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Reading the table, Diner/Waiter Signals--Here are mine, what are yours?

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Someone just mentioned in another thread the skill of "reading a table". I realized that we all have little signals, some taught by our parents, some we learned. Here are mine--I'd love to know, what are yours?

Closed or face down menu means that we're ready to order.
Persistant eye contact from across the room means that we need the waiter.
Silverwear paired at 6 o'clock (or 4 o'clock) means were done eating.
Fork at 8, knife at 4 means we're not done yet
Slight pantomime from across the room of writing with right hand on palm of left hand means that we need the bill
Credit card sticking out of check folder, which is laid just over edge of table means that we're ready to pay.

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  1. index finger pointing to empty cocktail/beer/wine glass: "Another one, please!"

    Thumb and index finger tips touching forming a circle: "I liked it"

    3 Replies
    1. re: RicRios

      Please don't make the OK sign if you leave the shores of the US of A. In some countries, that is an extremely vulgar hand sign. Not worth making a list. Just don't do it overseas...
      Come to think of it, in some ethnic restaurants?

      1. re: MakingSense

        Yep, it's a bad one in Brazil.

        1. re: MakingSense

          For that matter, don't do the thumbs-up in parts of the world, either, because it means "up your @**". Much better just to say "I liked it" or "j'ai bien mangé" or "ho ho sik" or whatever.

      2. Eye contact and hopefully raised eyebrows to get attention, and lavish smiles in appreciation of service. Very occasionally, a slightly raised hand if the server is far away.

        1. Funny.. I never thought too much about it, but my signal for the bill is the "air signature". Kinda like you are signing with a pretend pen. In the air. Which I do with my left hand, but only because I am a southpaw.

          And I probably do it out of habit even if I am paying cash.

          And I always lavish smiles in appreciation too. When I was younger, my friends used to joke that I was flirting with waiters, but really I was just trying to be nice and polite.

          1. - Index finger in the air like the symbolf number 1 and air talk "when you have a chance"
            - Menu closed and upside down when I am ready to order
            - wine glass upside down in a crowd when i do not want wine
            - Water glass nearer to the edge of the table for more water
            - Usually need to walk to the waiter station when they deliver dirty utensils

            4 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              -Turn a coaster over your beer glass = hipster signal to save your seat for after your smoke break

              1. re: Captain Beefhart

                But in an old-school New York bar (which are an endangered species) this means, "No more drinks for me tonight!"

                1. re: Captain Beefhart

                  Excellent! This is a new signal serving a new need. This is what's evolved now that smoking is forbidden in bars/restaurants and people have to leave their places to smoke.

                  1. re: nrxchef

                    I'm a tad beyond hipster but I've been using the coaster over the
                    glass thing since forever to indicate I'm coming back (from the
                    bathroom, the pool table, or in the old days the cigarette machine)
                    and please don't clear my glass or take my stool.

                    I can see how it's getting a bit more action these days, though.

              2. Lid of teapot open means "I need more hot water"

                1. Oh, if only everyone was consistent, my job would be so much easier. Some people have apparently never heard of these signals. Menus open for all eternity until I have to go ask "are there any questions about the menu?" when really what I suspect is that they *might* be ready - but how am I to know? Knives and forks all over the place when people are supposedly finished eating, AND, knives and forks in proper "finished" postion when they clearly are not. Credit cards tucked snugly into the folder instead of sticking out a bit so I can see that you'd like to pay. Why can't everyone be like nrxchef? Then I would be able to assume that the diner and I were on the same page and I wouldn't have to bother them with seemingly silly questions, because I would know the answers.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Kbee

                    The reason why everyone is not like nrxchef is because they don't take the time to learn proper dining etiquette. In a lot of instances, people are unaware one even exists. Take note next time when some "gutboy" yells 'check bro' from twenty feet across the dining room. Chances are, it's the same guy who's belching out loud while he's stuffing his pie hole.
                    Not knowing proper table manners and not knowing and practicing proper dining etiquette just displays a persons ignorance.

                  2. I`ve found when travelling in different countires, the air signature thing always works to get the bill. I also had a theory that catching the waiters attention and kind of doing the eyebrow lift was a signal to please come to our table. It worked really well till one time I was in Spain and my husband signalled the waiter that way. The waiter just raised his eyebrows back and grinned. I think it means something else there.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jennywinker

                      Y'know--now that I think of it, I think I air signature too--omitting the left hand as pad thing. And it does work all over the world.

                    2. ah, civility! if only everybody knew proper table etiquette!

                      but to jfood, your wine glass upside down is tacky. eyeball the server or a vague hand over the glass to prevent pouring will do the trick. they should then remove the glass.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        from your mouth to God's ear hoto.

                        I have tried eyeball, hand over glass, no thanks, I've even asked the waiter to remove the glass and another one brings a different one. Every time while in conversation a glass of Cab or Merlot gets wasted as they see and refill my glass. After twenty years af seeing a beautiful glass of wine go to waste this sometimes is the only road that has a happy ending.

                      2. Standing up and waving both hands over head:
                        "Dude, it's been over an hour and the meal hasn't
                        shown up. You've got 30 seconds or we're walking."

                        Fortunately, I've only had to use that one a few times.
                        It seems to be very effective.

                        I hadn't thought about it, but I've use "air signature" on
                        five continents and it's never failed. I sure hope there
                        isn't someplace where it means something obscene (like
                        the common US hitchhiking sign does in Greece or the
                        OK sign does in Russia (or wherever it is)).

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                          Dude, the waiter generally has nothing to do with how long it takes the meal to show up at the table.

                          As an aside, I have noticed in my years of waiting tables that hungry people have a tendency to grossly overestimate the time they have been waiting, either for a table or for their meals. I have heard people tell me they have been waiting for two hours for a table when I know they have only been waiting for forty five minutes. Same for the wait time for food. What is actually 1/2 hour can feel like 1 and 1/2 hour when you are very hungry.

                          1. re: hilltowner

                            people who show up early for a reservation also tack that time on when complaining they have to wait to sit. if you show at 6:30 and your reservation is for 7:00 and we seat you at 7:15, we haven't kept you waiting 45 minutes !

                            1. re: hilltowner

                              Dude, if the kitchen is melting down it's the waiter's job to not disappear and
                              require patrons to stand up and wave their arms in order to get his attention
                              in order to ask what the problem is.

                              But the defensive waiter thread is in another thread so no need to go into it here.

                              1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                You are absolutely right, but your original statement made it sound like the waiter had thirty seconds to procure the food. Did you actually mean that the waiter had thirty seconds to explain the delay and appease the table? If so, I'm right there with you. It may be uncomfortable, but a waiter cannot avoid unhappy tables. It only makes them more unhappy.

                            2. re: Chuckles the Clone

                              I, too, have travelled worldwide and even if I know how to ask ("l'addition, s'il vous plaît"; "mm-goy, mai dan"; "meltzar! heshbon, b'vakashah") I still do the air-signature thing.

                            3. my father once clapped at our server at a spanish restaurant and when the whole family tried to hide under the table he said "what? its how they do it in spain"

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: bolivianita

                                It's funny because it's true.

                                In most of Asia (and in authentic Asian restaurants in the US) you wave for your server.

                                In Korea (and in Korean restaurants in the US) there's often what I call the "yoboseyo" button and my mother calls the "get over here" button, which you press to activate a pager that the server carries.

                                And, of course, if you're a, er, "bass pole" from New York (if you know what I mean, and I think you do), you snap your fingers to get the server's attention.

                                1. re: bolivianita

                                  I'm so embarrassed in Italy--I have to ask for "Il conto", which sounds bad with the Italian "O" sound. I definitely air-sign!

                                2. Here's a few interesting ones:

                                  My parents moved to the Philippines last year. I visited them last summer, and at various restaurants there, my father explained to me that the nonverbal signal for "check, please" is done by signalling to the waiter with your fingers in a triangle or diamond shape (made by touching pointer fingertip to pointer fingertip, and thumb tip to thumb tip). I don't know what the significance of the triangle/diamond shape is, but it definitely works.

                                  In Ethiopia, snapping your fingers is a common (and not rude, as I was told by locals) way of getting a server's attention, as is hissing or making a lound "Ssss!" sound at your server -- although I admit that when I was there, I was always surprised whenever a tablemate did this.

                                  The other thing I wanted to say was, maybe (within the US) the "I've-finished-my-meal" cutlery positioning is a regional thing? I was raised in the UK and then New York, and I use the fork and knife, placed together, vertically in the center (12/6-o'clock) of the plate, to mean "Please clear my plate." My fiance is from Ohio, and he and his family put their fork and knife, separately, at the 8 and 4-o'clock positions, halfway off the plate to signal the same thing, which I haven't yet gotten used to, because I always thought that was the "I'm-not-yet-finished" sign. So maybe it's an East Coast vs. Midwest thing, or something (now all we need are gang signs)?

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: freelancer77

                                    I've lived on both coasts and a couple of places in the middle and I never
                                    learned the "I've-finished-my-meal" thing. And I don't think it's just because
                                    I come from a rude family. I first encountered it during a trip to europe in
                                    high school and it seemed like a perfectly brilliant idea which I've used and
                                    payed attention to ever since. I don't think I've ever eaten a meal with more than
                                    two other people in the US since that time where everyone did the same thing
                                    with their cutlery when they were done. Never mind that 90% of the time people
                                    don't even seem to have any conception that *anything* special should be done
                                    other than putting them down somewhere.

                                    My conclusion, comparing the rigid (though regionally differing) european practice
                                    vs. the devil-may-care approach that's nearly universal in the US is that, for all
                                    practical purposes, this piece of etiquitte does not exist here and any exceptions
                                    simply prove the rule.

                                    But that's just me.

                                    1. re: freelancer77

                                      The 8 and 4 o'clock positions are, to my mind, the universal signal that I'm still eating, whereas silverware together at 4 or 6 is the "I'm done, pls. clear my plate when everyone else does the same" signal.

                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                        And here's the reason--the server lifting the plate can hook his thumb over the cutlery, effecting an unobrusive, quiet removal. Silver paired at 4 o'clock works well with the "raise right, lower left" rule of good service--server will hook thumb over cutlery with right hand while standing directly behind diner. Again--it's about quick, elegant plate removal.

                                    2. In China, tapping your fingertips on the table while your server is refilling your teacup (or beer glass) means "thank you." And the air-signature-for-check only works sometimes here.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: Petitpois

                                        The origin of the light tapping of two fingers in China to indicate "thanks" for service is interesting. The story is long ago the emperor wanted to go out among his people incognito. So he dressed in common clothing and along with an aide went out. In a tea house the emperor poured tea for his shocked aide. The aide was stunned by this unnatural act and tapped his twofingers, symbolizing the "kow-tow" of respect (falling to one's knees and banging one's forehead against the floor). If you do this tapping of thanks in China and are a westerner, it will noticed Chinese at your table and you will
                                        gain respect, or at least amuse them.

                                        1. re: itsonlyfood

                                          That's true. I've also heard that it was three fingers (the arms and head) but it doesn't matter, as long as you tap, they'll notice.

                                          I haven't had any problems with the air-signature-on-palm working, but it could be because it's accompanied by "mm-goy, mai dan".

                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                            >> I haven't had any problems with the air-signature-on-palm working, but it could be >> because it's accompanied by "mm-goy, mai dan".

                                            "My hovercraft is full of eels." ???

                                            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                              "I will not buy this record, it is scratched."

                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                Oh right. For a second I thought it was Mandarin.