#16 – 4 Reasons Why We Should Clean Up After Ourselves

Good Morning!

Some people are often confused which amenities are typically provided at self-service fast food or cafeteria type restaurants, and for good reason.  I’ll explain the differences and why it matters that we should clean up after ourselves.

Self-service and full-service restaurants are fundamentally different.

When we go out to eat at a full-service sit-down type of restaurant, we are greeted by a person, and then served by a person who takes our order, brings our food, checks on us throughout the meal, takes away our plates when we are finished eating, and finalizes the transaction.

After we leave our table, the restaurant bussing staff and/or servers go to work cleaning and resetting the table for the next guests.

Personal service stops at the counter.

When we visit a self-serve fast food or cafeteria style restaurant, we are served at a counter much like we would be at a full-service retail store and then we sit down afterwards with our food. The onus is on us to get our condiments, napkins, straw, drink refills, etc.

If all of the tasks typically done by the sever at full-service restaurant are our responsibility at a self-service restaurant. So why is it that we would assume that it’s not our responsibility to clean up after ourselves when we’re done? 

People are messy and kinda gross.

Humans are more bacteria by number of cells than we are actually human. Just about everything we come in contact with will trade bacteria and other germs with us.  Just the act of breathing is sufficient.

The trays that are provided to us to carry our food to the table do a pretty decent job of containing all of the little bits of food and saucy mess that we create while eating, but sometimes the slop ends up on the table, chairs, and floor.

For this reason, soap and water is always used to keep the dining room as sanitary as can be. When I did this for Taco Bell way back in the day, we used a disinfectant cleaner.

The person who is tasked with cleaning the dining room is expected to clean up the left-over messes of the patrons if need be, but this just adds to their cleaning function; it’s not actually their job to clean up after you.  Their job is to sanitize the dining room to limit the spread of bacteria.

Sometimes there is a person to return the tray to.

We as humans love symmetry. This also extends to how we do things, including starting and finishing actions and events and even how we travel and perform all of the other little tasks we do.

Because our meal is presented to us at a counter by a person, if there is no person to return the tray back to, this can lead to a grey area as to what to do with the packaging when we’re finished. 

This the underlying impulse for symmetry, the need to end our actions similar to how we started, much like how we take the same route in and out of a building, including using the same door if there more than one door.

Even if we know that there is a garbage can and a spot to put the tray, this can be overridden by whatever else we’re thinking about and become deprioritized, but if we know that there is a person associated with a location and an action of what we’re supposed to do, this is programmed into us on a subconscious level.

This particular issue was solved quite eloquently at my local mall by introducing a “tray station” to return the trays and garbage back to where a person is clearly visible doing their job of sorting the organic, recycling and refuse and cleaning the trays.

The first time a friend and I went there to try out a new restaurant, we didn’t know what to do with our garbage and trays when we didn’t see any garbage cans until someone pointed it out to us. Thanks stranger!


Ever since the self-service food industry was created this has always been an issue. Most of us are mindful enough to clean up after ourselves, some of us mean well by wanting to create the need for ‘a job’ for a full-time dining room attendant, but their action usually just ends up creating more work for the person that’s already tasked to cleaning. Some of us need a gentle reminder to be sanitary in general, and some of us are lost in our own little worlds and forget about basics.

Cleaning up after ourselves is ultimately to show respect for the business we frequent and for the other patrons that come after us.  It’s the decent thing to do.

I hope you enjoyed reading!

Let me know what you think about this in the comments!

Have a great day and clean up after yourself! 😊


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Author: Karsy

Your average writer, maker, robot programming, gaming, tig welding, foodie, car jock, who loves to travel and is obsessed with coffee and lifting heavy things. Cheers!