Are you finished yet?

Cleanliness is next to godliness, especially in the restaurant business. But I think we've gone too far. I'm talking about the generally accepted practice of clearing away dishes while people are still eating.

Right after my #1 pet peeve — waiters and waitresses who interrupt my conversation to introduce themselves and make announcements about specials — comes this mostly American practice of premature dish removal. Many diners, especially younger ones, grew up in an environment that didn't include eating meals together as a family. As a result, dining etiquette is a bit foreign to many.

Removing dishes before everyone has finished the course is impolite. It makes the slower eaters feel uncomfortable. It subliminally hurries your guests, robbing you of potential dessert and coffee sales. Even worse is when a server interrupts a guest's conversation to ask whether they're finished. In short, it's bad business.

How can you remedy this?

Watch for the cues, and keep some ground rules in mind:

  • Never refuse a guest's request to remove a plate
  • Don't lecture or try to educate the guests à la Miss Manners
  • Keep an eye out for dishes pushed to the side or stacked up. This is often a sign that the guest would like the dishes removed.

Properly staging a meal is an art. It can turn an ordinary occasion into a special event. In a case like this, your guests may not even be able to say what actually makes dining at your restaurant seem different, special, or better. But I guarantee they will sense it, and it will be reflected in the average check and in the tips they leave.

Discuss this topic with your staff and have them practice this technique. You can use our customizable Trade Secrets training module on table clearing to help explain and reinforce this subtlety of service. Every time you fulfill a guest expectation, even a subtle one like this, you've differentiated yourself and greatly improved your chances of creating a raving fan.

See also:  
Timing is everything
Are you being served? 


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