Why You Should Stop Bussing Your Own Table

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!