Friday, October 09, 2009

Rule Number 7

One of the rules of buffet dining on this site has raised some question from one of my readers and it is significant enough to share with you all. The rule is number 7:

7. For a more social meal, it is polite to wait for the others at the table to finish their plates and then go up together to get more.

The problem that has been raised with this rule is the problem of leaving the table unattended. And I do agree that this can be a problem at some buffets. In August of this year I wrote an article about this problem at Cici's - which has been a problem at two different Cici's locations. When everyone gets up to get more, the person cleaning the table who pays little attention to what may be on the table or what part of the meal it appears one is at, clears the table away - completely and ready for a new customer to come and be seated.

This has happened at other buffets as well. It has rarely happened to us, if at all (as I am recalling) at any buffet that has used a table occupied system - a simple slip from the cashier that indicates the table is occupied that you prominently display on your table OR a sign that the server will put on your table to show that it is occupied. It has happened to us at buffets where this simple system is used. Generally, when it has happened it has been with a server who is not paying attention to the table or us - usually, where dishes are not frequently picked up and drinks are not refilled, unless you happen to catch the server as he/she runs past.

At one of our visits to Shady Maple this year - a restaurant that does use the paper slip system to identify occupied tables - we overheard two servers talking about the table behind us. At Shady Maple when you are through and you are leaving your table you are to turn the paper slip over to the back - indicating that the table is now vacant and ready to be cleaned for another guest. Sometimes, despite a reminder to do this when you are seated, some people just don't turn that slip over when they leave. Well on this particular night, the server for that table was in a quandary. The slip was face up, there were finished dessert dishes on the table, and no one had come back to the table for a time. This diligent server went to another server to ask an opinion (and this is what we overheard). Before they decided to clear that table off, they waited a bit longer just in case. This is one of the reasons why Shady Maple has been our Top Buffet for several years running. If only other servers at buffets took their jobs that seriously.

What happens if you come back and your table has been cleared? Find a manager or the server if you can. Indicate that you are still dining and ask why your table was cleared. Then make sure they bring you new silverware, drinks, etc. so that you can continue on with your meal. It is awkward and a position that you as the paying customer should not have been put in by the restaurant employee -who should have been paying attention to the table.

I had thought that leaving a personal item on the table while you are away would help. In two different buffets it made no difference. Once it was two umbrellas and another time it was two caps. The server each of those times who took no notice of us during the meal, took no notice of what was on the table - and actually left them there after clearing away the table.

So should I remove this rule? I don't think so. One of the criticisms that I have been told against dining at buffets is that the meal is not social - too often getting up and leaving the other person or people behind to continue their plate and then they get up when you get back. This does not make for a social or relaxing meal. These people have told me that they will not go to buffets for this reason.

I will leave you with a caution. If you are at a buffet where the server has not been attentive to you or your table, when you go up together (if you do) keep an eye on your table while you are up. This is not always possible with some buffet and dining room layouts. The alternative is to go up separately, but if you like to eat together try to wait until the other person gets back.


dave1973 said...

I'm usually the one that has a problem with this rule, and don't follow this rule. From my experience, the servers I get at any buffet (except Ponderosa in Crown Point Indiana) like to clear the table at any given opportunity. I do use the paper slip as it's instructed. However, since other customers refuse to flip it over at their tables, some servers don't bother to look to see if it's up or down. They'll instead clear it off; especially if it's a busy day. I don't even get a sorry from the servers. So when that happens, I don't leave a tip for them to remind them of what they did. I make every effort to find a server that I trust enough to not clear my table at the spur of the moment. Golden Corral in Schererville Indiana is even worse. The receipt is the reserve slip, but the servers don't care at all. They don't want to always refill glasses with water or soda, and not always issue clean plates. They don't even like to clean off tables either, except if they want to get rid of people they don't want to serve.

If I'm by myself, then I make every effort to watch my table. If I'm with someone, then one of us will stay behind to make sure only dirty plates get removed. Some people I know don't like to leave their tables unattended out of fear that it won't be cleared off. Some managers won't even bother to help some customers who do lose their tables.

The only time this doesn't seem to happen is if I go to a buffet that allows people to eat first, then pay at the end of the meal. That's the only time I seem to keep my table reserved. Pay before I eat seems to be the problem with keeping my table reserved (slip or not). The places that I go where I pay after my meal get the bigger tips, since I don't feel rushed.

SkippyMom said...

As often as you eat out at buffets I would make a wallet sized card stating something along the lines of "We are still eating. Please leave our drinks and silverware. Thank you"

Keep it simple in case of a language barrier, but I would think the frequency of your visits warrant a card you can make on your computer and laminate for a small price at Staples.

It would save some of the [obvious] heartache when you encounter a cleared table.

We aren't often at Buffets, but with six kids growing up there was invariably always someone at the table and we didn't find it rude in the least to leave a member or two at the table while others went back to the buffet. Since the food isn't ON the table [like at home] serving yourself and eating at your own pace it is a neccesity to go when your plate is clean and you desire more. Otherwise we would've been there all night.

We also made sure that if a member still at the table wanted something we would bring it back for them.