My answer to the FAQ 
What are the rules 
for serving and clearing 
plates and glasses?


I never ask my guest to move out of my way so I can get – in the perfect correct manner – to his empty glass or plate. I always work around the customer’s needs.

What are the rules for serving and clearing plates and glasses you might ask?

“At first and foremost allow the customer to be comfortable!” I never ask a guest to move out of my way so I can get – in the perfect correct manner – to his empty glass or plate. I work around the customer’s needs.
The basic rule for glasses is that they are placed from the right to the right of a customer and they are removed in the same way. I do not reach over the table or in front of the guest to get to a glass if I can help it.
The basic rule for plates: I set the plate down in front of the guest from the left if possible and clear them from the left if there are tall stemglasses on the right. The logic behind it: This way the glassware – often there are tall stemware, or bottles to the guest’s right – will not get into the path of the plate.
However if the customer is sitting in a booth or close to some obstacle like a wall, I do not make these guest move, just so I can serve his plate in what I consider the correct way. I serve the food as I can and allow my guest to be comfortable.
If there are no tall glasses in the way, I may serve and clear all plates from the right.

Always remember there may be standards set by the individual restauranteur, if so, one should follow these standards.

Some of the questionable procedures of service are nothing but laughable. There is for instance the rumor that due to the fact that noble men and soldiers carry their swords on their left, any approach from the left is a threatening gesture. Waiting on customers has therefor to be from the right of the guest. It is an interesting theory but believe me I haven’t waited on a sword carrying man in over thirty years as a waiter. Just ask yourself: If the waiter had to approach from the unarmed side, how would he be expected to wait on an U.S. Marshall or a Sheriff?
Another one I heard was that the service is opposite down under, south of the equator, from what it is up here north of the equator. That’s a bunch of hog wash too. It just isn’t true.

“What about reaching across a table?”
Should I have to reach in front or between customers I ask politely “May I get this plate?” or “Allow me to interrupt!” or “Kindly let me get this out of your way!” or “Forgive me for reaching over the table.”

What about style? Etiquette? Yes! I certainly want to serve and clear plates from the left. Yes! I also want to serve and clear glasses from the right. Nevertheless, if it is an inconvenience for my customer I am always willing to bend any rule in my guest’s favor!

Now is my way the only way? No by no means.

by helmut schonwalder