Ask The Salty Waitress: Why do customers insist on stacking their plates?

Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio | Photo: Teri Dixon/Getty Images
Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio | Photo: Teri Dixon/Getty Images
The Salty WaitressThe Salty WaitressSalty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.

Dear Salty,

As a waitress myself, I absolutely can’t stand it when customers stack their plates in an effort to “help out.” It’s mainly annoying because a) creating a giant vertical stack of plates is not how I would ever bus a table and b) it looks horrible and impatient of you.

When dining with non-servers, my tablemates always try to move plates around when they’re done eating and I always tell them to leave that shit alone, and don’t dare call someone over to clean it up. What do other servers think? Do you appreciate the help or would you rather clear a table at your own pace and in your own way?

A Plate in the Hand is worth Two on the Table

Dear Plate in the Hand,

I took a long drag on my Camel Crush while reading your question. It feels good to have a fellow server just get it, right? Solidarity and all that.


A couple things here: First, you’re damn right. I hate when tables try to stack their own plates and silverware, which never ends up in a way that I can actually pick up and move to the bins or kitchen. Why are there always forks hidden between the plate layers like a greasy Jenga disaster? I wish they just wouldn’t try. It is literally my job to come get your plates, so just let me do it.

Some kitchens I’ve worked in have specific systems for dirty plates and silverware. So when I need to separate the forks from the glass bowls from the ceramic plates, a customer’s shitty stacking job doesn’t help me at all. And if they wedge their napkins and paper and garbage all in there, that makes for extra work, too.

Worst of all, the plate tower makes it look like I’m not doing my job. Stacked plates scream “Hey, a little help over here!” when I know for a fact that table was still nibbling their fries until four seconds ago. I’m screwed either way: When I try to clear plates before they’re through, I get the I’m-not-done-yet death glare, and half a minute later, they’ve stacked the whole tower. Give me a chance, huh?

I know, they’re trying to help. But please folks, just leave your plates where they are until I clear them. If you want to let me know you’re done, angle your fork and knife in towards the center of the plate like so, which I know is old-fashioned but hey, it still works. I promise I’ll get to you quickly—I know you’re dying to order pie for dessert.

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Matthew Golden

Sorry, I’m going to continue stacking plates wherever there’s too much plate and too little table.

That said, basic logic dictates this procedure. Plate goes on top of plate goes on top of plate, bigger plates at the bottom and smaller plates at the top, bowl (if any) goes atop that. Silverware is pulled and placed on the top plate, along with any napkins, etc. that would prevent proper stacking.