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How to Bus Tables

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There’s an old saying that children should be seen, but not heard. When it comes to clearing tables in a restaurant, you shouldn’t be seen or heard. While it may be impossible to make yourself completely invisible, it is possible to bus tables unobtrusively and limit the distractions to diners. By planning your busing strategy ahead of time, using proper form and cleaning and resetting the table quickly, you will be successful and earn more tips from the waitstaff.

Read Your Guests

Knowing how to read your meal guests is an art form, but one that a busboy (or bus person) should learn. Rush in too early to remove unfinished food and you will upset guests; leave too many soiled dishes and you will get the same reception. Pay close attention to the mood at the table. Guests who seem rushed and in a hurry will probably prefer having items cleared one by one as soon as they finish, while groups that are enjoying leisure conversation may prefer to have everything removed at once at the end of the meal.

Pre-Bus Tables

Many fine dining restaurants don’t rely on bus staff alone to clear tables. Servers may be advised to remove items as the dining guests are finished with them. Note any plates that have been pushed to the side, or look for empty dishes when a new course is brought in. Carry out only as much as you can handle in two hands to prevent the clanging and crashing of items being dropped on the floor, which can be extremely disruptive to guests. Don’t stack dishes that can easily fall, and avoid using trays that allows dishes to slide around.

Use Proper Form to Bus Tables

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as clearing tables etiquette and unwritten rules on how to bus properly. This is especially true when you are pre-busing during the meal. If an empty plate sits in front of the guest, be sure to ask before taking it. Also, take the plate on the right side of the guest whenever possible. In some cases you will not be able to do this if the customer is sitting next to a wall or in a corner. It is also proper form to remove a woman's plate first. When you are pre-busing, remember to remove all items that pertain to a particular course. For example, if the group is waiting on dessert, you can go ahead and remove the steak sauce, steak knives, bread baskets and other condiments that the group will no longer need.

Clear the Remaining Items

When busing is done properly, the only items remaining when the guest leaves should be the final plates and glasses that were being used at the end of the meal. Once all of the dishes have been taken back to the kitchen, tablecloths should be changed when applicable and tables should be wiped down for the next guest. Avoid heavy cleaners that can annoy neighboring tables. Instead, use disposable wipes that won’t harbor germs.


Based in Atlanta, Melody Dawn has been writing business articles and blogs since 2004. Her work has appeared in the "Gainesville Times," "Player's Press" and "USA Today." She is also skilled in writing product descriptions and marketing materials. Dawn holds a Master of Business from Brenau University.

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