Hands Off My Plate!

By Wini Moranville

In a recent article in The Washington Post, journalist Roberto A. Ferdman decried the rapidly growing practice of servers clearing plates the minute they perceive you’re finished–whether or not others at your table are still eating.

When did everyone forget that this is in bad form?

Positioning the fork and knife to make an "X" like this signifies that you have not finished your meal.
Positioning the fork and knife to make an “X” like this signifies that you have not finished your meal.

As Ferdman put it, clearing plates before everyone is finished “leaves the table with a mess of subtle but important signals. Those who are still eating are made to feel as though they are holding others up; those who are not are made to feel as though they have rushed the meal.”

On my Facebook page, when I asked Des Moines diners about this issue, the majority agreed that they find the practice annoying. Ask local servers why they do it, however, and they’ll say it’s because some diners are vocal about wanting their plates cleared the second they’re finished, even going so far as to stacking them and pushing them away.

Positioning the knife and fork across your plate like this signifies that you have finished your meal.
Positioning the knife and fork across your plate like this signifies that you have finished your meal.

Who are these people? And why do servers capitulate to the most ill-mannered among us? Just because a few miscreants push away finished plates does that mean we all want our plates cleared the second we put down our fork.

I have a solution: Bring back the old-school signals present in etiquette books of days gone by. If you don’t want your plate cleared, position the fork and knife in “X” fashion from the 6:00 position on the plate. If you do want your plate cleared, position your knife and fork parallel across the plate, from the 4:00 position (see photos).

Once upon a time, every server knew what this meant, and every diner understood that it was polite to keep his or her plate until everyone had finished. It’s time to educate a new generation.

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