The Menu Etiquette Rule That Will Get Your Waiter's Attention

No one wants to be kept waiting by their waiter, but there's enough poor fine dining menu etiquette out there to have you burned at the pyre of public opinion should you make the wrong move in trying to flag your server down.

Most of the time, if your server has been MIA for longer than you'd like, it's not their fault — and definitely doesn't deserve any kind of rude behavior (or tip skipping) in response. The restaurant could be understaffed, or even just feeling the rush hour crunch, and your server may be busy taking care of other customers or putting out unseen fires to keep the restaurant floor operating smoothly.

So if you are at a restaurant and waiting to order, the first thing you should do is fold and put your menu down. This will signal to your server that you have finished looking at the restaurant's offerings and are prepared to make your decision.

How to flag down your waiter

Waiting tables requires something of an eagle eye since most of the minute signals that guests make to express their needs happen at a distance. Your menu is one of the largest canvases you're given to communicate, so if a server sees you pick yours up and put it down, they know you're ready to order.

If your server is still taking a long time to get to you, you can try to make friendly eye contact with them, or politely raise a hand if you see them pass by. But the best way to get a server's attention if you have already ordered is to call them by name. Don't shout — simply say, "Excuse me, So-and-So," if they pass by your table, so you're not screaming over the entire room to get their attention.

Finally, if you're finished eating and want to get the check, you can always make eye contact with your server. If they're too far to hear you, go ahead and give them the ubiquitous pen-signing gesture. 

How not to flag down your waiter

When trying to get your server's attention, under no circumstances should you snap your fingers at them. This is incredibly rude, as is whistling. Think about it this way: If someone tried to get your attention like that in your place of work, you'd think it was pretty impolite, wouldn't you?

Another thing you want to avoid is trying to order from multiple servers if yours isn't available, which can mess up the workflow of the restaurant. And while you may raise a hand to alert your waiter that you are trying to get their attention, there's no need to wave it around wildly and cause a disturbance.

If eating out while traveling, you should also be sure to consult local dining customs. Many European restaurants, for example, simply do not operate with the same chipper speed as American ones, and you will simply have to exert patience when waiting for your food or check.