The Cardinal Sin of Serving

Dear servers of the world, at restaurants fine and humble,

I eat slowly.

Everything I read about health and nutrition tells me this is a good thing, digestion is important, meals should be savoured, we should only eat until we are 80 per cent full, et cetera, et cetera.
Aside: I’m not too sure whether the eating slowly is related to my superior chewing so much as my loquacious tongue, but nonetheless...
The problem arises when my companions do not mirror my consumption speed. In fact, they never do. I am inevitably the last one eating. The comforting clinking and clanging subsides until only I am making any racket.

It makes me self-conscious, particularly at dinner parties. But such is life: I deal with it, take it in stride. So be it.

Ah, my friends, but restaurants are another story.

If my companions complete their meal, there are other staggered diners still eating all around me. Oh bliss! I can make as much noise as I wish. The meal is destined to be a serene and pleasant experience…


the server commits The Cardinal Sin of Serving and clears my companions' plates.

Oh good, thank you for drawing attention to my isolation. Thank you for making me feel rushed.

Quite honestly, I don’t know what traditional etiquette dictates, but I will appeal to the advice of my clever boss who just happens to be a corporate etiquette and protocol trainer certified by the Protocol School of Washington®. She says the purpose of etiquette is to make people feel comfortable. It’s that simple.

Thus, clearing the plates of everyone at the table except one person is poor etiquette. It makes me uncomfortable and self conscious. Just as we wait for everyone to be served before we start eating, shouldn’t we wait for everyone to finish before we start clearing?

Plus, you’re just going to have to make another trip in a few minutes anyway.

So, collective servers of the world, if you are reading this (which you naturally all are), please wait until I have finished eating before clearing my companions' plates.

Jess Bennett

P.S. For a list of other serving sins, please consult this list of 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do, compiled by aspiring Hamptons restaurateur, Bruce Busche. My grievance is listed as number 17. Part two of his list is here.


  1. Great post Jess!

    While I'm not the slowest of eaters, I've experienced this from time to time and I must say it's definitely a pet peeve! One exception though would be if there's a lot of communal plates on the table taking up too much space.

    PS. I had to google "loquacious". Learned a new word today :)

    - Sean

  2. Hi Sean,

    Thanks for the comment! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who feels this way. I definitely agree about the communal serving plates though.

    Glad to further your verbal education, ha ha.

  3. Hi Jess,

    Yes, you are indeed correct. It is in poor taste to clear plates until all of the guests have finished eating. My mother-in-law brought this up at a recent Thanksgiving gathering. Of course, there were 30 of us seated around a ping pong table (it was the only surface large enough to accommodate our group) but the rules of etiquette applied none-the-less.

    If you're interested in both food and etiquette and what happens when they intersect, I recommend a book called The Mere Mortal's Guide to Fine Dining by Colleen Rush. Not just a guide to the knife and fork, it also includes such things as the difference between local, sustainable and organic; and movements in food history.

  4. Louise, thank you so much for affirming my speculation. Your book recommendation is much appreciated too, although I wish there were some way to tactfully distribute it to all restaurant management and service staff!

  5. Hi Jess,

    That was a good post. Like you I'm quite a slow eater. Mostly because I feel like dining should be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Unless I'm extremely hungry I don't see why I should wolf food down. Though, I have to say it doesn't really bother me if the server clears the table before I'm done or not. I'm a pretty easy going guy. Not too much gets to me. I can understand how you feel though. Hopefully it won't happen to you too often in the future.

    Later - Jeff

  6. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for your comment. I'm glad to see there are other slow eaters like me.

    This whole business didn't used to be as much of a pet peeve as it now is. Once I noticed it, it has become more of an issue.

    That said, it happens basically everywhere I go, in fine restaurants as well as dingy ones. I wish I'd notice it less :)