It's Actually Bad Etiquette To Clear A Glass You Broke At A Restaurant

Picture this: You're dining with a few friends in a fancy restaurant. Maybe you're telling a lively story, complete with big ol' hand gestures, and bam! You clip the stem of a wine glass and send it plummeting to the floor, where it shatters on impact. Since it's natural to feel a bit embarrassed about this, you grab a napkin and try to start plucking the shards of glass off the floor, depositing them in the fabric.

Let's say you accidentally cut your finger with some of that glass — now you're bleeding, and the napkin is of no use since it's now full of glass. You need a bandage for that cut.

This is the kind of scenario that explains why it's not ideal — and may even be considered bad restaurant etiquette — to clean up after you smash a glass in a restaurant. Although there are surely some overworked servers out there who would appreciate your cleaning up after yourself, generally speaking, when a glass breaks, you should flag it to a server immediately and leave it to the experts. Otherwise, you might hurt yourself and compound the problem.

Why it's better to leave it to the server

Unless you're visiting a restaurant where the interior design theme is "janitor's closet," chances are the appropriate equipment for cleaning up glass isn't going to be available to you at your table. Picking up broken glass, particularly small shards, is generally unsafe, so it's better to let the server stop by with gloves, a dustpan, and a brush.

Yes, cleaning up broken glass is extra work for a server, but it's a common enough occurrence that most restaurant staff should be fairly understanding (even if it's not their favorite task). They have access to the right cleaning equipment and protection, too. By trying to clean it up yourself, you run the risk of cutting yourself, which could further inconvenience the server as they attend to your injury.

Plus, if you're in a fine dining establishment, staff and especially management may be particularly sensitive about the restaurant's image and reputation. The sight of customers cleaning up breakages probably doesn't align with that image, making it all the more reason to leave such matters to the professionals.

When to help clean up after an accident

While you generally shouldn't go around picking up broken glass in a restaurant, it's all about context, and there are a few situations where it might be appropriate to take action.

The main exception is if you're dining in a place where the staff are clearly overworked and unable — or unwilling — to attend to the breakage. If you've tried to flag them down and they aren't dealing with it, it might be wise to at least brush the broken glass to an unobtrusive spot, especially if it could be stepped on and spread around. Picking up the pieces yourself, however, should probably still be avoided.

If you're lucky enough to break a glass cleanly into two large parts — like if the stem snaps, or one piece breaks off — it's likely fine to wrap it up in a napkin yourself before handing it off to a server.

Lastly, if you merely knock a glass over without breaking it, it's probably appreciated if you try to mop up the immediate spill with a napkin to prevent spreading. You'll still want to notify a server for a full wipe-down, but this initial effort is one type of cleaning that they'll generally appreciate. Just remember to also leave a generous tip.