The answer isn’t so simple.
The answer isn’t so simple. The debate over whether or not it’s appropriate to eat from a customer’s plate is contentious within the server community. In a 2016 interview with The Graham Norton Show, Chris Pratt admitted to doing it when he worked as a waiter in L.A., recalling one particular incident involving an elderly woman and a 32-ounce Porterhouse.
“I bring the steak out to this lady,” he said. “I’m hiding in the corner watching—‘how much is she eating and how much do I get?’ I go back and she’s like, ‘I can’t eat another bite.’ I was like, ‘Yes!’”
While the unofficial, somewhat-enforced rule is that servers should not do this—no general manager wants customers catching a waiter hunched over left-behind moules frites—several servers I spoke with admitted to dabbling in the act. After all, if you’re surrounded by delicious food for long stretches of time, stuff happens.
“The only time I don’t do this is if the chef or the manager is watching, or if it’s something that someone’s clearly touched with their hands or taken a bite straight out of,” a former server at a New Orleans restaurant tells me. But she admits that she once went too far.
“The last shift I worked I had to question myself because I used my hands to eat a leftover clam out of a shell and was like, ‘Ok, maybe this is the line,’” she says. “Clams in a shell are not finger food.”
Everyone’s “line” is different, and usually, your code of conduct depends on the place you work.
One server, who works at a relatively high-profile New York City restaurant, almost never picks off of a customer’s plate, both because the GM is always watching and because the food is no longer alluring to her.
“I’m not a huge plate eater, unless the food is hot and untouched,” she says. “When I do, I have to actually have the time to eat it, which is rare, and it has to be something I really like since I eat the food here all of the time.”
Many servers follow their own personal set of rules for when it’s appropriate to eat off plates and when it’s not.
“I once worked with a girl who would only eat off of someone’s place if they ‘looked nice,’” the N.Y.C. server adds.
There’s also a substantial contingent of servers who think the whole practice is gross.
“It’s never acceptable,” a former server tells me.
Another server agrees, adding that the only time it’s acceptable to scavenge is when there’s leftover wine in a bottle. (All of the servers I spoke with were unanimous on the issue of wine being fair game.)
“I did once take somebody's leftover bottle of wine home,” she says. “There was half left! What, I'm just going to leave it there? Like some kind of idiot?”