Author Topic: When should server begin clearing off the table?  (Read 9743 times)

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AuntyEm

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When should server begin clearing off the table?
« on: January 23, 2014, 08:00:21 AM »
This has been bothering me a lot lately and I don't know what the "rules of service" are about it.

When dining out, servers seem to feel it is necessary to whisk away dishes as soon as they appear to be empty.  Often times, this leaves DH sitting across from me with nothing but his water glass and a napkin while I am still in mid-meal.  Last night, they even brought the check while I was still eating (they did ask if we planned to have desert or coffee).  The restaurant was busy but not full at that time and we were on our way to another event right after so were not dawdling.

As soon as I took the last full bite of my side dish, it was whisked away while my fork was still on the way to my mouth.  Bread plates...gone even though there was still bread and butter on the table.

I was taught that the signal to that someone is finished is by placing the knife and fork in a certain direction--maybe also with the napkin placed to the left of the plate on the table.

I'm tired of fending off the hovering servers and would like to ask them not to remove anyone's plates until we are finished eating.  Am I being SS? How would others handle this?

Jones

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2014, 08:07:42 AM »
 :-[
What you describe is pretty much what I want my server to do when I eat out. Please don't let the tabletop be cluttered with empties... And don't make me ask for my check. A little weird to take a plate whole you 're still eating but if there are a lot of dishes on the table I can see it. I also thought bread left when apps come out. I've never done the pointing silverware thing.

You can put your hand palm down between the server and your dish (table?) and, with a smile, say you'd rather they come back in a bit, I suppose. That's what we do when a server wants to refill a drink but we don't want to fill up on soda.

m2kbug

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2014, 08:27:12 AM »
My experience is that usually ask or say something before swooping in.  That's pretty crazy that you were still eating!  Just do a flat palm over the plate or cup and say you're not ready yet or say they can take the other empties, just not this one.  Your husband could say he'd like to hold onto his plate.  If it's empty, then of course it's natural to pick it up but usually someone says, "May I take your plate" or something before jumping in a grabbing it.  As far as the check, I wouldn't really worry about that unless the server is now just ignoring you.  Again, they usually ask if you plan on getting dessert or something and make sure you're finished.  Don't make the check make you feel rushed or anything. 

123sandy

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2014, 08:32:59 AM »
I want my plate gone as son as I lay my cutlery down on it. I hate being left with dirty plates in front of me.

VorFemme

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2014, 08:41:05 AM »
I was a waitress at a Chinese restaurant and kept getting told that I needed to pick up the plates (by the owner) - thing is, that table had ordered an expensive special where the food was in covered dishes and they were served clean plates to fill with what they wanted from the covered dishes....and from what I'd seen, this was going to be a long, slow, romantic dinner...possibly followed by her finding a ring in a box in the dessert dish....but I digress.

I kept telling the owner that they weren't through yet....and then she'd see them serve each other two or three more bites....

They left just before closing and the tip was large for that area in 1979 ($20 & San Angelo, Texas) - so about the same as their bill for the dinner for two...and he made a comment to the owner about the great service on his way out when he paid.

Other tables - I kept an eye on them and picked up the plates as they finished the food in the platters & got the check out much faster (depended on if it was a business lunch or a romantic dinner). 

The problem seems to be that staff are no longer trained to leave a couple having a romantic dinner alone for a little while but to treat everyone as if their meal is a business meal or possibly they have to finish eating by X to get to the theater (or an appointment) on time.  The restaurants seem to depend on faster turnover now than they did thirty-odd years ago...

« Last Edit: January 23, 2014, 02:58:13 PM by VorFemme »
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siamesecat2965

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2014, 08:47:24 AM »
I liken this to shopping; where you are pounced on the nanosecond you walk into a store, asked if you need help, and sometimes, are followed around, in case you need something. Which I detest, and detest doing at MY retail job. I'm all for giving good service, and greeting, but in my eyes, its not necessary to jump on them before the door has even closed behind them!  Sadly, that's how TPTB want it.

metallicafan

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2014, 08:49:58 AM »
:-[
What you describe is pretty much what I want my server to do when I eat out. Please don't let the tabletop be cluttered with empties... And don't make me ask for my check. A little weird to take a plate whole you 're still eating but if there are a lot of dishes on the table I can see it. I also thought bread left when apps come out. I've never done the pointing silverware thing.

You can put your hand palm down between the server and your dish (table?) and, with a smile, say you'd rather they come back in a bit, I suppose. That's what we do when a server wants to refill a drink but we don't want to fill up on soda.


This is how I feel when I dine out too.   I prefer the empty dishes to be cleared rather quickly, and if the check comes quickly too, that's even better.  I hate having to sit there and wait and wait for the check.

betty

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2014, 08:50:19 AM »
I'm with the OP. If others are still eating, the server should ask before they touch a plate to take it away. (Major pet peeve: server touches my plate and starts to move it WHILE asking if I'm done. Well, I am now!)

Likewise, if someone is still eating, the server should only bring the check if the customer(s) request it. Or the server can ask if we are 'ready for the check'.

As soon as everyone is done eating, plates can be cleared and the checked can be dropped.

kategillian

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2014, 08:52:35 AM »
Oh, how I wish everyone knew about silverware placement, and how it indicates where you are in your meal! The proper thing to do is to wait until EVERYONE at the table is finished eating and then remove all of the plates. This is so that one person who is a slow eater doesn't feel rushed.
I know this is proper, but, honestly, when I'm done eating, I do want the dish taken away immediately. But I don't mind when they do it the proper way.

dawbs

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #9 on: January 23, 2014, 09:17:02 AM »

For servers, it's a catch 22.  Many people dislike having dirty dishes and a cluttered table.  Just as many people dislike having dishes whisked away.  ( and really, you can't leave your knife and fork across the plate for the side dish if you need them to eat from another dish)

Many people prefer servers ask and converse with them before taking the dishes.  Just as many people want service to be as unobtrusive as possible and to interrupt their dining/conversation as little as possible.

Check to early is in bad form, but people get at least as annoyed by waiting for the check.



TootsNYC

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #10 on: January 23, 2014, 09:22:33 AM »
:-[
What you describe is pretty much what I want my server to do when I eat out. Please don't let the tabletop be cluttered with empties... And don't make me ask for my check. A little weird to take a plate whole you 're still eating but if there are a lot of dishes on the table I can see it. I also thought bread left when apps come out. I've never done the pointing silverware thing.

You can put your hand palm down between the server and your dish (table?) and, with a smile, say you'd rather they come back in a bit, I suppose. That's what we do when a server wants to refill a drink but we don't want to fill up on soda.


This is how I feel when I dine out too.   I prefer the empty dishes to be cleared rather quickly, and if the check comes quickly too, that's even better.  I hate having to sit there and wait and wait for the check.

"rather quickly" is one thing; having your plate removed even as you are still taking your last bite is another.

For the OP, I think I'd suggest saying something beforehand, like, "We'd like for you not to clear our table quite as fast as some people seem to--please check with us to make sure we're completely finished."  This is a business proposition, and you are completely entitled to state the things that you want your tip to "buy" for you.


I think a lot of people would not want empty plates sitting around, so clearing them away so that the diner doesn't risk accidentally putting his elbow in his plate is probably the norm.

But I also agree with the folks who say the server should ask before he takes plates away. In fact, for the duration of the meal, the table is the customer's "territory," and I don't think a server should fiddle with anything unless he asks. I think you can be unobtrusive and still ask for permission.

Hmmmmm

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #11 on: January 23, 2014, 09:28:26 AM »
The actual rule is that no plates should be cleared till all diners have finished.

Taking away one person's plate gives the illusion of one person gobbling their meal, one person eating too slow, or one person eating too much. Also, it gives the person who is still eating the impression they need to hurry up.

At home, in most circumstances a hostess wouldn't remove one diner's plate while others were still eating.

I will admit that when the kids were little and they took a really long time to eat I would occasionally ask the server to remove my plate as I was either tired of seeing a messy plate or was afraid I'd continue to pick at food since it was still in front of me.

I've noticed many servers will know approach a table and ask if we'd like anything cleared. So if one diner is finished they can ask for their plate to be removed. I really can't remember the last time a server took anything off our table without first asking.

And for those waiting for the check, all you need to do is ask when they remove the plates. Bringing the check implies they are ready for you to vacate the table and it makes many servers feel rushed. If you dine in other places than North America, the check will never be brought until you indicate you are ready for it.


Outdoor Girl

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #12 on: January 23, 2014, 10:05:53 AM »
I know it isn't proper etiquette to remove any plates before all of them can be removed but I prefer to have mine gone, particularly if there is still food on it to pick at.  I quit eating because I was full but if the plate stays there, I'm liable to pick at and finish it off.

If I actively move my finished plate to the edge of the table, I don't mind if the server just casually picks it up on the way by.  It is obvious I'm done with it.  If the plate is still in front of me but it looks like I've finished, I appreciate a 'May I get that out of your way?' from the server.  If my fork is still in my hand, even if my plate is empty and the server whisks my plate away?  S/he's not getting much of a tip.  That's just rude.

For the cheque, I appreciate not having to ask for it.  I'm never the last one eating so it never comes out when I'm still eating, though.  If the server has asked if anyone would like dessert or coffee and everyone has declined, I don't have a problem with the cheque showing up, provided it isn't put at the elbow of the person still eating, if there is one.

Like VorFemme said, a good server will judge the table and know whether or not to hover, provide normal service or be as hands off as possible.
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Dindrane

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #13 on: January 23, 2014, 10:54:10 AM »
What kind of restaurants has this happened to you in?

I wouldn't expect particular attention to detail in your average mid-price chain restaurant. Efficient service in places like that sometimes means the server coming by to drop off food, take plates, refill drinks, or drop the check off at seemingly random times as they are able. When restaurants like that are busy, you might only see your server 3 or 4 times the whole meal, since they are often waiting on a number of tables at once, so having them be a little more proactive in clearing plates or dropping off the check can often mean less time sitting around trying to catch the server's eye to get the check.

In a restaurant that is closer to fine dining, I would expect that plates get cleared more as a group and that the check not be offered until everyone is done. But that's the kind of experience and atmosphere you pay for in restaurants like that. They cost more in part because they often have more servers working at any given time so that they can give more attentive service (even if attentive service sometimes means paying enough attention to leave you alone for a little while when it's clear you don't need or want anything).

As a general thing, I don't think servers in any type of restaurant should clear a plate without at least saying something to the effect of "Can I get this out of your way?" or "Let me get these out of your way." I also don't think they should be so proactive in clearing dishes that they take it as you finish your last bite. I've had that happen to me, and it's annoying.

I don't think that them bringing by the check while some are still eating (after making sure you don't intend to order anything else) is unreasonable, though, at least for your average mid-priced restaurant. Most servers mention specifically that there is no rush to pay it when they do that to me, and I take them at their word. I'm happy to linger at a table for a bit even after paying, especially if we dealt with paying while I was finishing my meal. It just means, for me, that I get to immediately get up and go as soon as I've decided I'm ready to leave, rather than having to wait impatiently for the check.

I also agree with Toots that it's completely fine to ask the server at the beginning of the meal to clear your table more slowly, since that is your preference.


English1

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Re: When should server begin clearing off the table?
« Reply #14 on: January 23, 2014, 11:17:13 AM »
I'd find that terribly rude of them.

But I've only heard of it happening in the USA.

In the UK, they'll wait till everyone is finished and then ask if they can clear the table. Also they don't bring the bill until you ask for it.