It’s possible that there’s an economic impetus behind it. “The price of land is going up, which pushes up the value of each table,” said Cowen. “That makes moving people along more important.”
A similar trend, after all, sees many restaurants hoping that diners don’t order dessert, because the course isn’t terribly profitable and it encourages people to linger.
But maybe waiters are clearing individual plates because they believe that’s what customers want. I have heard as much from servers and restaurateurs.
Yet I have heard many people complain about this policy. It’s almost as if the staff labor is unwilling to let their idle time go unused, perhaps for fearing of signaling shirking. And so they must do something, which means taking your things away. What other motives could there be? My biggest pet peeve actually is when they pour more of your drink into your ice than a Hotelling rule would suggest for an optimal pace of temperature equalization.
That is from Roberto A. Ferdman.
Addendum: Kevin Drum comments.