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As a waiter, you're already probably well aware that a happy customer is more likely to leave a good tip. While some customers won't be fussy about how you clear the table, others will be well-versed in the etiquette surrounding it, and might ding you on the gratuity if you get it wrong. Thus, take the time to clear the table from the right side of the customer and don't remove plates in a manner that could be considered rude.
When to Clear the Table
As a general rule, the right time to clear plates and cutlery is when everyone at the table has finished eating. Don't rush diners -- they don't like it when you remove plates while they're still chewing. Informed diners will place their forks and knives in a vertical position next to the plate to indicate they've finished. In contrast, they'll leave them resting on the plate if they're still eating. If you are unsure whether a diner has finished, ask him if he would like you to remove his plate.
And How to Clear It
Stand on the right side the diner, slightly behind her, and remove her plate. Move to the next person's right hand side and stack the next plate, then stack smaller plates and silverware on top of plates and walk away. If you can't clear everything at once, get another server to help you. Some people eat slower or faster than others. If someone appears done well ahead of others, ask before you remove the plate. Be as polite and unobtrusive as possible, saying something like, "May I remove your plate?" Don't say "You done?" or something else that might seem impatient or rude.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.