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Jun 10, 2007 09:52 AM

Hands On or Hands Off ?

In a recent post someone mentioned putting their hand over the top of a cup or glass to keep a server from refilling their beverage. I had always heard this was a no-no, as you are setting yourself up for a possible spill, or in the case of a hot beverage, a nasty scald. I would like to hear from both the server's and customer's point of view how best to refuse a refil, especially if the customer is involved in a conversation and does not want to interrupt to tell the server "no thanks"

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  1. I make eye contact, smile and shake my head slightly. That way I don't break into the conversation.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Glencora

      Yes - I think that is the perfect solution.

        1. re: beevod

          I'm not a big fan of that - if it is, for example, a clean wine glass when I know I won't be drinking wine (well, that never happens, but hypothetically), I'd ask them to take the glass away. And if it is a glass I've been drinking from, but I don't want anymore of the beverage, turning it upside down will stain the table cloth etc.

    2. Three areas that seem come into play:

      - water glass -usually just a hand over but if they fill it who cares
      - wine - jfood loves to watch this dance at the table. since jfood does not drink it is more about watching others try to cut-off the server. nothing seems to work well in restos as there are several staff trying to please. Once that wine glass gets close to the bottom, the server, other servers, the water server, almost everyone is trying to please. Nothing seems to have 100% in stopping.
      coffee - since jfood likes his coffee not scalding, the auto-refill is an issue. in most restos (not diners) the server usually asks and a polite no gets the job done. jfood also uses the hand over when needed and fortunately has not had the scald issue yet.

      1. I think both putting your hand over your cup and turning the cup over to be rude. To me, it signals that the customer can't be bothered to make eye contact or actually speak words to the server. I don't think it is rude to my dining companions to briefly glance at the server and say "no thanks" during conversation; other diners realize that they are at a restaurant and sometimes engaging with the servers is necessary. (Or, as Glencora suggests above, eye contact and a nod should do the job equally well.)

        To be honest, I find most hand signals (everything other than the signing-the-check gesture or holding up a finger while trying to make eye contact) to be rude--pointing to a glass to "ask" for it to be filled, holding up a bread basket and shaking it from across the room, snapping at a server, etc. I find it good manners to speak to people and look them in the eye.

        5 Replies
        1. re: nc213


          in a perfect world jfood agrees that all hand signals are not perfect (other than flagging down a cab). But one needs to weigh the flow of the conversation versus being responsive to the server's timing on the refill.

          If the server does not start the verbal dialogue by asking, then why should the custo start the dialogue. Proper procedure would be for the server to ask the custo if a refill is desired. If the server is trying to perform the refill function and feels that his question would interupt the table (and a good server knows) then he has set the no-talk standard for that touch point. If the custo follows the server's lead in this no-talk dialogue, jfood thinks that's a good conclusion to this event.

          On your other points, jfood always felt that he was helping the server by catching the server's eye and unabstrusively pointing to the bread basket that remains on the table (picking up and shaking is a little silly). The alternative would be a separate trip to the table for the custo to ask. If this is not the case jfood would be interested to hear other CH'ers take.

          1. re: jfood

            ummmm...with wine it is a service point to top up wine automatically- so we don't feel it's necessary to interrupt your conversation and ask if we can pour more. you ordered a bottle- so i naturally assume you're going to drink it. i really don't like the hand over the glass. i find most "sign language" rude.

            i have a very "you are in my house" approach to serving/dining. if you think of it that way it's easier to decide what an "appropriate" behaviour is. so...if I was in YOUR HOUSE, and my wine glass was low, and you came to top me up like a good host, and i didn't even look at you because i was talking to someone so i put my hand over my glass.....

            do unto others....or get out of my house.

            1. re: excuse me miss

              jfood agrees that the server needs to read the custo and the table and stated that hand signals are not the best means of communicating.

              On your last point, it is not "your house" but jfood is a customer in a business establishment that, as you have stated numerous places, is owing you a tip at the end of the service.

              "Get out of my house", please tell us that is a sarcastic comment. if it is your true belief that it is your house, jfood thinks you might have lost sight of who the customer is. If it is "your house" maybe your customers should bring a bouquet of flowers, have a nice meal, give you a couple of air kisses at the end and say good-buy and thank you for a wonderful evening. not sure whether that business model will fly too long.

              1. re: jfood

                of course i'm being cheeky, jfood, but not without a big element of truth.

                yes, a restaurant is a business- but it is a very unique "business transaction", don't you think? compare dining to say- doing your banking or shopping for an appliance. the server-diner relationship is much more intimate.

                and it is very much as if you are a guest in my home. either you have told me you are coming in at a time- or you will show up whenever. i have spent hours beforehand making everything perfect for your arrival-polishing glasses and silverware, setting out candles. the kitchen spends all day preparing for your dinner. if it's your birthday or a special occasion i'm probably planning a special something to surprise you with. when you arrive i greet you with a smile, show you to a seat and offer you something to drink. at the end of the evening i walk you to the door and thank you for coming- i'll even run out and flag you a taxi if you need one. how is this so different than the hospitality you would be shown at a friend's house? IMHO i can't think of any "business model" that is comparable.

                jfood- if you change "bouquet of flowers" to "gratuity at the end" and "air kisses" to "handshake" then yes, that is my idea of a good experience- for diners and server. oh, and (assuming a certain level of dining- not necessarily fine, but not "cafeteria") in the industry, the word "customer" is quickly becoming a no-no. you are not a customer- you are a "guest". and jfood, as you and others have stated in previous posts, you don't owe me anything- it is a gesture of thanks, and entirely at your discretion ;)

                jfood, may i ask what you mean by "who the customer is"?

                to me- the "customer" is a person who thinks service staff are beneath him, and that he can behave any way he wants towards us. EXAMPLE- a man at a private party i served felt it was appropriate to touch me every time he spoke to me. nothing sexual- but "i'll have a soda water"- and he'd squeeze my arm, or "i'd like a latte"- and he'd put his hand on my back. this was not a slight tap on my shoulder to get my attention- this was a dominance gesture. is this appropriate customer behaviour anywhere?

                my "guests" are respectful of me, and i of them. welcome to my house. ;)

                1. re: excuse me miss


                  Very nicely stated, thank you. jfood has stated repeatedly that eating at a resto is a mutual experience for the custo, the server and the chef, everyone wins when every does their respective functions properly.

                  Only difference jfood would state is your definition of customer. what you described is truly not a customer, but really a jerk. anyone who goes to a resto and treats anyone with any disrespect should be told the same thing jfood's principal in high school would say "get your hat, get your coat, you're going home."

                  And jfood is not a touchy feely person at all. he and mrs jfood went to dinner with and old friend and her new beau. during dinner, the beau reach over and had his hand on top of jfood's paw. speechless but courteous, jfood breathed deeply and dealt with it. Upon entering the car after dinner mrs jfood looked at jfood and said, "thank you for not saying anything when beau held your hand." So jfood understands completely the no-touch rule with the server.

        2. I might put my hand up and say 'no thank you,' but usually not over the glass. I'd just raise my hand in a slight stopping motion to make sure I got the server's attention.

          1. I used to cover my glass/cup, but after I had ice water poured on my hand, I changed my method. Now, when I see a server with a pitcher/carafe approaching the table and I do not want a refill, I'll pick up my glass/cup and bring it closer to my body (I guess you could call it a 'protective' gesture), and at the same time say something like, "I'm ok, thanks." Even if the server continues to pour, at least it won't be on my hand.