Maybe because I bussed and waited on plenty of tables in my late teens and twenties, I’m a little picky about restaurant service. While I’ve never withheld a tip entirely, I expect servers to work for their tips by being polite, attentive, and helpful.
As a diner, I definitely have some restaurant pet peeves and found myself nodding along as I read a Washington Post article by Roberto A. Ferdman called “The Most Annoying Restaurant Trend Happening Today.” Ferdman talks about the now common practice of clearing entree plates before everyone at the table is finished:
Without my permission, restaurants have abandoned, or simply overlooked, a classic tenet of service etiquette (I’m talking about entrees, not the ubiquitous small plates, which demand a different etiquette). Rather than clear plates once everyone at the table has finished the meal, which has long been the custom, servers instead hover over diners, fingers twitching, until the very instant someone puts down a fork. Like vultures, they then promptly snatch up the silverware — along with everything else in front of the customer. If you’re lucky, they might ask permission before stealing your plate.
When a server clears a plate before everyone is finished, he or she leaves the table with a mess of subtle but important signals. Those who are still eating are made to feel as though they are holding others up; those who are not are made to feel as though they have rushed the meal. What was originally a group dining experience becomes a group exercise in guilt.
I couldn’t agree more. I’ve also had a server clear a plate I’m not finished with. If a fork is still in my hand and there’s food on my plate, do not come near me, thank you very much. (There are times when I’ve had to break down and ask for a plate to be cleared, simply because there is no room on the table. For some reason as plates have gotten bigger, tables have gotten smaller.)
I think the big reason for clearing entree plates before all parties are finished is partly financial. Servers are told to move people through their courses quickly to turn the tables around.
I’m also not a fan of servers who hover or who constantly come up to the table a million times to ask if “everything is all right” — sometimes before I can even get the first bite in my mouth. Well, if you can give me 10 seconds from the time you were just here putting the plate on the table, I’d love to tell you!
While great service isn’t always so easy to come by, just as I don’t blame a server for a poorly cooked dish, I don’t generally blame her for poor service, either. Restaurant service is its own skill set, and staff need to be trained. When I worked in restaurants, I was trained — sometimes very well, and other times very poorly (or not at all). I’m sure the same is true today.
I’m curious if you have any pet peeves when you’re dining out. Do you get annoyed when entree plates are cleared before everyone is finished?
P.S. — Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers!
Image: Viktor Hanacek at picjumbo