Why You Should Stop Bussing Your Own Table

Resident curmudgeon Jorge Jetsohn has a bone to pick with fast-food consumers.

Man eating McDonald's

Weekly Newsletter

The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!


Out of the corner of my eye, I watch as the harried mother of two at the next booth struggles to hold a squirming toddler under one arm while balancing two trays of the mess they’ve all made on the other arm. At the garbage area, she awkwardly sorts trash into one container and recyclables into another.

Then I get up, leaving the remains of my meal on the table. I turn to catch her expression as I walk out the door. Yup, she’s glaring at me the way my kindergarten teacher did when she would ask if I was in the habit of writing on the walls with crayons in my own home.

You see, I don’t bus tables in fast food restaurants. I’m not a lazy person, though I’m sure the young mother would disagree. I’m also not a slob. It would be easy enough to scoop up my garbage and sort it at the trash receptacle. But I believe that if I’ve paid for my meal, the fee should include the cleanup. If I do the cleanup, then I’m working for the owner of this grease joint.

And I don’t work for free.

The idea that customers should clear their tables is nothing less than corporate greed dressed up as moral obligation.

Put another way, my lassitude toward restaurant hygiene is actually altruistic. There’s a Chinese expression, “that’s his rice bowl,” which refers to employment that someone depends on. If I clean up after myself, I’m taking away a perfectly good rice bowl from someone else.

The idea that customers should clear their own tables is nothing less than corporate greed dressed up as moral obligation — similar to the fake environmental concern of hotel management when they leave a card on the bathroom sink that says, “Please save our planet — reuse your towel.”

(Here’s actual copy from an online ad from a company that prints those cards: “By using our towel and sheet cards, your property will save over $6.50 per occupied room per day. Hoteliers report saving 5 percent on utility costs.”)

Let’s stop giving fast food restaurants a free pass. Respect the rice bowl. I agree to pay a fair rate for service, but I expect to be served!

Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now


  1. What a crock…..
    I used to work in a family business and people always left there left overs / empty stuff on the table.
    I used to pick it up when I could, if it was busy then it would take a little longer to clean.

    I know what it’s like to clean up after others.
    Now when I go out I clean up after myself, all the waste in the proper bin….recycle/non recycle.

    This is the way I operate…always will.
    I couldn’t care less what other people think, they ain’t me.

    Costs you nothing to be civilised.

  2. It seems that you are violating a social contract. The social contract in a fast food place is: You get fast food at a cheap price, and in exchange you throw your trash in the bin before leaving. The clean-up is not included in the price you pay. If everyone did as you suggest, sure, you’ll create a new job, a busser, and that busser’s wage would be pay for with increases in price.

    About hotels and towels… Do you wash your towels at home after every single use? Sure, hotels will make money if they don’t have to wash towels after a single use… Or the guests will save money if part of those savings translates into lower rates. What is indisputable is that less water will be wasted. Do you have a washing machine? Why not hire people to wash your clothes manually? You’ll be creating jobs! We need to improve our environment by consuming less water among many other things. If someone loses their job, we need to create environmentally friendly new jobs.

  3. This man will continue to leave his trash on the table. He is stuck in a pattern. He does not see. He is not open to real change or understanding at this point in his life. Narrow view of life situations.
    He think he is making a point by leaving his trash. He wants his inexspensive fries and somone to clean up after him. I have capassion for anyone who finds themselves having to support themselves in fast food. It’s hard work because it is a thank less job.
    I do realize that businesses could have a busser but many smaller resteraunts/cafes can’t afford this. Most businesses are barley making it financially. The larger chains will cost more if you get a busser and you might find you complain then too. The more we complain the less room there is for gratitude and we end up being very unhappy people caught up in trivial details and making other low wage workers clean up after you is far from kind.

  4. I suppose you leave a mess at your house too. Dishes in the sink urine around your toilet. Maybe fast food places need to get rid of dining areas so you can leave your mess elsewhere.

  5. “I believe that if I’ve paid for my meal, the fee should include the cleanup”. What you believe isn’t always reality. When you’re in a sit down restaurant with waiters and bus people, you can expect cleanup to be included in the price. But how can you reasonably expect the same services to be included in a fast food place, where corners are cut in order to bring you low prices? Besides, it’s common decency, manners, and courtesy. You just sound lazy and rude.

  6. I see where Mr. Jetsohn is coming from, but my mom’s instructions from when I was growing up was to always clean up after myself and leave a place cleaner than how I found it. That upbringing won’t allow me to walk away from trash on a table I created. Mom’s words trump corporate greed…sorry!

  7. Although I agree with the fact that companies and franchise owners may be greedy, it is a nice feeling to leave the place you ate at as clean as you found it. Besides, if these restaurants have to hire extra hands to do the job, the customer would see an increment on the price. Finally, if service is what you’re after, steer clear from fast food chains!

  8. This issue is the same as in the supermarket,where they have trained us to bag our own groceries.Now they get people to ring up there own orders,I say I don’t work here hire some more people.

  9. If everyone did as he suggested, perhaps those tables would be washed after each diner instead of the occasional swipe. Many times L’ve set down to find the table sticky or grimy and definitely unsanitary,

  10. I agree with this article. Self serve anything takes away jobs. Look at how we have been conditioned as a society to pump our own gas, at the risk of getting a few drops of gasoline on our work clothes or Sunday best. New Jersey doesn’t play that game. It’s illegal to self serve at the pumps in NJ and it keeps people employed.

    If people want to protest the corporate culture of having customers service themselves, this is an acceptable way to make the point. When the tables get too full of trash, business will suffer and people wil get hired to keep it clean. Otherwise, we are just doing the work for free for the business.

    What’s next?

    Customers should empty the trash cans because they’re full?

    Are we supposed to refill the napkin dispensers when they go empty?

    The owner of the franchise makes more money through automation and having customers feel morally obliged to tidy up after themselves. Love of money and concern for people’s jobs are at odds with each other in this discussion.

  11. Jorge, I’m just curious as to which fast food places even HAVE separate containers for trash and recycling in the first place, unless this is something new I didn’t know about. The photo above is a McDonald’s. I haven’t been in one for some time. Trash bins are often two next to each other. Perhaps this mother is SO used to doing this at home, that she just automatically does it while out regardless of the fact she doesn’t need to.

    Not one to frequent fast food places too often, I was at an In-N-Out Burger last Saturday. This one opened recently and had the usual single bins for all the trash, where you leave the tray on top.

    It’s really no trouble to gather up your trash (usually not much), drop it in the plastic lined bin, put the tray on top, wash your hands, and be on your way. They have made it pretty easy, and we are talking about scrunched up paper and plastic straws. In-N-Out constantly has employees cleaning tables, dumping bins and more, but they’re the exception. I’d walk right out of a place that had tables of trash on them. I’d advise everyone to continue cleaning up after themselves.

  12. I don’t know anything about the man who wrote this, but a lack of compassion is still a lack of compassion, no matter how you choose to justify it.

  13. I feel this way too. Especially now that fast food places are hiring fewer people in favor of automated ordering kiosks. If I leave my tray and wrappers on the table the dining room attendant will have a job–you can’t automate table cleanup. It seems counter-intuitive to good manners but if good manners puts someone out of work (takes away his rice bowl) I ‘ll go against my instincts and leave the tray.

  14. This is one of the great problems of society today. No, not your itty bitty trash pile. But your attitude.

    Pshaw, let those minimum wage workers clean up after me. I’m too good to clean up after myself. My $2 burger should include that. But I’ll spin my laziness as a corporate evil and other losers like me will follow suit!

    Even if it were part of a fast-food workers job responsibility, why not help out a little? The trash bins are there. You have a pile of saliva-contaminated leftover food and wrappers. Wouldn’t the nice thing to do be placing it in the bin?

    Such self-centered entitlement makes my stomach churn more than a Mickey D’s burger.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *