Tuesday, June 28, 2011

to clear or not to clear

An interesting dilemma brought up by another of my lovely readers!

Now, in the ideal situation, the proper etiquette is for the server to wait until everyone at the table finishes eating before clearing plates; therefore not rushing the last person through their last few bites.

However, there can be a number of problems when it comes to this etiquette point: 1. a lot of guests are boorish and don't understand this concept therefore they shove their plates off to the side of the table or throw their cloth napkins on top of the plate (another topic for another day!) and 2. the majority of service staff in our fair city lack any formal service training and are set free to run willy-nilly with little or no direction from management/owners.

Even as a server of some formidable talent (pardon the ego) I sometimes struggle with the question of whether to clear or not.  In the appropriate setting (finer dining) I always impose this etiquette on tables who don't understand, but you can face wrath from people who want "this dirty plate out of my sight!".  In more casual restaurants eg. diners and pubs as a guest you must realize that it is more common to have the plates cleared as they are finished and this is acceptable at this level of dining.

Servers who lack training/direction seem to automatically lean toward appeasing the snarly guests (who are often the ones who don't understand the proper etiquette) rather than the polite ones (who would prefer to wait for the other guests before having their plates cleared).  This becomes a cyclical problem as these servers become floor managers and teach those new servers the same bad habits they have come to know as the right way to do things.

So I guess the answer is both:
- to the guest: please stop stacking your plates off to the side while your friends are still eating, but don't get upset when your chicken wing plate is cleared ahead of the others
- to the server: please learn the appropriate style for the appropriate venue (read your tables, this is what makes you good at your job)

As in all things, balance is key!


  1. Oh CHEW...Are you talking to me the self proclaimed self-buser?

    I was only refering to the times when the WHOLE table is done and the wait staff causally asks if you would like more drinks but does not relieve you of the reminders of your gluttony! I totally believe a table should be cleared as a whole no matter what.

    It's not only the right thing to do. It's a life lesson :)

    Me and my napkin wadding companion...Oops my napkin wadding companion and I just wish that someone would notice we both just closed our menus and take our order!!

    I hate it when I have to self order, too!

  2. Not at all directed at you! Though I always refrain from self-bussing, I decide instead to glare icily at the waitstaff! It's directed at those guests who shove plates to the side while their compadres are still eating.

    It sounds like you get a lot of bad service (not really surprising as I too have had some very shoddy service of late!) I wish you nothing but good service and may Stratford servers as a whole re-evaluate their style, or lack thereof.

  3. What I find most effective in addressing the poor etiquette of those who are waving their plates in my general direction, suggesting that I am somehow remiss in my duties by not clearing the offending platter immediately is: I tell the customer that it is customary to clear the plates when everyone is finished, and then I ask those not finished if they would mind if I cleared around them....this usually solves the clearing problem while enlightening the uneducated customer.

  4. Nice post and explanation. It is more of a fine dining expectation to have your plates cleared all at once ... when everyone is finished (I come from a long line of slow eaters). I think Anon 8:04pm strategy could work for all types of dinning experiences.

  5. Gotta say that I'm an old school snob and I've admonished servers for clearing plates when there's still someone eating. I'm also that person though that knows how to rest my utensils to show that I'm finished to send the message to the service staff. Reality is though, I'm sure that less than 10% of establishments run through these basic tenets with their service staff, so when it does come time for me to say something, I always present it as "an education moment"...as politely as possible of course... ;)