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                 Restaurant Report E-mail Newsletter

         For Hospitality Professionals and Food Connoisseurs

                     Issue #128  December 10, 2000


In This Issue

*   Question of the Week
*   Reader Feedback - Clearing Plates
*   Bulletin Board

    (This publication may be freely redistributed in its entirety)
               (Back issues are archived on the website)

          Newsletter below to learn more


                         QUESTION OF THE WEEK

What is the recommended way to sell a restaurant?  Realtor?  Internet
ad?  Ads in local newspapers?  What is most effective for a small

Send comments/feedback to



Original Question: Should our servers clear plates before each guest
has finished their course, or should we wait until everyone at the
table is finished?

Editor's Note: Wow did we get a lot of response to this topic!  Thank
you to everyone who took the time to write in. We've reprinted a
selection of the posts below.  In addition, we will make plans to post
all of the letters received on the Restaurant Report website in the
near future.

**Next Post

Servers are there to enhance the guest's experience, not intrude on
it. Common courtesy suggests that a server should wait until they have
the guest's permission before taking anything from them, particularly
something as personal as their dinner plate. (Just be sure not to grab
for the plate while you are asking the question -- eagerness and lack
of sensitivity will cost you points.)

It is also uncomfortable for "slow eaters" to be the only ones at the
table with a plate in front of them. My suggestion is to clear the
table as soon as everyone has finished or when a guest indicates they
would like a plate removed by moving it to the side of the table. As
the last diner finishes, pause a few beats and then quickly clear the
table. The pause is important to prevent your guests from feeling

Bill Marvin -
The Restaurant Doctor

**Next Post

WHEN TO CLEAR? There isn't just one solution to the problem. Here are
the alternatives:

Proper table etiquette says - Do not clear plates until everyone is
finished.  But...

If a patron insists by signal that he or she wants their plate removed
then it's OK to remove it.

The signal will be: Flatware placed in the center of the plate
touching each other, or inverted or crisscrossed, depending on which
country the guest came from.

But, the acid test is:  Is the next course ready to be served?  In
real life, the Waiter (m/f) can use clearing to the advantage of the

If one person has just one morsel left in their plate it gives the
Waiter (m/f) the chance to hold up clearing until the next course is
ready. If there is too much waiting time between courses it looks as
though service is poor.  The most professional Waiters (m/f) will wait
until they know the next course is ready before clearing the previous

Here is another very courteous and logical thing to do.  Waiter
approaches the table and speaks to the guest who is still eating, "
Pardon me Mame, would you mind if I clear the salads of those guests
who have finished?  Guest: " Not at all, It will take me a year and a
day because I pick and nibble, as a matter of fact why don't you just
go ahead and bring the next course and not hold everybody up because
of me."  This is exactly what a Waiter did at my table at a Restaurant
Associates operation in New York and we all thought it was very
tactfully done and to everyone's benefit.

Ian Maksik, "Professor of Service" e-mail: ian 

**Next Post

I believe the question is: Are my guests comfortable?  My experience
tells me that when the signs are there remove the plates, even if
everyone is eating.  If the utensils are set to the right indicating
the guest has finished, plainly ask if he/she would like the plates to
be removed.  If they say no, then just wait until everyone finishes.
If he/she says yes, then proceed and remove plates as everyone

Hope this helps.


Mel Fabregas, Proprietor
Mi Tierra Restaurant & Gift shop
Tucson, AZ

**Next Post

Thank you for a great question regarding the clearing of plates. In my
opinion, I always like to give the guests as much elbow room after
they have eaten as possible. In clearing the area, it sets them into
the next phase. However, this has to be done graciously and with as
little attention on the subject as possible. Interrupting guest
conversation to clear is a no-no. Making noise while you are doing
it, is a no-no. Asking everyone while you are there if you can pick
-up plates if they are finished is a no-no. We know by removing a
plate from someone who is finished, can indirectly pressure the still
eating guest in a uncomfortable way. Eating out should be a pleasure.

So what do we do? Exceptional service would require that you read the
table. You will know how to approach and when, if at all. Trying to
formalize the process will make it a problem. Leaving it to a
judgement call will contribute to great service and of course add to
the comeback experience that all restaurateurs crave. We must continue
to make eating out at full dining establishments a personal experience
between the restaurant and the visitor. A guest knows when he or she
is being attended to and waited on. If that relationship exists, then
the guests will make known his or her preference. Having good floor
coverage and being available, in the end, solves all your problems. It
is not about perfection as much as it is about problem/solution and
interaction. Since there are so many dynamics taking place at
different establishments, I leave it to the reader to be the best
judge on the subject.


**Next Post

Holiday Greetings to all! In regards to table clearing...I use a VERY
simple but very effective method. I clear plates, glasses, etc...,as
customers finish using them and that includes dinner plates. I know
that goes against one of the set-in-stone rules of table service
but...Tough. My customers like having elbow space.

All sarcasm aside...I clear as the customer finishes because I LIKE
having table space when I dine out. And, to me, there is nothing more
unappealing than having the remains of my dinner sitting in front of
me. It comes down to The Golden Rule once again.

But there are a few things to make you and your staff aware of. Guests
don't all finish their meals at the same time. So...When clearing
plates and so forth, I always explain why I'm clearing to those
customers who are slow diners. The last thing one wants is to give the
impression you're trying to rush the table. The funny thing is that
slow diners are usually the ones who appreciate this the most because
they can relax, chat with their friends and enjoy their meal. I do
offer coffee to those who have finished but I do not take dessert or
after dinner drink orders until EVERYONE at the table is finished. An
attempted dessert order is always deflected by suggesting a wait until
everyone is through with dinner and pointing out the dessert list and

And you will have customers who want to wait until everyone is through
with their meals. The answer on this one is easy...You do it.

I hope this helps you in your dilemma. Peace.
Joel Folliard -- JDFNH@AOL.COM

**Next Post

Working in our city's primer country club, the servers agreed that it
would be best to take the plates.  Nothing is more uncomfortable than
to have dishes remaining in front of you as you try to enjoy your
company.  Most people sit back when they are finished with their dish
making it is very easy to slip the dish away without interrupting
conversation.  With many of our members or regulars, our maitre d'
would have these conversations around their preferences.  The members
really seemed to appreciate our personal touches that we added to
entertaining.  After removing the dish we would make sure that there
was a clean, butter plate still remaining.  

Hope that helps.
-JP, Tennessee

**Next Post

As far as I am concerned there is no black and white rule. This is
because not every diner is the same. Some get the process and
some don't.

At my restaurant the procedure is to wait until the last person is
finished. However here is where you have to train the servers to
make that audible call and make a decision on what would be the best
customer experience for that table. Sometimes when a person finishes
they push their plate away or to the side and want it off the table no
matter what state their dining guest may be at. Also at larger tables
everyone can be finished eating and the last person is so slow that
there is a 10-15 minute gap. In both these cases you have to get the
plates off the table.

So in summary the server needs to know what type of diners he has at
his table, how long it is going to be for that last person to finish,
and what would make the best experience for those diners. That is why
in fine dining employees need to do more thinking and know when to
break the rules.

Darren Gurr

**Next Post

In my opinion, and I have dealt with that side of the service for long
time, clearing the tables is all related to the party that the server
is waiting on.

The rule is to wait until the end, however there are exceptions that
should be treated differently.  If the party is a large banquet, and
is an "official dinner", which means a dinner where all of the
customers act as they are supposed to, the tables gets cleaned only
after all of the guests have finished (starting from the women that is
the most "important, and then going till the last male guest).

If the setting is not formal, it depends on how good is your staff and
how well trained they are in reading people attitudes and needs. In my
restaurant I take time and pride in training my waitstaff on the basic
concept that "whatever makes guests comfortable should be the policy
applied for that particular party."  Sometimes you can lose a customer
being too formal if the customer does not know the rules.

La Dolce Vita in Visalia California -

**Next Post

Written rule, or no written rule, the answer is as complicated and
diverse as the customers sitting at the table.  Can even two guests
agree on this?  I`m still eating and your plate is cleared.  How do I
feel?  How do you feel?  You say that's good because you don't want a
dirty plate in front of you.  I say bad because it now looks as if I`m
porking out as you watch.

You will have to make the absolute call, if you want an absolute.
Alternative, have wait people ask and throw the ball in their court
and let the guests fight it out.

Yours in food,

**Next Post

I have been in many restaurants over the years. The ones I have been
most impressed with are the ones that clear your plate as soon as you
are done.

Being an upscale establishment means you will provide a level of
service far greater than the other establishments around you. This is
what will set you apart from the rest. Speaking from my point of
view, I would rather spend 30.00 for a meal and have someone "fuss
over me" than spend 20.00 and just have another meal.

I have many friends that have commented on restaurants that have
replaced bread dishes and butter knives as they were used. The
comments were all extremely positive. Granted that level of service is
expensive but makes the overall dining experience well worth it.

It seems simple to me, do you want to be an Upscale restaurant of just

John Lallo

**Next Post

I personally believe you should wait until everyone at the table is
done eating.  Most of the places I have worked, which are private
country clubs abide by that rule.  Of course there are always
exceptions to every rule.  For example, if  a guest pushes their plate
to the side of the table.  Then I would remove it.  I think removing
plates as people are done eating pushes the other guests to finish
before they are completely ready.

Jill Ausiello

**Next Post

In my experience, I believe that diners who have finished a course or
meal prefer to have a clear table space in front of them regardless of
whether those around them are still eating.  The simplest, least
intrusive method I have seen or used is, "May I take your plate?"
This elicits either a "Yes," or a "No," and the server can respond
appropriately.  This should not be a source of confusion.

I would think that most servers would be more confused when it comes
to asking a patron if everything is OK.  Most of the servers I have
been exposed to must have used all the same correspondence course:
"Wait until the person has a mouthful of food before you ask, that way
they can't possibly answer!"

Good luck,
D'Oily Boid Cafe Catering
Upland, CA

**Next Post

The proper way is to wait until everybody is finished before you clear
the table.

Philippe DARTOIS
Maitre D'Hotel & Sommelier
Hospitality teacher.

Send newsletter feedback and comments to us at


                          BULLETIN BOARD

**Next Post - Re: Interview Questions

My General Manager wants me to come up with 10 personal and 10
physical questions. Does anybody have any suggestions of what I can
ask and where I could find some good interview questions?  I'm a young
and starting out manager.


**Next Post - Re: Theme Restaurants

I am a first year culinary student at New Hampshire College School of
Culinary arts. I need to do some research on the question "Why have
the popularity of theme restaurants declined since 1996". I need to be
able to back this up with research data, revenue analysis etc... Can
you point me to resources that I might tap in order to obtain this

Thank You very much
Lisa Hahn -

**Next Post - Re: Cleaning Ideas

I am stumped perhaps you can help?  My daughter works as a cook in
training and has to carry the big aluminum trays.  We have not found
the "magic" solution to getting the stains these leave out of the
white coats she wears, any ideas?  I've used Shout, aerosol and pump,
3-M, Tide, dishwasher detergent, bleach, baby shampoo, etc.  The food
stains we can get out, any help would be appreciated.

Mary -

**Next Post - Re: Wastage & Theft

There is always an element of wastage or theft from staff in
restaurants.Is there a fixed percentage of such losses in bars and


Note @ the Bulletin Board: If you can lend advice/assistance/comments
etc. please respond to the individual directly and cc: us here at  We'll summarize and post
responses we receive that would benefit the group.


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Copyright 2000 Restaurant Report

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