I would have asked my manager to have that person told to leave.

                                                        1. re: roxlet

                                                          And your response would have been the correct one. Mine being completely unprofessional and knee-jerk; totally reactionary.

                                                        2. re: mamachef

                                                          Agree, mamachef. I have to admit, I was rather taken aback at the slapping of a server's hand in what was purported to be a high-end restaurant, rather than speaking to management about the issue.

                                                          Mutual respect - it goes both ways. But if that mutual respect is not proffered by one party, it does *not* give the other carte blanche to behave in a demeaning manner. (And this comment was not directed at your reaction, mamachef.)

                                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                                            Maybe for "mutual respect," one need to learn good manners, in the first place, and to NOT take away a paying patron's dish, before they are finished. That would be where I would suggest that one start - learn the manners first.


                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                              And yet two wrongs don't make it right, does it?

                                                              As I said, if that mutual respect is NOT proffered by one party, it does NOT give the other carte blanche to behave in a demeaning manner.

                                                              Treating a waitperson in a demeaning manner, no matter the way they acted, is -- plain and simple -- rude.

                                                        3. re: Bill Hunt

                                                          I love you, Bill, but smacking the hands of anyone over the age of six, and to whom you are not related by blood, is completely inexcusable.

                                                          I might not have dropped something in your lap, but it might have been the last you ever saw of me that night....but the manager might have taken my place.

                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                            "At one high-end restaurant in Hawai`i, I had to slap our servers hand away, on about the third attempt to gather my plate, when I was clearly not done, and was just speaking with my wife."

                                                            Really??? Hitting someone is your response? It matters THAT much to you? I'm literally at a loss for words.

                                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                                              Often, I have to take on the bartender and the bouncers, and fight my way out of the restaurant. When we end up on the street, I am the only one standing - wonder how that happens?


                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                I can tell I'm going to have to create an entire new list of restaurants for you next time you are here, you having been 86'd from your current favorites.
                                                                (please note tongue in cheek)

                                                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                  Well, the "t-n-c" aspect is somewhat lost on too many.

                                                                  A "figurative" hand-slap has translated into personal "bodily-harm." The subtlety of such a comment is totally lost. That is why I felt the need to deal in hyperbole - some people just do not get it. Should have put some emoticon in the statement, so that it would not go totally over their heads.

                                                                  Sorry for that. In the Deep South, if one refers to "slapping one's hand," it seldom means corporal punishment. Guess that too many just want to be offended in one manner, or another. My bad. Should have realized that most folk have no sense of humor, at all, and are looking for something to greatly offend them.

                                                                  No, we are pretty good, on OUR restaurants, and one should not need to pre-dial 5-O, before hand.



                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                    when it comes to physical violence, there is no allowance for a sense of humor.

                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                      Sorry about that. There WAS no physical violence - not even a little. The "slapping of the hand" was a euphemism for "do not take my plate, until I am done." Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

                                                                      Sorry if everyone has gone "porky" on this, but that is THEIR problem. Maybe they should just get over it, and move on with life?


                                                                    2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                      Well I guess I am thick because it does not read as a figurative slap, but I understand wanting to redial that one. Is blaming the reader proper? I am not offended, but i sure am getting a good chuckle.

                                                                      I think I have finally figured out a thing or two.

                                                                      Ah the deep south... so misunderstood. ~laughs.

                                                                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                                        "Is blaming the reader proper? "

                                                                        A bit of irony there, isn't it? :-)

                                                                      2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                        Oh, it was a FIGURATIVE handslap. Silly me, for not reading between the lines. Boy howdy, do I feel obtuse now.
                                                                        All I can say is, it must be a wonderful thing to never ever ever be in the wrong. I'm at the place where I think the majority of Mr. Bill's defensive posts on this thread and many others are just posted to engender reactions. And look, it's working!! :)
                                                                        Obtuse, obtuse obtuse. Such a grand word.

                                                                    3. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                      This comment sort of has me left me slack jawed. Or maybe it is simply stuck in that position after reading that you slapped a server.

                                                                      I am flabbergasted.

                                                                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                                        No, as stated, there was no physical violence - actual, or intended. I admonished them verbally, to NOT take my plate, until I was finished. Now, their "pain," might have actually been greater, than if I had actually touched them, but I cannot tell, not being Dr. Phil.

                                                                        No animals were injured in the taping of this episode - I swear.


                                                                  2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                    I have been inapporitely touched and I do not take it lightly. If my manager puts me in a situation of the customer or me oh my...

                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                      to repeat carolinadawg's truth:
                                                                      servers are trained by their employers.
                                                                      unless they are family in a family-owned operation, they do what they are told to do by management in order to keep their job.
                                                                      if not given direction by their current management, their assumption is that the managers that they've had in the past knew the ropes.
                                                                      most servers start when they are young and often come from situations where, in their youth, they personally have not been exposed to the niceties of even mid-priced restaurants.

                                                                  3. re: Mother of four

                                                                    ITA. My reply (down at the bottom) was basically the same as yours. My better half (who is French) goes ballistic over this issue. He also says it is an "American" thing. I guess so!

                                                                    1. re: jarona

                                                                      Well I guess we Americans have a lot of good things going for us,but this is not one of them. I too have been known to go ballistic over this issue....just ask my DH,he will tell you! That and driving in the left lane when you are not passing anyone and not making a left hand turn within a half mile....well that is another thread but not for Chowhounds! LOL! Just my two major pet peeves.

                                                                    2. re: Mother of four

                                                                      Yes, this can be a tough call.

                                                                      Some like "finished plates," to be disposed of quickly, while others want ALL plates to stay in place, until the last diner finishes theirs.

                                                                      As we attend a lot of "events," and as I am a slow diner, I usually prefer that all finished plates be removed, as they are finished - but ONLY when they are finished.

                                                                      I have seen both sides cited in various books, and in many threads. What is "proper," might well depend on where one is dining?


                                                                      1. re: Mother of four

                                                                        I hate this too! My SO eats very slowly, while I eat more quickly (a bad habit that I am trying to adjust). I just hate it (and so does he) when the server picks up his plate first. It makes me look like a pig, and it makes him feel like he has to hurry.

                                                                        But I've never said anything about it. What I try to do is leave some food on my plate until the end of the meal so they won't even ask. And I try not to make eye contact so they don't ask if I'm finished.

                                                                    3. If you are talking about tap water, I'm sure a better restaurant would provide you with a nice carafe of water for the table if you asked. Problem solved.

                                                                      1. I can be a thirsty water drinker. In cases where I know that's going to be the case (a warm day where I've been out walking) I often tell the server at the beginning that I'm likely to be thirsty. I figure they can then keep an eye on me or else bring me a carafe. Not everyone likes that sort of service, so I wouldn't make it sound like "that's what a good server" necessarily does.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: DGresh

                                                                          Yep, I've asked for a carafe of water before!