If you’re of a certain age you may remember fine dining with white linen table cloths, numerous utensils on the table and trying to figure out which fork to use when – always start from the outside and work your way in – and the waitstaff always seemed to know exactly when you were finished and how to properly pace the service.

This is actually a somewhat informal setting

This is actually a somewhat informal setting

But today – today our fast-paced society is all about hurry, hurry, ding, ding and with the popularity of restaurants such as Olive Garden, Chilie’s, Red Robin and Applebee’s, where there are crayons on the table instead of linen, it’s not hard to understand why fine dining service has, for the most part, become a lost art.

That’s not to say though that there aren’t fine dining establishments out there – there are, but the service in your average every day restaurant (and Bed & Breakfast Inn) is not up to par because the waitstaff isn’t being trained, because the management isn’t being trained, because the franchise owner isn’t being trained… and on it goes.

Picture in your head the last time you went out to dinner.  Got it?  Okay.  Did the waitstaff wait until everyone at your table was finished eating before they began to clear plates?  If the answer is no, that’s not good.  What’s the big deal you say?  Well, look at it from the perspective of the person who is still eating.  Nothing like making that last person feel awkward!  Has that happened to you, have you been the last person at the table eating while all other plates have been cleared?

Of course there are exceptions to every rule and even Abi with his 20+ years of fine dining service will bend the rule from time to time.  When we have a full house, we serve up to 10 – 12 guests.  Whenever possible we seat guests at one large community table so they can easily chit-chat over breakfast.

Happy guests!

Happy guests!

Now normally, Abi will not clear until the entire table has finished first course.  But, on occasion, we will have a guest that is oblivious not tuned in to others at the table and will sit and make love to a cluster of grapes beyond a reasonable amount of time.  When that happens Abi will clear all others except for the slow poke and his/her spouse/partner.  We never leave just one person with a plate in front of them.

With all of that being said, customers/guests can play an equal part of the equation when it comes to less than stellar service.  In the Court of Table Etiquette, I give you exhibit A:

Which one indicates the person is finished?

Which one indicates the person is finished?

If the waitstaff approaches a table to clear and sees these two plates, which one indicates the person is finished?  Certainly, not the one on the left.  It can be noted that these are real scenarios from our dining room.  Ahem.

And now, Exhibit B:

Is this person finished eating?

Is this person finished eating?

Put yourself in the waitstaff’s position.  Would you see this plate and think the person is finished?  What’s funny (not) is that often you’ll see this either in our dining room or in a restaurant and the person asks for his/her plate to be cleared.  I see this all of the time in restaurants.

If it please the court, Exhibit C:

Does this indicate the person is finished eating?

Is this person finished eating?

Yep, this person is finished eating.  The position of the utensils is the generally accepted signal, “Yes, I’m finished you can clear my plate.”

And last but not least, Exhibit D:

Don't do this, please!

Never a good idea!

I see this a lot, in restaurants, and sadly, in our dining room.  The second the customer/guest is finished eating he/she pushes his/her plate out of the place setting.  And notice the placement of the utensils as well.  No matter the situation, this is just never a good idea.  Seriously.  Yuck!

If you’ve ever worked in the food/hospitality industry where you’ve served people in some capacity you know of what I speak. These little table tips can make all the difference for a pleasant dining experience, white linen or not.

And now that I’ve shared these little pearls of wisdom, in the Court of Table Etiquette, how do you plead?!

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