But over the course of an average evening, I'll usually encounter at least a half-dozen diners who have a very different sense of what it means to be done. These eaters -- and I'm using the term loosely here -- push back from the table after taking a few dainty bites. While every restaurant-goer is entitled to enjoy a meal in his or her own way, the under-attacked plate puts the server in a rather awkward spot.
Hard as it is for vocal diners to imagine, there are plenty of customers who are shy about saying their steak's overcooked or potato was served cold. Their untouched plates are very tactful cries for help, which is why I never whisk a still-full plate away without asking whether everything was OK.
The problem is, sometimes everything is OK, except that the diner has an eating disorder. Or was just dumped by the guy sitting across from her. Or sensed a case of swine flu coming on. Not only are guests understandably reluctant to talk about such things, they often seem to resent my posing the question.
I'm sympathetic, if only because my finished plates fall on the opposite end of the spectrum -- I'm one of those eaters who not only devours all the food I've been served, I sop up the sauce and swallow the garnish.
Perhaps because I've robbed my servers of the opportunity to say "Are you all finished here?," a startling number of them instead resort to patently inappropriate comments along the lines of "Guess you were hungry!" or "We have a dishwasher, you know."
I can't fathom why a server would imply a female customer -- or any customer -- eats too much. But such remarks are apparently a standard part of many servers' repertoires, since my guests who've cleaned their plates almost always greet me with a jokey-but-defensive "I didn't like it at all," as if they sensed a mean-spirited jab was just around the corner.
It took me years of eating out before I finally heard a server say the right thing when she noticed there was nothing left on my plate: She asked me whether she could bring me anything else. As someone who frequently orders an appetizer or salad after an unsatisfying entrée, I'm amazed by how few servers seize the opportunity to up my tab -- and make sure I'm well-fed.
What do you think? Should a server ever comment on how much (or how little) you ate?