The Easy-to-Follow Restaurant Rule That Keeps My Entire House in Order

updated Feb 3, 2021
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I spent many years working in retail and the restaurant industry. No matter where I was clocking in, I ended up learning a lot — about myself, general best practices, and even life. I learned that I’m very good at quickly folding a pile of messy graphic tees. I learned that I have a terrible short-term memory (gah, table eight asked for ketchup 15 minutes ago!). I learned the importance of being nice to everyone. And I learned two very smart (albeit slightly cliché) cleaning lessons.

At my retail job, my boss always used that cheesy catchphrase: If you have time to lean, you have time to clean. He would say it to us, only half joking. He’d be right, of course. Instead of chatting by the registers, we should have been using that time to straighten up the front tables, clean out dressing rooms, sweep up dust bunnies, etc. I can still hear him in my ear sometimes, all these years later. Like when I’m waiting for my oven to preheat or for my coffee to brew. Instead of standing there, scrolling through Instagram, I remind myself to use the time for something productive.

And then there’s this gem that I picked up from my time as a waitress: Never leave a room empty-handed. The idea was simple: If you’re leaving the dining area, you should always grab some empty plates; if you’re leaving the kitchen, grab that plate of mozzarella sticks that’s waiting to be delivered. I think of this rule every day. Many times a day. In fact, any time I leave a room. Because there’s almost always something that’s out of place. There’s that water glass on my bedside table that needs to go back downstairs to the kitchen. And the ball of clean socks that’s sitting on the bench in the dining room for some reason. And the bag of Trader Joe’s peanut-butter filled pretzels in my WFH office that belongs in the pantry. The list really goes on.

I find myself moving around from room to room a lot (especially these days while I’m home all the time), and I’m constantly remembering this old restaurant tip. Honestly? I think it makes a huge difference in my house. I’m not carrying a tray full of dirty dishes around (obviously), but even just by grabbing one thing when I leave a room, I find that things tend to end up back where they belong by the time dinner’s ready. I end up with a tidy and fully reset house without having to spend any “real” time making a concerted effort. Which means, at the end of the day I end up having more time to lean — er, scroll on my phone from the couch.

Do you use these rules too? Got any others to share? Discuss in the comments below!