He claims that at true 5-star dining restaurants, they were trained to take plates as soon as a diner pushes his plate away, and he was commenting about slow service in some restaurants regarding this. I was trying to explain that here in the Philippines, as far as I know, that could be considered rude, and probably why the waitstaff was hesitant or slow at clearing his plate.
We Filipinos are very hospitable, and making our host / guests / dining companions uncomfortable is a big NO-NO. We don’t want our dining companions to feel like they are eating alone, we don’t want them to feel bad for being a slow eater. If you intentionally ask the waiter to clear your plate before I, and everyone else, is finished eating, I will find it highly insulting. It’s like you don’t even respect us enough to continue eating with us and can’t wait to leave. Is leaving your plate on your table for a few more minutes too much of a bother? What the H is your obsession with clearing your plate ASAP?
My experiences at restaurants have generally been good, but lately, there have been a few incidents when the waiters cleared my companion’s plate while I was obviously still eating. And it was often just two of us having a meal, too. It may have been unintentional, the waiter probably thought he was providing good service, but I felt so disrespected and hurt that I was near tears (not really, but I was really, really hurt!). J now knows that he should guard his plate with his life and to never let waiters take it before I’m done eating But why can’t he just relax knowing no one is going to try to take his plate away before I’m done eating?
And then just a few days ago, a new waitress suddenly cleared my plate before everyone was done. Everyone was still eating, and I wanted to get some more food, but couldn’t because my plate and utensils were gone. I didn’t make a fuss, understanding that she’s new and probably nervous about serving our foodie group, but I hope this post reaches her.
Anyway, I am taking this opportunity to talk about this topic.
PLEASE DO NOT CLEAR DINERS’ PLATES UNTIL EVERYONE IS FINISHED EATING
At a restaurant, waitstaff shouldn’t clear anyone’s plates until everyone at the table is finished eating (with a few exceptions).
How difficult is that to understand? When you’re at home eating with your family, do you stand up and take your plate to the sink immediately when you’re finished eating, but while everyone is still halfway through their meal? NO! Why not? Other than the fact that your elders would give you a sermon you’d never forget, it’s very discourteous to the rest of the people still eating.
Mealtimes are bonding moments. It is a time to catch up with family members and friends. By this very nature, it is not an eat-and-go kind of experience. You’re supposed to talk and catch up. At home, you take the time to compliment the cook/mom and appreciate the effort made to cook the meal. Even if you are a quick eater, you stay at the table and continue to talk while waiting for the others to finish. You NEVER start clearing plates until everyone is done.
So why is it now considered okay for waiters to clear diners’ plates when not everyone is finished with the meal? I absolutely hate this trend.
We wait until everyone is served before we start eating, we should wait until everyone is done before we start clearing plates.
I am a slow eater because I like to have conversations with my meals. I also appreciate every bite. If you take away my companion’s plate before I am finished eating, it is bad because:
- I am left eating alone, staring at my companion’s empty table. I feel pressured to eat quickly, become self-conscious and will not enjoy the rest of the food.
- My companion will feel uncomfortable with an empty space in front of him while I am still eating.
- The whole meal just went from great to Awkward!
- I will hate you / your restaurant.
- It does not look good when you see a partially-cleared table with some place settings cleared while some are not.
- It feels like the restaurant wants us to hurry and leave (and never come back!).
When I am finished eating, I usually put my utensils together in the 5 o’ clock position out of habit. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to take the plate away while someone else in our party is still eating.
And please, don’t swoop in immediately after I put my utensils in the “I’m done eating” position. That freaks me out. Wait a few seconds and let me relax and bask in the satisfaction of a good meal before asking if it’s okay to clear the plate. Or just wait until everyone is finished.
For diners, if someone in your party is still eating when the waiter asks you if it’s okay to clear your plate, please say “No, thank you” or “No, we’re still eating, but thanks”.
There are times when a waiter asks me if it’s okay to take the plate, and in my absent-mindedness, I automatically say yes without thinking, and the waiter takes my plate away so fast before I realize what I’d done. I then have to apologize profusely to everyone else at the table! I feel like I should order something else so that my space won’t be empty, or I feel like grabbing plates from the nearby tables, anything just to fill that hole that the overzealous waiter made on our table. Yes, that was my fault for being absent-minded, but restaurants should also let their staff know that it’s not okay to take plates away when everyone is not yet finished eating. Is the restaurant running out of plates or something?
When waiters are too eager to clear our plates, I don’t consider it good service – I consider it bad etiquette. When should waiters clear plates? Generally, they can clear plates:
- for several course meals – when we are all finished with the current course, and are now engaging in relaxed conversation
- when we ask to order dessert – this means we’re done with our main dish
- when we ask for the bill – this is the best signal that we are finished with the meal
- when we are obviously finished eating – utensils are placed together, the food is gone or almost gone, no one is still chewing, everyone is relaxed
- after we leave – this is my preference; there’s no need to clear the plates if it’s the last course and/or coffee & dessert; clearing them just makes us feel like we’re being kicked out and we did not pay ₱₱₱₱ just to be kicked out
- special circumstances – when the table is small and already overflowing with plates, you may clear empty plates, but ask the diners if it’s okay
- do not interrupt diners’ conversations just to ask if it’s okay to clear the plates
- DO NOT TAKE AWAY PLATES WITH FOOD STILL ON THEM WITHOUT ASKING (like shared appetizers, etc…) – here in the Philippines, most of us would want to graze on these until the end of the meal or have them packed for “take home”
I really don’t mind if waiters take their time clearing the plates, I’m more annoyed if they clear the plates too quickly. We are generally not in a hurry when eating at restaurants. Eating at restaurants is a luxury and we want to savor the experience. We don’t want to feel rushed, disrespected or kicked out. If a restaurant prefers their diners to eat quickly and leave, then advertise it as such so we’ll know what to expect should we decide to dine there. Some restaurants do tell patrons upfront that they have a 2-hour policy.
If we are in a hurry, we tell the waiter while we are still in the ordering stage (for example, that we only have 1 hour to spare before our movie starts) so he can help speed things along.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. A few that come to mind are Chinese lauriats, buffets and family-style servings. For Chinese lauriat-style, the waiters change your plates for your next courses. For buffets, you use new plates for each round. For family-style servings, the food is served on a big plate for sharing, while everyone gets individual plates. Once the big serving plate is empty, the waiter may clear it to make room for the next dish.
Thank you to all the waiters and restaurants who know to wait until everyone is finished eating before clearing plates. May there be more of you
I understand why some restaurants want to clear plates away immediately – this helps them clear the table quicker and readies the table for the next set of diners faster. But I really hope having happy, satisfied, non-rushed and non-angry customers is important, too!
UPDATE: I almost forgot to mention the superstition we Pinoys have about clearing plates – you never clear a table when a lady is still eating because she might end up unmarried!
I understand there is a cultural bias to my preference. If you have a different view, please feel free to explain below.
Have you had a similar experience? Please share in the comments below 🙂
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please feel free to leave a comment below, I love hearing from you!