So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Question from a regular reader

Mark – “Quick question for you about waiting tables. Don’t know if it’s worthy of a blog post, but this came up the other day when I was out with my family. Do waiters tend to like it or dislike it when guests pre-bus (e.g. stack up their finished plates, etc.) when they’re done with various dishes? We weren’t sure, so I told everyone I knew an expert :-)”.

Well Mark, thanks for the sobriquet. I’m not sure what the smiley face was for though <g>.

It’s probably better if you don’t stack plates. I’m a bit agnostic on it myself, but from a pure dining standard, it would be a no-no. Of course, many things that are now accepted would be a no-no from a pure dining standard. I think that dining would be the stuffy affair that it was in Victorian times if we didn’t relax a bit.

The plus side is that it seems to be helpful, and most of us have the instinct to help.

The problem is the word “seems”.

One of the practical problems is that silverware is usually perched on each plate. Unless the waiter places the silverware on the plate, there’s often a problem of droppage of said silverware when you stack plates on top of each other. In fact, many waiters are trained not to stack plates themselves as they carry them, partially for this very reason. Somehow I avoided this training and I’ve never learned how NOT to stack used plates and it’s a hard habit to break after years of doing it one way. I’m always envious of some of my fellow workers who have 8 plates butterflied in one hand and halfway up an arm. I keep promising myself that I’ll get a lesson from the better practitioners but I suppose that pride as gotten the better of me.

Another consideration is the problem of getting a stack of plates up off the table in the first place. With the various liquids and crumbs remaining on the plate, it’s easier to leave some of those substances with you, the diner, as the stack is removed as the waiter not only can’t see what’s on each plate, but also has to lift a heavy stack of plates from an angle while leaning over the table. That would be fine as most diners appreciate more food, not less, but the object was to get said substances to dishland. While it might seem more cumbersome, a safer method is to let the waiter take each plate individually. If the waiter can reach it, you should let the waiter pick it up (please Ms. Waiter, ask if you can remove the plate first – it’s the polite and correct thing to do). If the waiter can’t reach the position, feel free to hand it to him or her, but it’s best to wait until the waiter indicates that they are ready for it. There have been a couple of times when I’ve made an impatient person wait an extra couple of beats with plate suspended in the air because they were trying to hand something to me before I was physically ready to take it.

Finally, your job as a diner is to enjoy yourself, not work. My job as a waiter is to not enjoy myself and work (just kidding about the first part, at least most of the time). You will never be in the wrong by not stacking plates. There might be some waiters who appreciate it, but no professional waiter will ever think, “Geez, why don’t those lazy diners stack their plates for me”? On the flip side, the way you stack plates could cause a problem, especially if you include the silverware. If you absolutely must stack plates, please remove the silverware first and let the waiter take them separately.

So, after all that verbiage, I vote no stacking.

And now my brain hurts. (just kidding – it was a good question).

Here’s an external link or two.

Note number 3 at the first link:

Here’s a whole Yelp thread on the subject. The OP brings up a point that I hadn’t considered – stacking plates could be seen as a commentary on the waiter in certain joints, i.e. that he or she isn’t doing his job properly when in fact, they have simply waited for everyone to finish, as is the normal practice.

There are some interesting comments in Michael Bauer’s blog. He’s a pretty waiter-friendly SF food critic (not that he’s pretty – I wouldn’t know about that). He asks a simple question of the waiting world about pet peeves. He gets a couple of words on the subject from a couple of waiters as you might imagine:

Stack this, babee!


4 responses to “Question from a regular reader

  1. tipsfortips July 4, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    It drives me batty. I can think of very few things guests do that offend me more. I know they are usually well intentioned, but it makes me angry. Three reasons why.

    1) It gives the appearance that you are being ignored/neglected to my managers, co-workers and other guests. This means that I immediately have to drop everything I am doing to come grab them immediately.
    2) That is my job. I appreciate the thought, but I don’t want the guests worrying about. It is no different than getting up to get a pitcher or grabbing their food out of the window.
    3) The difference between stacking on a table and stacking for transit is huge. I know how to stack to carry and even if it is uneven, I know the stack and can compensate for it. This is the difference between passing a turn in Jenga and having to pick up the tower and take it to another room.

    All in all some servers might not care, but at the risk of having a server who sees it my way, it is better to not stack.

  2. Marta Daniels July 5, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Can’t stand this either. I know that most customers who do this are just trying to help, but it makes my life a lot more difficult. As tipsfortips says, we know how to stack them for easier transport. And each server is different, so a stack that may be perfectly balanced for me is not perfectly balanced to the next server. Another thing I can’t stand? People that keep handing me stupid little stuff after I’ve got a 15 plate/saucer/bowl stack in my arms. Dude, I promise I’ll be back for that fork and empty Equal wrapper, so just chill! Lol!

  3. kingsfan75 July 10, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I could not agree more, This pet peeve is up there with the “pointers” (people who feel the need to point to the water glass I have just asked if I could refill) Please do not ever stack your own plates, It is my job and it does make it look like we are not doing it to our managers. I have even taken the time to unstack plates infront of some people who have done a perticularly bad job of stacking.

  4. Mark July 21, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Thanks for the reply! I’ve forwarded a link to this to everyone involved in the original conversation, and they all basically replied “Ahhhh…”

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