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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How Do I Get a Slow Waiter's Attention?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 23, 2010 at 8:45 AM

click to enlarge This would be a no.
  • This would be a no.
Today's question comes from Martin, who has been spending a little too much time lately waiting for his check:
I sometimes get frustrated by slow service. It especially irks me in upscale places where I think I'm paying for quality, efficient service. Is it okay to gesture to waitstaff or should I only communicate with facial expressions?
For all the bumptiousness that New Yorkers like to accuse San Francisco

waiters of, service here is pretty damn good: same food knowledge,

less stiff formality. In the case of the rare waiter who seems to bump my

table down to number 47 on his or her priority list, my own

approach ― which I'd say works in three minutes or less 95 percent of the time ― is

to escalate my appeal for attention.

The vast majority of waiters in high-end restaurants respond the moment they spot a facial cue. On the first try, I look at them

expectantly, as if I just thought of a joke they need to hear. On the second try, I raise my eyebrows and look slightly stressed, as if I've just realized my movie is about to start or my water has just


If the waiter looks at me directly and then ignores that clear call, I

then attempt a rebuke: I crane my head to look around. Yes, I know!

Bold stuff, craning the head. But it's not for the waiter's sake ― it's

a message to the front-of-house manager. In any restaurant where the

waiters earn enough to make their student loan payments, any manager

seeing a customer looking around should rush to the table to find out

what's up.

Now, if I've spent more than two minutes imitating the Marx

Brothers, wiggling my eyebrows and rolling my neck, only then will I go papal.

click to enlarge John_Paul_Wave.jpg

I break out the John Paul II blessing: discretely chest high, so that I don't catch the attention of the other tables around me, and with two fingers raised so the gesture doesn't look like a scoolmarmish rebuke. I've never had to do anything more extreme than that, but I would rather get up, walk across the room to the host station, and whisper into the host's ear that I really, really need to rush off ― again, it's all about shame ― than raise my hand above my head. Why should I let a bad waiter make me look like a boor?

E-mail your questions to

and follow me on Twitter: @JonKauffman

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Jonathan Kauffman


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