Why do restaurants expect people to reuse their dirty utensils?
January 28, 2011 8:58 AM   Subscribe

At many restaurants, after the starter course is finished, the waiter will remove my dirty knife and fork from the plate, and leave them for me to use with my main course. I dislike this, and usually will ask for a clean knife and fork for the next course. My question is: what is the thinking behind this? The added cost I would think is trivial, and it just seems really weird to expect people to eat a new course with food from the last course on the utensils. Is there some financial aspect to putting more utensils through the dishwasher that I'm missing?
posted by kevinsp8 to Food & Drink (46 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Most people aren't weirded out by using the same utensils they just ate with.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2011 [77 favorites]

I think it's a combination of things. First, the only restaurants to actively engage in removing used utensils and bringing new ones are, typically, fancier ones. It's just part of the service there. Second, you could chalk it up to bad training/inexperience. No way should a server actually remove utensils from your plate if you've placed them there (especially if they're across the plate, not just resting on the side). That's kind of gross, I think. A well-trained or intuitive server would realize that you've placed them there specifically because you want new utensils and then would bring the new ones to you. Third, some people just honestly don't think re-using utensils is that big a deal and therefore wouldn't think to replace them for you unless it was part of their training.
posted by cooker girl at 9:02 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Totally nthing Greg Nog here.

No one I have ever had a meal with insisted that they get new utensils with every course.
posted by royalsong at 9:03 AM on January 28, 2011

I think it's mainly a US habit or at least I have never re-used utensils in a European restaurant.
posted by Fiery Jack at 9:09 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've worked as a dishwasher at a nice-ish restaurant and washing utensils with commercial dishwashers is pretty easy. That said, I've also eaten at a lot of restaurants with a lot of different people and your preference is definitely a little oddball, most people don't care unless they drop their fork or something.
posted by ghharr at 9:09 AM on January 28, 2011

Do you use the same napkin with the next course?

The answer to this question is pretty much the same as if you asked why do restaurants in some countries expect you to eat with your hands. Purely a custom. In this case the restaurant doesn't expect to be serving people who need utensil replacements.

No fault on either party, the penalties offset, first down.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2011

For everyone that wants a set of new utensils for each course, you will find an equal or greater number of people who get irritated when the waitstaff take their utensils away and then forget to replace them. This is just a case of "why don't restaurants do what I want" and the answer is "because more people want something else."
posted by proj at 9:12 AM on January 28, 2011 [16 favorites]

There are a couple of things going on here:

1) Most people don't care whether they use the same utensils for different course of the same meal.
2) It does cost restaurants more money, in labor, inventory, and utilities, to wash utensils after every course. Each person's meal may increase those costs slightly, but when you add all diners' multi-course meals, that cost very quickly becomes very large. This is why only the best restaurants tend to change utensils after every meal. It's simply not feasible for most restaurants.
posted by dfriedman at 9:17 AM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not only does it cost the restaurant money to wash the utensils that much more frequently, but unless the dishwashing staff can turn the utensils over extremely quickly (which probably means a lot of inefficient, not 100% full washing cycles), then the restaurant will also have to have a lot more utensils in stock. That's a significant upfront cost.
posted by jedicus at 9:20 AM on January 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

it just seems really weird to expect people to eat a new course with food from the last course on the utensils

Is there really still food left on your utensils? That's what seems weird to me. I feel like most people manage to get all the food off the fork or spoon when they take a bite. The only time I can remember having food still on my utensils is after eating an ice-cream sundae out of a tall tulip glass or something, when the sauce gets on the handle of the spoon, but that's the last course anyway. Perhaps this is why most people don't mind? Because the utensils have typically been cleaned of any food remnants by the person who is eating with them?
posted by vytae at 9:21 AM on January 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'll go Greg Nog one further and say that I'd bet previous customers have been upset at having their silverware removed when they knew they had another course on the way. At somplace that's not so fancy, the servers may be busy enough that they don't want to have to remember to go grab another set of silverware for everybody. Also, although re-using just your set of silverware may not seem like a big savings, doing it for everybody over the course of a day could add up in terms of server work, dishwashing, and possible shortages of available silverware.
posted by LionIndex at 9:22 AM on January 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

I remember standing for long periods of time polishing silverware after washing in an industrial washer to make sure there were no water spots on them. And then having to wrap each set in a napkin. Labor cost is more than you think.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:23 AM on January 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

You need to either start eating at fancier places, or start lowering your expectations of the places you currently frequent.
posted by Grither at 9:23 AM on January 28, 2011 [19 favorites]

It's not just the financial cost of cleaning the flatware, it's that it leads to increased traffic in the dining area, since an extra trip is required of someone to bring fresh flatware and place-set it. Nicer restaurants have more support staff on the floor to handle this, but I'd imagine it's a huge logistical hassle if you've got one busboy and an overstretched waitstaff. Plus, as proj said, you're introducing the possibility of someone not re-setting the place.
posted by mkultra at 9:25 AM on January 28, 2011

Part of it depends on how the restaurant gets the utensils set up for the table.

When I worked at Steak N Shake everything was wrapped up in the napkin ready to go. New utensils meant a new set of everything. Obviously they don't have starters at a burger place like that, but I would imagine that places like Olive Garden (IIRC) that have the silverware wrapped in the napkin would go about things the same way.

At the restaurant I work in now there's a sectioned bin for silverware that the servers/back wait/whoever pulls from to set the tables. Getting new silverware is a trivial thing.

Washing dishes is even less than trivial, especially for silverware. Most restaurants have a dishwasher that takes about 90 seconds to run through the cycle and have everything done. Silverware is just thrown on a flat rack and spread out.

Even though there is the increase in labor that dfriedman mentions, that really isn't too big of a deal. Restaurants that change silverware all the time already have this built in. Ones that don't change silverware after each course probably aren't going to be looking at many people who want that. Thus, you wanting a new set of silverware means one extra set washed. It does get multiplied by everyone who wants it.

I also work in a restaurant that seats about 50 inside and can handle about that much outside when those seats are being used. There's a good chance that my thoughts don't scale up very well.

I agree though, taking your silverware off the plate isn't something that should happen from the server.
posted by theichibun at 9:27 AM on January 28, 2011

This is why only the best restaurants tend to change utensils after every meal.

Actually, I would expect a seriously fancy place to have all silverware that will be necessary on the table before I even sit down, and bring out any specialty thing with whatever dish needs one (i.e. a steak knife).
posted by LionIndex at 9:28 AM on January 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

The added cost I would think is trivial

Why would you think that the cost is trivial? It's two more tasks for the waitstaff each time a customer gets a next course (taking the silverware away and then bringing new ones, repeated many times a shift), and it requires doing more dishes.

Also, the waitstaff would inevitably, sometimes, forget to bring replacements with the entree. Being served an entree without silverware to eat it with is really annoying -- probably more annoying than using the same fork for all courses. (Customers would complain: "Why couldn't you have just left my silverware here?!")

But I do agree with you that the more proper thing is to take the silverware away. This is not like taking your napkin away. Your napkin is to clean off inedible things (e.g. your mouth), whereas your silverware is constantly touching your food right before you eat it. The fork that's been jabbing at your dressing-drenched salad won't necessarily go well with your main course. I've noticed that any AskMe question that expresses any sensitivity about being clean or sanitary sparks a LOT of comments that are dismissive of those concerns (perhaps gleefully so?), but I don't think you're crazy on this issue. There are simply pros and cons to either practice, and many restaurants go with the quicker, cheaper, less fussy route.
posted by John Cohen at 9:31 AM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Either eat at fancier places or ask Applebees for a spare set of utensils when you sit down. They'll be happy to comply and then you don't have to dork around with trying to exchange utensils mid-meal. You can just get out your second set.

(Having all the necessary utensils on the table for multiple courses when you begin is normal. Eating the whole meal with one set of utensils is normal. Taking away and bringing out new utensils mid-meal is weird ... and when they do it because you've ordered soup or something and they bring the soup spoon out with the soup, much more frequently results in dropped utensils, I've noticed.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:49 AM on January 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

The cost is trivial. You purchased an entirely other course of the meal. The restaurant makes a profit from your appetizer and then again makes a profit from your main course. Were you to order dessert you would get a new utensil and the waiter might even drop of extra "in case you want to share".

You either have waiters who don't think they need to be changed or management that didn't bother to properly train their staff. Either way, it would not be pushy of you to request clean utensils for each course.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:00 AM on January 28, 2011

Washing silverware in between courses is expensive. I know this because I've worked in restaurants.

First, it takes a lot of time to sort and then wash things in a restaurant, and silverware washing is not as efficient as you'd think it could be. Enough for a load needs to accumulate, and be prioritized over all the other things in line to be washed. All the pieces are laid flat in a tray, not stood upright like your home dishwasher set-up. So the limit for each "load" is one flat layer. If the spoons are nested, they aren't clean, and must get brought back to the kitchen. The restaurant also must continually wash glasses and all the cooking pots and pans. (Incidentally, Hepatitis contamination among restaurant workers is said to be high. Not least because they are in such close contact with the saliva of so many people.)

Second, the time to clear and reset silverware is not negligible.

Third, the risk of a piece of silverware getting pitched in the trash increases each time it's moved across the restaurant. Knives are the first to go, because they're flat and don't get hung up on the edges of plates at all. If the silverware is left at the table, it's not in the trash. Have you ever seen a restaurant trash can? I'm not digging through for a lost fork, but one lost for after another adds up to cases and cases of them a year.

Fourth, having enough silverware on hand to get every seating through three courses versus just one is a lot of extra silverware, and each piece must be individually dried, or it gets water spots. Water spots on silverware convinces customers that it's dirty. It's not dirty, it just air dried. Rollups (which is what we called the sets of silverware wrapped up in a napkin) must include a spoon, knife and fork, because you never know who is going to need a spoon.

Fifth, toward the end of a waiting shift, everyone has side work. Drawing silverware was nice because it was kind of meditative, and nowhere near as disgusting as portioning mayonaise (from a five gallon buck. with my bare arm. ask me why I don't eat mayo in restaurants...) But it was an hour that I was getting paid by the restaurant. Tripling the amount of silverware rolling time is probably not on a restaurants top list of goals.

Sixth, every trip I had to make back into the kitchen to beg the dishwasher to hurry up with the silverware was one more trip I risked breaking a leg on the slippery floor, and one more trip that I wasn't taking drink orders or upselling apps. Restaurants would prefer their employees are moving customers into higher tabs and then out the door, not slowing down searching for more place settings.
posted by bilabial at 10:00 AM on January 28, 2011 [13 favorites]

I have no answers, but I just wanted to chime in and say that I totally agree with you on this, since you’re kind of being lambasted with “because you’re an idiot” answers.

I have no problem eating two courses with the same fork. Obviously I do it at home. But I find the practice, in a restaurant, of someone's taking my fork off of the plate and putting it back on the table disgusting because you’re not supposed* to put a dirty/used utensil directly onto the table or tablecloth. This is why you line up your silverware on the plate when you’re done, and the busboy takes the silverware away with the plate, and then you use the next course’s silver that’s either already on the table or is brought to you with the next course.

Also, it’s a little bit like the busboy/waitstaff is contradicting you. Like “Oh sir, I’m sure you didn’t actually mean to let me take your fork away, I’m just gonna give that right back to which is what I’m sure you intended.” Even if it’s not the restaurant’s practice to give new silverware, you're not supposed* to point out someone's mistake at the table, especially I'd think not to a customer.

*“Supposed” meaning this is an etiquette/cleanliness rule that was taught to and ingrained into me. YMMV.
posted by thebazilist at 10:36 AM on January 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

Actually, I would expect a seriously fancy place to have all silverware that will be necessary on the table before I even sit down, and bring out any specialty thing with whatever dish needs one (i.e. a steak knife).

It really does vary by restaurant. It's perfectly acceptable for all the service to be on the table at the start but it's equally acceptable for the staff to bring out each course's service as it is needed. It's the difference between Russian and American service (I think...it's been quite a few years since I took that hospitality course in culinary school).
posted by cooker girl at 10:41 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I completely agree with you and thebazilist. I'm perfectly happy to eat from the same fork for courses upon courses. But DO NOT put that fork on to the table...when was it last washed? Is the tablecloth clean? Is there some weirdness/greasiness on the fork that is going to get on the table and then mess up my sleeves? I don't put used silverware directly on the table at home, either, fwiw. Restaurants that bring me new cutlery (when I've purposefully put my knife and fork parallel at 10 o'clock and 4 o'clock to indicate that I'm finished) almost always get another visit from me.
posted by ms.v. at 10:49 AM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

The thinking is you're in a cheap restaurant that prefers their convenience or cost savings of putting dirty silverware back on the table to serving you properly.
posted by Nelson at 10:56 AM on January 28, 2011

I had a job waiting tables once where the kitchen staff seemed to have an absurdly constant shortage of forks. I haven't worked in food service since, so I'm not sure if this was a common occurrence. I don't know why it happened, and management heard all of the complaints about it from the waitstaff and dishwashers alike, so I have no idea why it was always a problem, but it was. Essentially, all of the wait staff would hoard forks. Maybe that's why some restaurants will do that -- taking a fork off of your plate and setting it down is probably a much less egregious offense, on the whole, than bringing you your food without any forks with which to eat it.

I do think it is a little overboard to take someone's dirty fork off their plate and set it back down, but it's happened to me many times before and doesn't seem totally odd to me, nor does it bother me at all. In fact, I always make it a point to not rest my fork on my plate to save everybody that awkwardness.

I'd just keep doing what you're doing. If someone goes to put your fork back on the table, say, "I'd prefer a clean fork for the next course, thank you!" -- or ask that all your food be brought together at the same time?
posted by pazazygeek at 10:56 AM on January 28, 2011

I'm with ms.v. and thebazilist! I don't mind reusing a fork or spoon, I just don't want it off the table. If the second course comes out before the first's plates have been cleared, I will gladly move the fork to the second plate myself.

(Sometimes you can catch servers from putting the utensils on the table by putting it on your bread plate too.)
posted by Kronur at 11:02 AM on January 28, 2011

ms.v.: "(when I've purposefully put my knife and fork parallel at 10 o'clock and 4 o'clock to indicate that I'm finished)"

Wait a second, 10 and 4? Diagonal across the plate? I thought the "I'm finished" sign was to put both fork and knife together at 3 o'clock.
posted by Grither at 11:27 AM on January 28, 2011

bilabial lists everything I could think of, but I must say, I question your logic.

If by dirty, you mean it was previously in your mouth, does that mean after you eat the first bite, that you want clean flatware?

If by dirty, you mean it has touched food that is not what you're currently eating, does that mean after you eat a bite of potatoes that you will not use it to eat the steak?

Either way you define dirty, you would need new flatware after each bite.

When eating out, I'd rather go to a restaurant that doesn't feed me garbage like Applebee's and Chillis and all that garbage and feeds me higher quality food and pays the staff better than worrying about how many forks I've been given throughout the meal.
posted by Brian Puccio at 12:09 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

This varies enormously depending on where you're dining. Generally speaking, high end restaurants will either lay out the silverware for all the expected courses and bring specialty items if needed, i.e. steak knife, fish knife, soup spoon or they will take and replace the silverware as the courses are taken away and brought out. As you go down the restaurant food chain, this changes. Very good/good restaurants will change the silverware. Neighborhood bistro-types probably will not; ethnic restaurants will not (generally speaking here of Mexican, Chinese, etc). Moderate to low-end chain restaurants certainly will not, i.e. Olive Garden, Outback, Chili's.

I have no problem using the same silverware for all the courses, however, I dislike my used silverware being laid on a bare table or a tablecloth and it seems in bad taste to have the server handle the used utensils if he's not taking them away, so I generally place mine on the bread plate. If there's no bread plate or similar dish, I'll rest my fork on my knife. Unlike the OP, I don't ask for new ones and just suck it up if it has to go on the table. I don't think it's wrong to ask for new ones though.

What seems odd about the post is that the OP finds using her same utensils disgusting when most of us do this all the time at home and most other places we frequent during an average week. If this happened at French Laundry I would be aghast, at my favorite Italian eatery not so much.

It's the good but not great places that straddle the fence, real table cloths and real napkins but no change in silverware but not fancy enough to warrant laying out lots of silverware that you might or might not need. It all has to be washed whether or not you used it. When in doubt I opt for using the bread plate. If they're a change the silverware kind of place, they'll grab it from the bread plate, if not I've saved my utensils from being handled and laid on the tablecloth.
posted by shoesietart at 12:15 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've worked in restaurants for over a decade. Silverware in restaurants cost more than you think it does at about a few dollars per piece. For each trip a server takes from table to dish, there is a chance that a piece of silverware will accidentally fall in the trash. Sometimes they don't notice (if they're really busy), sometimes they will notice but just don't care (happens all the time), and sometimes they will notice and dig it out of the trash but this is definitely the lowest occurance of the three. If a restaurant has a bus boy, the same applies here. And actually, more silverware gets lost from someone unloading a bus tub full of dishes than just a handful of plates.

At the restaurant I work in, the way silverware gets cleaned is that it first gets placed onto a flat rack and run through dish. After it cools down, it is sorted by a server into a rack that holds the pieces sitting upright and run through dish again. Then it gets polished and then it gets rolled up into a napkin. This is not a quick process at all. I cannot even fathom how we would even be able to function as a restaurant if we had to bring a new set of silverware with each new course to every single table. It would be impossible without hiring more staff but then that would probably result in prices on the menu being higher and a greater turnover rate of staff since people would be making less money. Turnover in a restaurant costs a lot of money.

Also, think of the dishwasher. He/she has the shittiest job in the restaurant. Now imagine having this shitty job and having the cooks yelling at you to clean some plates because they're low on app plates, or low on pans for the fish. Then you got the serves in your face asking you to run the silverware through. You've got to prioritize. Is having plates for the food to be put on more important than someone's second set of silverware? Yes.

Now you might be thinking, why not just keep a shitload of silverware instock and rolled? Well, that's a huge upfront cost. A lot of restaurants don't have the ability to do that. A lot of restaurants aren't making as much money as you think you are.

Now if you want to avoid the drama of not getting your second set of silverware with each course, then just spend more money at a nicer restaurant. The reason high end restaurants cost more isn't necessarily because the food itself costs more, you are paying for time. Time for people to prepare better tasting, better looking food. Time for people to keep the place immaculate. Time to keep a spotless uniform. Time to keep plenty silverware clean and in stock for each course. Also as someone has mentioned, at some places, all the silverware for each course is already on the table.


If this is something that really bothers you, simply ask for a second set of silverware when you first place your food order.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 12:22 PM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Usually what I do in instances where I want new silverware, I'll ask for a cup with no ice beforehand. That way, when the new course comes, I can stick my fork or what have you in the cup and clean it with an extra napkin.

Looks weird I guess, but I hate asking waiters for stuff, when there's more people then just me sitting down to eat.
posted by Sweetmag at 12:37 PM on January 28, 2011

Looks weird I guess, but I hate asking waiters for stuff, when there's more people then just me sitting down to eat.

That's why you preemptively ask for things you know you're going to need. Asking for them with the drink order or the food order is best so we'll have time to get it to you. We can bring your request when we bring your drinks or when we bring your first course. Consolidating steps is good.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 12:44 PM on January 28, 2011

I am a server at a casual dining chain restaurant. I will not touch your silverware if I expect you to reuse it, but I routinely ask my customers to hold onto their silverware from their appetizers. Usually they place it on a bread plate or a clean napkin.

I do this for two reasons:
1. In my restaurant the waitstaff must roll the silverware up into napkins. It's a tedious job and it takes forever. I don't want to make extra work for myself.

2. I want you to have silverware to eat your main course. The silverware is kept at the front door. I don't want to make a million trips across the restaurant (it's inefficient and it'll prob end up making you wait longer for something like refills or getting your food).

For the record, my restaurants training materials expect the diner to use the same set of silverware for apps and entres, but desserts and anything needing a spoon get fresh silvervare delivered with the food.

But we're not that fancy. Frankly, we're not particularly concerned that your potato skins appetizer might linger on your pallete and impact your experience of our famous cheesy bacon cheeseburger. Sorry.
posted by MrsHarper at 12:53 PM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Fresh silverware is simply one of the many small details that makes a "fancy" restaurant "fancy."
posted by spilon at 2:20 PM on January 28, 2011

Hi, I'm a waiter at a fancy (for my area) restaurant. I always take away dirty silverware at the end of each course, and then replace necessary items for the next course (called "marking" the table). When I used to work at a casual, western-style steakhouse, I did not do this.

Why? A lot of being a good waiter is in anticipating and fulfilling your guests' needs and expectations.

Would the old-school cowboys coming in for a ribeye at the steakhouse expect (or even want) me to replace their dirty forks in between their appetizer and their salad? No — if I had, it probably would have struck them as a little pretentious. Where I work now it's fancier and so totally appropriate, and in fact I like to think that little touches like that are part of what make the experience in a nicer place.

That's my take at least. If you want fresh silverware, ask for it! Be friendly and polite and a maybe a little bit sheepish and you'll be fine.
posted by joshuaconner at 3:31 PM on January 28, 2011

Awesome answers, that gives me more insight into

a. why it's actually NOT trivial for restaurants to replace cutlery with each course and
b. the fact that many people don't mind this fact.

We all have our peccadilloes and I just don't like the aesthetics of cold congealed food on my utensils going back in my mouth with the next course.

To clarify and respond to a few points: I always put my knife and fork on the plate parallel to one another, not on the bread plate; the server removes them and puts them on the bread plate or that table. I don't lick my knife clean, so no, the utensils really are dirty. I don't need clean utensils with every bite because, well, that's silly. It's the same food, it's not congealed/hardened yet, and if there's several things on the plate, they're meant to go together. I wouldn't need my napkin replaced unless it were extremely dirty/wet. To me reusing the utensils is like reusing the plate: not harmful, but distasteful. At home, I would generally use clean utensils with a second course (but then, I own a dishwasher). Yes, I am aware that this reuse is rarely done at 'finer' restaurants.

I do ask for clean utensils unless I'm in a really low-end place and I feel like I'm going to get too much attitude for it.
posted by kevinsp8 at 3:37 PM on January 28, 2011

Yeah, my experience with restaurants is that all the necessary cutlery is always ready to go on the table. If you order two courses, the extra stuff is brought out prior to serving the first course. Or at least concurrently. (IE, there is a fork and knife at the table. You order a soup course, a fish course and a main course. The staff brings out all the stuff for your meal before serving the food.

I can't say why, but there is something not right about having waiters bringing cutlery and whatnot to the table while you are sitting at it and already eating. Unless to replace something you've dropped.

But you are absolutely right, if the cutlery is on the plate when it is time to remove the plate, the cutlery goes with it. They shouldn't ever be touching your stuff. If they know you will be needing the fork and knife with the next course, they should ask if you want a fresh one brought. You should then say "yes, please" or "nertz, sorry" and remove the cutlery yourself.
posted by gjc at 4:04 PM on January 28, 2011

I'm going to second Fiery Jack that this strange habit seems to be something that is in the USA only. Here in the UK in posh places all the basic cutlery is out at your place; less posh ones they bring out cutlery for each course; really not posh places you go and get your cutlery yourself. In none of these scenarios is one expected to re-use cutlery. So I certainly don't find your attitude in the least bit strange!
posted by Coobeastie at 4:11 PM on January 28, 2011

b. the fact that many people don't mind this fact.

If I dined with someone who demanded new utensils for every course, I would figure them to be a combination of irrational and snobbish. Infants are excluded from this judgment since they don't usually have the lip strength and mouth coordination to completely remove food from their utensils.
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 4:21 PM on January 28, 2011

I don't go to super-fancy places but it seems like most of the restaurants I frequent have a set of silverware already on the table (or brought over by the host when they seat you) which generally consists of two forks and a knife. One fork to be used for salad, the other fork and the knife for the main course. A spoon will only be brought out if you order coffee, tea or ice cream.

I'm squicky about re-using silverware between courses. I'm sure it's not actually harmful but it kind of grosses me out to pick back up and use a fork that has been sitting on the table for 15 minutes with a coating of saliva and food residue drying on it. The two-fork, one knife, optional spoon system seems to work pretty well and avoids the waiter having to bring out clean silverware with each course.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:09 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am not at all a fussy or germ-phobic person, and will eat food off the floor and pet strange dogs and whatnot, but I also agree that it's gross to put the used silverware back onto the table.

I think thebazilist is right that it's more an etiquette thing than anything else. You wouldn't do it at a nice dinner party, would you?

Of course I don't get all upset about this in a hamburger joint, though it's rarely an issue there.
But when this happens in a "nice" restaurant, and it does fairly often, it kind of jerks me out of the enjoyment of the experience. Not to the extent that I would complain about it, but I REALLY wish they wouldn't do it.
posted by exceptinsects at 8:25 PM on January 28, 2011

you will find an equal or greater number of people who get irritated when the waitstaff take their utensils away and then forget to replace them

This is a really good point, actually. It adds an unnecessary step to the waitstaff/bussers' jobs and makes for one more thing that can go wrong.

I'd much rather re-use a fork than be served hot food, look around, notice the waiter forgot to bring another fork, and then wait while an already stressed waiter finds me more silverware and my food gets cold.

The only restaurants I've ever eaten in where silverware was replaced with each course were haute cuisine types of places where you have several members of the waistaff devoted to serving and taking away multiple complicated courses which are likely to require different sorts of silverware.
posted by Sara C. at 9:03 PM on January 28, 2011

Actually, I would expect a seriously fancy place to have all silverware that will be necessary on the table before I even sit down, and bring out any specialty thing with whatever dish needs one (i.e. a steak knife).

This is how it works. But as each course is finished, the silverware is taken along with the dishes. When you've finished your soup, your soup spoon goes away. Even if your next course might require an identical spoon - if it does, another spoon will be supplied.
posted by Sara C. at 9:09 PM on January 28, 2011

You are being a special snowflake. However, it's obvious you occasionally patronize high end establishments. There is some flexibility there. I would never, ever ask for new cutlery unless it was obviously dirty at the start of the meal. What is your goal? Every "course" you put in your mouth needs a new fork? What is the logic behind it? Do you do this at home? Why? I can't fathom your snowflake status, however....there is never a problem asking a server for a new set of cutlery. If you're okay with lying (nahhh) just say you dropped the previous set on the floor.
posted by carlh at 4:12 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I sympathise, and for the record, i have only ever seen this happen in the US. You can go to the greasiest of greasy spoons in the UK and they will still take your knife and fork away if you decide to have another plateful. Same anywhere else I've been.

I don't know what it is. I can only guess it's to save on washing up. I don't exactly mind it, but it still strikes me as sloppy service. You are not being a special snowflake.
posted by Decani at 5:58 AM on January 30, 2011

Contrary to all of the vitriol (wow, folks) it's commonplace to get new silverware for each course in pretty much every mid-level and up restaurant I've ever visited. Yes, in the US too. (Similarly, it's common to get new glasses when switching to a different wine.)

However, this custom is often a little derailed when there's not an expectation of it by diners. Some people remove their silverware to the side and hang on to it in an effort to be polite to the server/busser. Others fear the inconvenience of being left forkless and preemptively guard their utensils, and politeness forbids the server from demanding them.

I put my utensils across my plate when finished, and they take them away. If the restaurant prefers me to keep my utensils for the next course, the server will just discretely tell me so. No big deal.
posted by desuetude at 3:20 PM on January 30, 2011

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