how to politely deal with food spills and item drops

Food Spills 6 Rules: How To Deal With Spills & Drops Best​

Who is this micro-class for

* Waiters, bartenders, and hospitality staff

* Restaurant, bar, and cafe guests

* House-party hosts and guests

What you’ll learn

* How to deal with food or drinks spills


* Less than 8 minutes to complete

About this micro-class

Food spills etiquette is the set of rules for appropriately dealing with food or beverage spills in any public venue, such as restaurants, offices, or public transportation.

1. Do not overreact and manage the spill

Stay calm

Small incidents happen. When they do, it is best to keep your calm while you contain the incident.

Contain the spill

First, contain the spill. If you drop a bottle or a bowl, put them back in a safe spot. If you knock a glass down, put it back up. If a liquid is dripping from the table, try to contain it with your napkin.

Clean after yourself

If the food or beverage spill is minimal, clean it by yourself. If the spill is significant, ask your host or the staff for help. In any case, do not ignore the spill.

Offer to cover the expenses

It is considerate to offer to cover the expenses for any damage you might have caused.

For instance, if you drop and break a serving platter, offer to pay for a replacement. If you spill food or beverage on someone, offer to pay for professional cleaning of any soiled clothing.

However, when the damage is minimal, an apology is enough.

2. Be prepared to deal with the most common types of spill

Food and beverage spills

When you spill a small amount of food or beverage, you can pick it up with your napkin. Then, it is appropriate to ask for a new napkin. Do not put the food back on your plate or the table.

If you drop a large amount of food or beverage, contain the spill first. Then, ask your host or the staff for help.

When you spill food or a beverage on another person, contain the spill first. Do not touch the person without permission. Offer to help clean any soiled clothes, or to pay for professional cleaning.

Dropping a dish, glass, or serving dish

When you drop a dish or a serving dish, ask your host or the staff for help. If the dish is intact, it is good etiquette to pick it up. Pick up the largest chunks of food and place them on the dish. Then, wait for help. If the dish is broken, do not touch it and wait for help.

Do the same if you knock a glass or a bottle down.

Dropping a utensil, serving utensil, or napkin

When you drop a utensil, serving utensil, or napkin, you should pick it up. Then, ask the host or the staff for a replacement. Hand them the dropped item. Never put the item back on your dish or on the table.

If you cannot reach the dropped item, do not pick it up. Avoid crawling under the table, as it may annoy the other guests. Instead, ask for a replacement and wait for the end of the meal to recover it.

3. Help others if they spill food or drop an item

When a guest sitting near you drops anything, it is polite to offer help to contain a food or beverage spill.

What to do when someone spills food or beverage on you

If someone spills food or beverage on you, stay calm and act as it is not a big deal. Reassure the person and limit their embarrassment.

You may or may not accept their help to clean. However, if the person offers to pay for professional cleaning, it is polite to refuse.

4. How to deal with food spills or item drops as a host

When a guest spills food or drops a tableware item, first pick up any dropped item. If the item broke, collect any sharp fragment. Then, mop up the spilled food or beverage and clean any stain. 

Offer to replace any dropped item. If the guest uses a napkin to blot the spill, provide them with a replacement.

Never ask the guest to clean up. Instead, do it yourself before being asked to. If the guest offers to help, accept if you think it can be a relief from their embarrassment. If the guest offers to pay for professional cleaning or to refund the damage, it is polite to refuse.

5. How to deal with food spills in public places

Public dining venues or accommodation

When you spill food or drop an item in a public venue where staff is available, such as a hotel, ask the staff for help. However, you should still help contain the spill.

 If the staff is not available, contain the spill first and then notify the staff or the owner.

Workplaces, public buildings, transportation, and open spaces

In any place where a cleaning staff is not readily available, such as the workplace or public transportation, you should clean up as best as you can. Ask for help only when the spill is significant, or the dropped item is broken and can hurt others.

6. How to avoid food spills and table incidents

Most food spills and table incidents can be avoided by following a few rules and practices.

At the dining table, follow the etiquette rules for serving and passing food, clearing the table, and seating. Do not overfill dishes, glasses, or serving plates. Furthermore, avoid eating outside of the kitchen or dining areas.

Food spills etiquette mistakes

When dealing with a food spill or a table incident, avoid the worst etiquette mistakes: 

  • Not containing the spill in a public space or venue.
  • Touching someone you spilled food on.
  • Over-reacting to food spills. 
  • Venturing under the table to recover an item.
  • Not replacing an item dropped by a guest.
  • Not offering to compensate for the damage.

Additional resources & links