Restaurant Etiquette: Do Customers Need to ‘Clean as You Go’ in Your Country?

When dining out, one of the most common questions that arise is whether or not it’s necessary to “clean as you go.” This refers to the practice of tidying up after oneself, such as clearing plates, wiping down tables, and generally leaving the area as clean as it was upon arrival. The answer to this question can vary greatly depending on the cultural norms and expectations of the country in which you’re dining. Let’s explore this topic in more detail.

Restaurant Etiquette in Different Countries

In some countries, it’s common practice for customers to clean up after themselves in casual dining establishments. This is particularly true in fast-food restaurants or cafeterias where self-service is the norm. However, in more formal dining settings, it’s generally expected that the waitstaff will take care of clearing tables and cleaning up.

United States

In the United States, it’s typically not expected for customers to clean up after themselves in most dining establishments. Whether it’s a fast-food restaurant or a high-end dining venue, staff members are usually responsible for clearing tables and cleaning up after customers.


In Japan, the “clean as you go” practice is more prevalent, especially in fast-food restaurants and cafeterias. Customers are often expected to return their trays and dispose of their garbage after eating. However, in more formal dining settings, the staff will take care of the cleanup.


In Sweden, it’s common for customers to clean up after themselves in casual dining establishments. This includes returning trays to designated areas and sorting out recyclable items. However, in more upscale restaurants, the staff will handle the cleanup.

Why the Differences?

The differences in restaurant etiquette across countries can be attributed to cultural norms and expectations. In some cultures, cleaning up after oneself is seen as a sign of respect and consideration for others. In others, it’s viewed as the staff’s responsibility and part of the service provided at the restaurant.

What Should You Do?

When in doubt, observe what others are doing or simply ask a staff member. It’s always better to err on the side of being respectful and considerate. Remember, the goal is to enjoy your meal and make the dining experience pleasant for everyone involved.


While the “clean as you go” practice varies from country to country and even from restaurant to restaurant, it’s always a good idea to be mindful of your surroundings and the cultural norms of the place you’re dining in. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask. After all, good manners and respect for others are universal languages.