Manners Matter: Dining Out Etiquette

Dear Mary Pat,


I have a great deal of respect for the folks in the service industry who put in countless hours every season to provide visitors and locals with a great dining experience. My question is this: after paying the bill, is there a nice way to arrange what’s left on the table (cups, napkins, silverware, etc.) to make the bussers’ job easier?




Ellison Bay, Wis.


Dear Neatnik,


Serving and bussing is a tough job and I too have a great deal of respect for those waiting tables.

There are things you can do after the meal and during the meal to be helpful and polite. During the meal, pay attention to what is going on around you. Even when you’re engrossed in a conversation with those you are dining with, be aware that someone is trying to fill your water glass or that the server is trying to tell you what the specials are.

When you are done eating, take your fork and your knife and place them together on your plate. This is the universal signal that you are done eating. It is not polite to move your plate off to the side. It is also not polite for servers/bussers to remove your plate before everyone at the table is done eating, although it happens in a lot of restaurants. Your plates from dinner will be cleared around the time you are contemplating dessert, so there really shouldn’t be all that much to clear before you leave the table. If you don’t order dessert and your plates haven’t been cleared yet, you shouldn’t stack them. If you simply leave your utensils on your plate, that is best. You can also fold your napkin and leave it on the table. And of course the most important thing is to make sure that you’ve left an appropriate tip. I always recommend 20 percent but never lower than 15 percent if you’ve had good service. And if you’ve stayed at your table longer than most (an extra hour sipping coffee and chatting) that isn’t usually an issue if others aren’t waiting for the table, however, leave a little extra for the six times they came to your table for a refill on your coffee and water.


Good luck,

Mary Pat


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