Clearing the table has its rules. If you clear the table incorrectly, you risk ruining even an otherwise perfect dining experience. Follow table clearing etiquette and be an ideal host.
What table clearing etiquette is
Table clearing etiquette is the set of rules to properly clear the table. It applies after each course and at the end of a meal. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can disrespect and irritate your guests.
If you are hosting, follow table clearing etiquette to correctly clear the dining table.
If you are a guest, respect table clearing etiquette rules to facilitate the work of your host or the waiters.
Table clearing etiquette rules
1) Clear the table after each course
Remove used plates and cutlery after each course.
Wait until all guests at the table have finished eating the course before clearing. Otherwise, guests that are still eating may feel rushed.
Observe how guests rest their cutlery to understand whether they have finished eating or are taking a break.
2) Start clearing from the largest items
Start clearing the largest items on the table. Then, work your way down to the smallest items. Clear serving dishes first. Then the individual plates, and finally cutlery.
Between courses, you should leave the glasses. Clear the glasses only if you are changing the wine or beverage for the next course. If one glass is still full, ask the guest if you can remove the glass.
3) Clear plates and cutlery in clockwise order
Remove the individual plates in clockwise order. Start with the guest of honor, who usually sits on the right side of the host. Then, proceed clockwise around the table.
Alternatively, you can start with the ladies first, or by clearing the plates with the most leftovers.
4) Clear plates from each guest’s left side
Avoid touching or crossing guests while clearing the table.
Clear individual plates from the left side of each guest. This is to avoid hitting the glasses, which are placed on the right side of each setting. However, be aware that in some countries, such as the USA, plates are cleared from the right side.
Clear glasses from the right side of each guest. This is to avoid crossing the guests.
5) Remove cutlery together with the plates
Clear the used cutlery when clearing the plates. Place the cutlery well into the plate so it does not fall out. Hold the cutlery still with your thumb.
6) Avoid touching the eating surfaces
Do not touch the eating surface of plates and cutlery. Such areas are often soiled or, in the case of cutlery, sharp.
Pick up and hold plates by their bottom side. Pick up and hold cutlery by the handles.
7) Do not stack plates
Clear plates two at a time. Do not stack plates. Similarly, do not scrap leftovers. Instead, clean the plates in the kitchen, away from the guests’ sight. Doing otherwise is bad table manners.
8) Set the table for the next course
Remove from the table all the condiments, drinks, and complements that are not needed during the next course. Doing so helps guests to eat the next course properly, with the right condiments and beverages.
It is good table etiquette to crumb the table between courses. Use a table crumber to sweep crumbs onto a small plate. Do not use your hands to remove crumbs.
Table clearing etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst table clearing etiquette mistakes.
- 10/10. Not clearing the table between courses.
- 9/10. Touching guests.
- 8/10. Start clearing when guests have not finished.
- 8/10. Clearing from the wrong side.
- 7/10. Dropping items or spilling food.
- 7/10. Stacking plates.
- 6/10. Touching the soiled surfaces.
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