Table Clearing Rules For Clearing The Table Right​

Table Clearing: 8 Rules For Clearing The Table Right​

who this class is for

Waiters and restaurant staff, guests, hosts

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About this micro-class

Table clearing etiquette is the set of rules to properly clear the table after each course and at the end of a meal.

1. Clear the table after each course​

Wait for guests to finish

After a course: Remove used plates and cutlery after each course.

Wait for a natural break: Before clearing, wait until all guests at the table have finished eating the course. Otherwise, guests who are still eating may feel rushed. Avoid clearing dishes while guests are still actively eating or engaged in conversation.

Find the right moment to clear the table

Look at the cutlery: Observe how guests rest their cutlery to understand whether they have finished eating or are taking a break. Cutlery in the 5 o’clock position signals that the guest has finished.

Ask before clearing: Approach the table discreetly and with a friendly demeanor, making eye contact and smiling. Politely ask if you can clear the table by saying something like, “May I please clear your plates for you?”

2. Start clearing from the largest item​

Large items first: Start clearing the largest items on the table. Then, work your way down to the smallest items. Clear the serving dishes first. Then, clear the individual plates and finally the cutlery.

Drinking glasses: Between courses, you should leave the drinking glasses. Clear the glasses only if you are changing the wine or beverage for the next course. If a glass is still full, ask the guest if you can remove it.

3. Clear plates and cutlery in clockwise order​

Remove the individual plates and cutlery in clockwise order. Start with the guest of honor, who usually sits on the right side of the host. Then, proceed clockwise around the table.

Alternatively, you can start with the ladies first, or by clearing the plates with the most leftovers.

4. Clear plates from each guest's left side​

Avoid touching or crossing guests while clearing the table.

Clear the individual plates from the left side of each guest. This is to avoid hitting the glasses placed on the right side of each setting. However, in some countries like the USA, plates are sometimes cleared from the right side.

Clear the glasses from the right side of each guest. This is to avoid crossing the guests.

5. Remove cutlery together with the plates​

Clear the used cutlery when you are clearing the plates. Place the cutlery well into the plate so it does not fall out. Hold the cutlery still with your thumb.

6. Avoid touching the eating surfaces​

Do not touch the eating surface of any plates or cutlery. Such areas are often soiled or, in the case of cutlery, sharp.

Pick up and hold the plates by their bottom side. Pick up and hold cutlery by the handles.

7. Do not stack plates​

do not stack plates when clearing the table

Clear plates two at a time. Do not stack plates. Do not scrap leftovers. Instead, clean the plates in the kitchen, away from the guests’ sight.

You can use a tray or armload technique to carry multiple plates at once to minimize the number of trips.

8. Set the table for the next course​

How to prepare the table between courses

Condiments and complements: Remove from the table all the condiments, drinks, and complements that are not needed for the next course. It will help guests enjoy their next course with the right condiments and beverages.

Refill glasses: Check for empty or nearly empty glasses and offer a refill if appropriate. Avoid removing glasses that still have beverages in them.

Crumbs: Crumb the table between courses. Use a table crumber to sweep crumbs onto a small plate. Do not use your hands to remove crumbs.

How to clear the table after the meal

Napkins: When guests leave the table, if they have placed their napkins on the table or a chair, discreetly pick them up and place them neatly on the table on a side of the place setting.

Double-check: Before leaving the table, ensure that it’s clean and free of any food debris, dirty dishes, or used napkins. Double-check for personal items, such as wallets, keys, or phones, which should never be cleared.

Table clearing etiquette: the worst mistakes​

In general, you should avoid disrupting your guests’ experience and soiling yourself, your guests, or the table.

The most disruptive mistakes when clearing the dining table are:

  • Not clearing the table between courses.
  • Touching your guests.
  • Start clearing the table when guests have not finished.
  • Clearing the plates, glasses, or cutlery from the wrong side.

Moreover, you should avoid the most common hygiene mistakes:

  • Dropping items or spilling food.
  • Stacking plates.
  • Touching any soiled surfaces with your hands.

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