Waiters Now Have Yet Another Gripe to Contend With

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Roberto Ferdman writes today about the “most annoying restaurant trend happening today.” But when I got around to reading it, I was a little surprised by how it ended:

Without my permission, restaurants have abandoned, or simply overlooked, a classic tenet of service 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.

….It’s possible that there’s an economic impetus behind it. “The price of land is going up, which pushes up the value of each table,” said [Tyler] Cowen. “That makes moving people along more important.”

….But maybe waiters are clearing individual plates because they believe that’s what customers want. I have heard as much from servers and restaurateurs.

No excuse, however, should suffice. Publicly, restaurants might argue that they are trying to avoid clutter; privately, they might encourage waiters to speed tables along; but what it amounts to is an uncomfortable dining experience.

Wait. What? “No excuse should suffice”? If Ferdman dislikes this trend, that’s fine. But if, in fact, most diners prefer having their places cleared when they’ve finished eating, that sure seems like a more than sufficient reason for this classic tenet of service etiquette to hit the bricks. It’s not as if it came down on a tablet from Mount Sinai, after all. Surely the most basic tenet of service etiquette is to make customers as comfortable and satisfied as possible. If, in the 21st century, it turns out that this requires waiters to remove place settings quickly, then that’s what they should do, even if a small minority dislikes it.

Now personally, I think the most annoying restaurant trend happening today is that all the restaurants I like have gone out of business. It’s eerie as hell. Almost literally, every restaurant that Marian and I used to eat at regularly has closed, to be replaced by some horrible trendy chain outlet. Our favorite Chinese place is gone. And our favorite Mexican place. Our favorite pizza place. Our favorite Italian place. Our second-favorite pizza place. And probably a few others I’ve forgotten about. There are basically only two of our favorites left, and they don’t seem like they’re about to go out of business, but who knows?

It’s my own fault, of course, for living in Irvine, where the Irvine Company owns all the land and basically prices out of business anything except profitable chain stores. It’s surely no coincidence that of the two restaurants still standing, one is outside Irvine and the other is about a hundred yards from the city limit. I made my bed, now I have to lie in it.

POSTSCRIPT: Back on the original topic, Ferdman’s piece has gotten me curious about something. I don’t go to a lot of high-end restaurants, but I do go to a few now and again. And unless my memory is playing tricks on me (always a possibility), it’s always been the custom to remove plates when diners are finished, not all at once when everyone is finished. Is this a Southern California thing? Is it a matter of how high-end the restaurant is? I eat at expensive places on occasion, but virtually never at the kind of truly pricey places where you have to wait a month for a reservation. Help me out here. Why is it that removing place settings individually strikes me as normal, not a crime against proper etiquette?

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