The weight is not the problemĀ but the shifting of the platesĀ or covers would be…


A waiter should walk like a waiter and not to run and never to carry more on a tray than he safely can handle. To clean up after a fallen tray and to remake an order can take a long time.

In waiting on tables, a good beginning is showing up for work every scheduled workday. The other half is being able to group orders as they need to be served. Often enough, the waiter’s station is as far as a block away from the kitchen and it’s more practical to carry the food on a tray.
Much time is lost by looking at the notepad and trying to figure out who had what when the tray gets to the guests’ table. What I do is loading the trays in the kitchen in the same numerical order as the order taken at the table. And when I get there, to my table, with a tray full of food, my maximum are fifteen plates, I do not have to look at my notepad. Back in the kitchen I arranged my plates clockwise on my tray starting at number one. At the table I can serve each plate as I take it counterclockwise off my tray. If it is a table of fifteen than the first plate off the tray is number fifteen’s, followed by fourteen getting his order and thirteen is next, then twelve, then eleven. The last person to get his food is number one which happens to be the first plate I loaded onto the tray in the kitchen. It’s simple this way, no chaos, no problems. It allows to serve larger tables like clockwork.

Before carrying and serving fifteen plates let’s look at the tray, the plates and the covers. One might think that all restaurants have plate covers which stack easily. Wrong! The norm is that plates and covers, except at a few good equipped banquet-facilities, most of the time don’t stack or interlock. One crowded layer on a regular oval tray consists of four dinner plates, which barely fit.
The trick is to stack the plates, table by table and position by position. The plates have to be secured to make it less difficult to carry the tray. To load up a food tray in the guests table’s numerical order makes it easy to serve the right plate to the right person. It certainly helps to know who gets what without having to check and double check one’s barely legible scribbled notes.


Waiting on tables requires the waiter to walk like a waiter and not to run and never to carry more on a tray than he safely can handle. To clean up after a fallen tray and to remake an order can take a long time.
I prefer to use napkins on my trays. And if I carry one plate on a tray, this one goes right smack into the middle. That’s for balance. Another good way to stop plates from moving and shifting is to put clear plastic film around the plate and cover. Clear plastic film is not practical in restaurants. The unwrapping is too time consuming. But it is a great solution for trays in room service. If I carry two plates on my tray, again I balance them. I spread the tray’s load out, balanced at a point in the middle above where my hand is going to carry the tray.
Three plates and covers on a tray that’s easy too. Two plates are loaded onto the tray toward my body, one plate away from my shoulders. While carrying the tray, I might use my shoulder to rest the weight of the load on it. But the tray is always carried on the open hand and balanced only by thumb and fingers, never by my shoulder.
Six plates that are two layers of three. The weight is no problem but the shifting of any of the plates on the polished stainless steel covers. A wet towel or napkin provides the needed non-slip-surface for the second layer. Nine plates: Another wet towel and another layer of plates. It also helps to put a wet towel on top. I use the same trick on trays with dirty glasses. The towel or napkin on the top stabilizes the individual glasses and prevents these from moving on their own. It’s the same with the plates. Each plate sitting on a wet napkin or towel will not be able to move on its own. The wet towels tie the individual plates’ movements to the other plates in the same layer. It doesn’t look like much. But there is a tremendous difference between a tray loaded up with plates secured by wet napkins and the same tray without such simple help. If not convinced try it yourself.
The problem is not so much that the plates on top of a tray’s load start to slip and slide. The real problem with loaded food trays is that one of the plates in the first or second layer starts to shift. Such can easy happen under the pressure from above, while the waiter tries to avoid an obstacle. In restaurants there are at times children on the loose, patrons who don’t look where they go and there are always busy co-workers, who shouldn’t but hurry without looking. Whatever the reason, if a plate in the first or second layer moves even the slightest, the higher up layers will come down. And I do not admire any waiter who has his hands full cleaning up after himself not to mention all the other problems.
The wet towels hold the lower layers in place, make them immovable and therefor it’s possible to load up to the tray’s maximum capacity. For most large oval trays that’s fifteen dinner plates. I have had trays creaking and bending where my hand held bigger loads, up to eighteen plates. Secured with napkins, I did not lose one single plate. However most large oval trays are useless once they show any signs of cracking.

by helmut schonwalder