I’ll admit it: I like having my plate cleared as soon as I am done eating. Why must I be stuck with a giant empty plate in front of me while the rest of my table finishes? With all of this extra space I can easily reach for my glass of wine. My wife firmly disagrees with my stance. And, so do most proponents of modern etiquette. For instance, back in 2009, the New York Times included the practice on a list of “100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do.”
Roberto A. Ferdman, a writer for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, also agrees: Plate removal has gotten out of hand. In a recent piece, he labeled the ever-increasing practice “the most annoying restaurant trend happening today,” arguing, “When a server clears a plate before everyone is finished, he or she leaves the table with a mess of subtle but important signals. Those who are still eating are made to feel as though they are holding others up; those who are not are made to feel as though they have rushed the meal. What was originally a group dining experience becomes a group exercise in guilt.”
The big question, however, is why this trend seemed to be increasing. “It's definitely been getting worse,” Tyler Cowen, a professor at George Mason University who has written extensively about eating out, told Wonk. “It's a problem. I don't like it, either.” Still, neither Cowen nor Ferdman seemed completely able to understand the reason for the recent uptick.